New Heights up Volcán Acatenango

Our 2-day hike up and down Volcán Acatenango (at 3,976m the tallest of the three volcanoes surrounding Antigua) began with a pickup at the not antisocial hour of 8am from our hostel. After then collecting the tents and sleeping bags for the night from our guide’s place, our group of 11 and two guides were ready to hit the trail. We had made sure that we had enough warm clothing and water for the trek, but it is possible to buy supplies and rent hats, gloves and even jackets at the trail head where you also pay for the visitors’ permit.

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9.50 am – leaving for the trail head near La Soledad

We were fortunate with the clear(ish) skies on the day of our ascent. However, moderate winds combined with the fine volcanic soil meant that dust was a bit of an issue at times. Said fine soil also made for a lack of grip underfoot, particularly on the steeper sections of the trail. At times the uphill effort was challenging, but with regular rest breaks it was not too taxing, even though we had not hiked in high altitudes in months.

After scrambling up steep parts of the trail and enjoying a walk though cloud forest, a break for lunch more than half way to our camp was most welcome. The temperature in the shade was beginning to feel noticeably cold by this point.

Wonderful panoramic views of the surrounding peaks, towns and cities (even Guatemala City in the far distance) were a regular feature on our ascent…

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… and the landscape changed dramatically, with the trees thinning as altitude increases.

Volcán de Agua, to the south of Antigua, is a regular sight on the hike. At 3,766m, it is not far off the height of the peak we were en route to conquer!

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We arrived at our campsite for the night by late afternoon, overlooking the nearby Volcán de Fuego (3,763m). Although Fuego is still very much active, we didn’t see any real fireworks from it on our trip, just the occasional belch of smoke.

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4pm – setting up base camp at around 3,600m

Agua was still very much in sight from the base camp too, in quite breathtaking form especially as the sun began to set and the light changed by the minute.

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At sunset, we gathered around the campfire for a dinner of beans, noodles and crispy tortillas, followed by hot chocolate (in our case laced with coconut rum leftover from Belize). At 9pm, it was bedtime for everyone.

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6.10pm – Fuego’s silhouette against the sunset

After a few hours of interrupted sleep, we set off at 4.30am, under starry skies, on the remaining hike to the summit. This is done in order to catch the sunrise from the top, however the cloud had other plans, sweeping in during the one and a half hours it took to get there. This did not prevent us from feeling a great sense of achievement anyhow, in spite of the biting, drizzly wind! (We had beaten our previous altitude record for this trip set at Chirripó).

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6.25am day 2 – sunrise as we saw it

On the way back down to camp the cloud did clear a bit, letting more of the warmth of the sun through.

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7am day 2 – en route back down to camp, our guide observes the unusually quiet Fuego

After a much needed breakfast we packed up and headed back down, the aforementioned lack of grip playing even more havoc on us than it did going up! Greeting other groups heading in the opposite direction, we advised cautious optimism and that there’s much more to the hike than the sunrise. Just in case they should happen to have a similar cloud-shrouded experience to us!

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7.40am day 2 – the skies around Fuego clear 45 minutes before we begin our descent

There are many operators offering guided hikes up Acatenango, but we really feel a special mention should go to Guilmer and his team, who we went with. They do not offer the cheapest deals, but they could not have made us feel safer or better looked after. In addition, much of their revenue goes towards building schools and other community initiatives and the food they provide is made by local women in need of an income.

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