The Do’s and Don’ts of Climbing Acatenango Volcano


Our camp spot overlooking the active volcano Fuego

Climbing the Acatenango volcano is definitely a challenge but like most things that require hard work the reward is worth it. Will and I recently joined an overnight hiking trip – 7+ hours up and 4 hours down – with the tour company, O.X, in Antigua, Guatemala.

The benefit of climbing this 13,000 foot beast is that you get to look down on it’s neighbour – the smaller active Fuego volcano. We lucked out with a mostly clear day and a Fuego that was showing off with eruptions almost every hour.

Here’s a few of the things we learned and recommend if you’re planning on doing the trip yourself.

Do wear proper hiking shoes
Although it’s possible to do this climb in sneakers – or in my case tennis shoes – it will save you many a grazed hand, sore bum and dignity if you wear proper hiking shoes.

Don’t pack anything you don’t absolutely need
You will regret every extra gram your bag weighs because of that book or extra pair of socks you just had to bring along.

Do take at least 4 litres of water per person
Trust me, you’ll need it.

Don’t wear warm clothes for the hike
It’s kind of confusing what to wear on a hike where the tour company loans you warm hats, fleeces and gloves. But don’t be fooled, the climb up is going to be really hot. You’ll want to wear full leg covering but definitely not jeans – maybe some light pants or leggings – and a short sleeved t-shirt.

Do take aspirin with you
Altitude sickness would not be my idea of fun in the middle of your hike, so if you start feeling a headache coming on, dizziness or feeling light headed just pop a couple of aspiring.

Left - Still enough energe to pose for some photos half way up, Right - A peek at how steep some of the climb is

Left – Still enough energy to pose for some photos half way up, Right – A peek at how steep some of the climb is

Don’t underestimate how hard it is
This was hands down the hardest physical challenge I’ve ever done – but that might say more about my fitness levels than anything else. I’m not exaggerating when I say that ten minutes into the climb I was taking a rest and asking the guide what happens if I can’t do it. It is a gruelling 7+ hour hike up a steep incline while carrying heavy tents and backpacks. When they call this hike a challenge they are telling the truth.

Do persevere
As our guide told us… “The first hour and a half of the climb is the hardest. It’s 20% physical, 80% mental.” Just keep doing that one step back for every two steps forward in the loose skree gravel and you’ll find it becomes much easier. I was dying after ten minutes but somehow finished the other 6 hours and 50 minutes without too much pain.

Don’t be afraid to ask for rest stops every 5 minutes
Go as slow as you want and take as many breaks as you need, the guides are very understanding and supportive – and the other hikers are secretly glad for the stop themselves.

Do ask for a porter if you need it
While we managed to carry our own bags I do think in some ways it would have been more enjoyable to not be so dog tired the entire way and be able to more fully enjoy the views and the hiking experience. I really feel for the poor guy who ended up carrying his own backpack plus his girlfriend’s for part of the way. Plus the local porters are always grateful for the extra money from the ‘unfit’ gringos.

Don’t forget to use your backpack properly
All the straps and doo-dads are there for a reason. They can really alleviate the weight on your shoulders and help you avoid a sore back at the end of the day. If you’re unfamiliar with your backpack doo-dads then the guides can give you some professional tips.

Do take lots of photos
The views along the trail and from the summit really are amazing – as people felt the urge to exclaim on a five minute schedule the entire trip – but they’re right. At over 13,000 feet you’ll have a sea of clouds below you and if you’re lucky Fuego Volcano will be erupting every so often and you’ll be in the perfect spot to view it from above.

Don’t forget to put down your camera and look at the view
After an hour or so of taking photos from the summit remember to put down your camera and just sit and enjoy the view with your eyes for a bit.

Do the extra hike to the summit for sunset and do wake up early for the sunrise
You’ve come this far you might as well enjoy the promised reward even if it means forcing your dead legs to take one step every minute up the last slope and waking up at 5am the next morning – it’ll be worth it.

Don’t feel humiliated when the local Guatemalans run past and overtake you on the path
The local Guatemalan farmers run up and down these tracks all day long collecting medicinal plants and tending farmlands, but don’t feel bad that they overtake you several times going up and down then back up again, they’ve had lots of practise.

