Guatemala,  Travel Book

Trek on the Acatenango volcano

The city of Antigua is surrounded by several volcanoes, one of them is still active, the Fuego volcano, which is the one we see during the trek, while you climb the Acatenango, which peaks at almost 4000 meters above sea level.

It is possible to make a trek of 2 days – 1 night on the volcano with an agency. We went with the agency Soy Acatenango, which is a local agency, that works with local guides, and who gives the money directly to the community living at the bottom of the volcano (at the time, they just finished building a playground for the children of the village, and then wanted to build the infrastructures to bring running water). We paid 400 quetzales (around €40). Other large agencies offer lower prices but 1) according to a recent law, agencies cannot offer prices below 350q (excluding park entrance fees), 2) money goes to businessmen and not to local communities and 3) often, you end up with tents and poor sleeping bags and you start the trek later and have to hurry. To contact the agency, everything is done by WhatsApp, I give you all the informations at the end of the article. They pick you up around 8:00 in the morning at your accommodation, and you’re back around noon the next day.

Gilmer, who runs the agency will answer all your questions, but here are some additional information dictated by the experience to help you prepare your trip.

What to put in your backpack?

We made the trek in the middle of summer so even though we started the ascent at 2000 meters above sea level, and with the effort, we quickly got warm, when we arrived at the base camp at more than 3800 meters, with the wind, the night, and especially the next morning , it is VERY cold (about 0 °c, less if you consider the temperature you actually feel), so what you will take with you during these two days is important.

Taking all your backpack with a ton of useless stuff inside ? No way ! We left the majority of our stuff in trash bags, in the luggage room of our hostel Selina in Antigua, that we picked up when we came back, as we booked two more nights after the trek , to recover.

So, the cold. The agency gives you large jackets for free, in case you do not have any. Personally, with a compact Decathlon jacket purchased before my departure and several layers of clothing underneath, I didn’t need it. They also rents hats, as well as gloves. You can buy scarves for not pretty cheap at the Antigua market. If your gloves are not waterproof, I recommend to take two pairs, the first will surely be soaked during the second part of the trek up to the top of the volcano, and the on the way back it might be long with wet gloves…

Clothing to take:

  • 1 or even 2 trousers/leggings to change you if you are wet
  • Optional: 1 Shorts I wore over my leggings on the second day, and I don’t regret it
  • 2 Short Sleeves T-shirts (optional If your other layers are warm enough)
  • 2 long-sleeved tops
  • 1 big warm sweater
  • 1 big jacket
  • 1 rain-coat 
  • 2 large pairs of socks or more if they are thin for superposing (night and day two)
  • Hiking shoes or good sneakers (preferably waterproof)
  • Gloves, scarf, hat
  • Spare underwear

The agency provides lunch and breakfast for the next day that you will have to carry all along the trek, as well as dinner, which is already at the base camp. Nevertheless snacks are indispensable. Nuts, dried fruit, cereal bars, and a small sandwich as a snack when you arrive at the base camp, and the must are marshmallows you can grill at the campfire. For water, 2-3 liters seem to be the right amount. At the bottom of the volcano, you can also buy flasks of rum, a drop in the little hot chocolate of the evening, to warm up. Be careful not to take too many things though, because it can become really heavy!

Finally, last but not least, think of sunscreen, sunglasses, camera, handkerchiefs, frontal lamp (on the way up on the second day, it’s dark), lip balm and Paracetamol. And that’s it! Do not overload, do not take a bag too heavy either, because you will have to carry it!

What we actually do?

A bus picks you up at your hostel between 8am and 8:30and then takes you to the agency, in the village at the bottom of the volcano. There you can take a jacket, rent gloves and hat and they give you your lunch and breakfast. We are a group of 18 people, with 3 guides. After a short bus ride, we are at 2000 meters above sea level, to start the trek. It’s around 9:30. At the exit of the bus, we will offer walking sticks for rent for 5 quetzales, that you will return the next day. Take it! You might regret if you don’t…

And let’s go for 4-5 hours of hiking depending on the speed of the group, with breaks every 15 minutes and half an hour to eat. The first thirty minutes are honestly, by far, the most difficult. The path is extremely steep and the soil loose, so you lose a lot of energy. Moreover, your muscles are cold and your body is surely not accustomed to such an effort with the bag to carry and above all, the altitude. Honestly, at the end of those 30 minutes, when we finally made a first break, I could no longer breathe, I was hiccuping, totally breathless. I clearly wondered what I was doing there and I figured if it was like that for four hours, I wouldn’t make it.