Don't look now, here comes the inspirational guy doing the entire hike only using his arms

Don’t look now, here comes the guy doing the entire hike using only his arms

Do feel humiliated when you’re thinking to yourself how hard this climb is and you’re overtaken by a guy with no legs who is hauling himself up the trail with only his arms
No joke, this happened to us. We were lucky to be climbing on the same day as the guy shown in the photo who made it the summit on an inspirational climb – so no more complaining to yourself that you can’t do it!


Quick Info – Overnight Acatenango Volcano Hike

Tour Page:
Price: US$89 per person plus tip
Duration: 2 days, 1 night
Details: The tour includes lunch, dinner, breakfast, warm clothing, tents, pads, sleeping bags, guide, transportation, etc. You can book your trip online at their website or drop into the store front at 1st Av South


View from the final summit

View from the final summit, we’re standing on the rim of the volcano’s crater

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12 Responses

  1. Heather says:

    Hi kate! Thanks for this post. I am doing this hike right before thanksgiving (late november) and I’m super nervous! I’m not a hiker, but i run occasionally (1-3x per week, about 3 miles). Did you do this hike in April?

  2. Cara says:

    Great post. I’m in Antigua and doing some last minute research and mental preparation. Can’t believe a guy with no legs did the hike. Incredible!!

  3. Rose of Sharon says:

    I am planning a trip like this one the summer I graduate. Thank you for sharing this. It’s very helpful to have some tips and experience telling by someone who lived it first hand. I will keep this mind until the time of my trip. I am now starting to train physically early for this trek. I now know that I will also have to train mentally aswell. I am very excited for this trip and will continue to be positive. I hope to follow the steps of many of my mountain climbing family members. Guatemala is truely beautiful.

  4. Michael says:

    Hey Kate, great blog it really helped us (me and my wife) out for our trip up Acatenango. We found the hike an utterly mind blowing experience, we have travelled a fair bit ourselves and rate this hike as one of the most impressive sights we have ever seen. So much so that we felt compelled to write a blog post about it

    Maybe you could include a list in your post, we would be happy to return a link to your page. We have lots of pics etc which should compliment your post nicely. Thanks so much!

  5. sas says:

    Is it safe to do? I hear a group of local guys died last week doing it because a freak storm occurred…

  6. S.L. says:

    OX Expeditions is hands down the most professional guide operator in Guatemala. Highly trained, highly organized and passionate guide team make these guys the best for hiking and climbing on the volcanoes. My girlfriend and I went to several agencies and she complained of a very bad sprained ankle. All the companies said it would be no problem and that she should book it immediately, except for OX. They actually cared about her health and her positive experience. We chose to wait a month and do the hike later with OX Expeditions. Glad we did.

  7. Steve says:

    Good guide – But don’t ever take aspirin if you’ve feeling the effects of altitude sickness. The effects are there for a reason, and using aspirin to cover the effects can be asking for trouble.

    DO: If you feel the effects of altitude sickness then turn back and don’t be ashamed.

    Experience – Over 120 days hiking the Andes as a guide.

  8. Damien says:

    There is an alternative route to the summit that starts from La Soledad which allows you to do it in one day. It is 1h from Antigua.
    It’s at 2400m, and 6km away from the summit.
    The path is hard at the beginning but once in the forest the ground is firm. Only the last 200m of elevation are in the soft sand again. Without breaks and without equipment to stay overnight but with some warm clothes and 3l of water in the backpack (a must) it took me 2:40 to reach the summit and 1:20 to come down (running at some points). I’m in good shape and I was alone without guide (just the GPS on my phone). There are a few junctions but it seems that several paths are leading to the summit. Cheers

  9. Eve says:

    I would highly recommend to not book with the city tour operators. Go with Guilmar, he is a local en he and his redcross rescue team have the best hikes you can get! Great food and hot chocolat on top! He gives the money back to the community. If you get to Antigua ask for Guilmer in your hostel, we had an amazing hike with his team:)

  10. Matt Burns says:

    Great tips! Particularly about doing the extra hike to the summit. I recently did the Acatenango hike and woke up at 3:30am to get to the top in time for sunrise. Quite a difficult final section to climb up, but well worth the effort! I put some pics of it on a recent blog post if anyone wants to see what to expect. Just make sure to take some kind of walking pole or big stick with you…it helps a lot on the loose surfaces of the upper section.

  1. March 9, 2014

    […] and watch both sunset and sunrise. A fantastic hike, see our account of it here and our tips on how to climb it (what to bring, what to expect […]

  2. April 5, 2014

    […] The Do’s and Don’ts Of Climbing Acatenango Volcano […]

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