Still with some difficulty to breathe, we left, on a path a little less steep. There, a nice American from our group kindly offered to exchange my big backpack with his that was very light. And Corey, honnestly, I thank you from the bottom of my heart because without you, I might not have make it. When I tell you not to overload your bag!

Around noon, lunch break. It’s quite light, few veggies (without seasoning), some rice and a piece of chicken (without for vegetarians, but personally they forgot a little peace in my box, it kinda cooled me down). Honestly, with the effort and the altitude, I was absolutely not hungry but I forced myself to eat. Also enjoy a delicious hot chocolate for 5 quetzales.

We arrive approximately 1h30 later at the base camp. The guides assign the tents. We are between 2 and 4 per tent, which are equipped with small mattresses and comfortable sleeping bags. It’s time to leave your sweat-soaked clothes for dry clothes you’ll wear the next day. It’s very important if you don’t want to get cold. We light a fire, we make some pictures, some a little nap well deserved, we eat a bit.

The night falls quickly and we have the view of the Fuego volcano that day, with sound and lights show for dinner with explosions, lava and so on. Around 6pm, it’s time for dinner, frijoles and noodles. After a nice little hot chocolate, grilled marshmallows, some jokes told by the guides, one last picture, it’s time to go to sleep. It’s 8:00pm, I’m exhausted, and tomorrow we have to get up at 4:00 in the morning.

I personally do not sleep for the entire night, despite the comfortable tents. I can’t sit comfortably in my sleeping bag and squirm in every direction, my feet are frozen in spite of my thick socks, the wind makes a terrible noise and makes the tent shaking. Plus, I feel completely dehydrated but my water is icy and hard to drink. I still try to drink but as a result, I have to go out several times to get to the “toilet” (understand behind a bush). Moreover, since the morning, I have a headache, probably because of the altitude.


Don’t sleep with all your clothes!

This is the best way to be frozen the next day because you will no longer have your sleeping bag.


It’s difficult to wake-up (my feet were starting to warm up and I had just fallen asleep). At 4:30, departure for the summit (1h30 walk), under a drizzle and a cold wind. We leave the bags in the tents, and take only the front lights, the walking sticks, water and the cameras (which I personally did not use because of the rain).

The last 15 minutes are quite challenging: the soil is composed of a thick layer of small volcanic rocks, they go til the ankle and it is very difficult to walk. Arriving at the top, the wind is terrible, and freezes you to the bones. And fog. Just fog. These are the vagaries of the weather, we won’t  the sunrise (we still got lucky, unlike others, to have a clear weather the day before that allowed us to enjoy the view). We stay about 20 minutes, frozen, soaked, tight against each other to try to warm up.

We then start the to go back, twice as fast. The first 15 minutes, it’s kind of volcano boarding, everyone falls on multiple occasions. However, I have a good tip for you: to put only one foot at a time on the ground and to raise the knees. You look like a moron, but you move fast and without falling! We even fall on a dog and wondered what it was doing here at such an altitude.

Back at the camp, we are soaked, frozen and covered with volcanic dust and mud. I am thinking of the pair of dry gloves that I would like to have at that moment. Even the fire doesn’t warm us up, especially as the wind sometimes blows the burning smoke in our direction.

And then, let’s go for 3 hours of redescent. The rain and the wind are always here, the ground is muddy, I fall an incalculable number of times (and I’m not the only one). I carry my big bag this time and it cushions the shocks. Arrived at the bottom of the volcano, we give back our walking sticks, go to the agency to give back jackets, gloves and then we go back to Selina, wheredry and clean clothes as well as a hot shower is waiting for us. A laundry is necessary.

Balance sheet

It was my very first trek, and I clearly surpassed myself physically and mentally. The hike itself is not difficult, but the equipment, the weight of the backpack make it difficult. If I had to redo it, I would take way less stuff and take a  lip balm (my lips were literally “burned” because of the cold, wind and dehydration)! Plan at least two nights after your return, to be able to rest the next day, without having to think about the check-out before a long bus ride.

I would definitely recommend the Soy Acatenango agency, the guides go at our pace, no one is left behind and the equipment provided is good! Definitely an experience to do!

 

To contact the agency Soy Acatenango

Contact Gilmer by WhatsApp at + 502 4169 2292 or by email at SOLOGUI5630@gmail.com

N. B: The cover photo is not from me but from my friend Yoreh (to check his Instagram with lots of other nice pictures, it’s here). This photo was taken with an exposure of 60 seconds. 

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