Hiking Acatenango Volcano – Guatemala

Volcan Fuego eruptingVolcan Fuego (Fire volcano) erupting, just over 2 kilometres away

Key Facts

Location: Antigua, Guatemala
Distance: 11.8 km
Days: 1
People seen: None
Difficulty: 3/5
Guidebook: Guatemala Rough Guide (US | UK)

Acatenango volcano (13045 ft / 3976m) is the third highest peak in Guatemala. Sometimes known as La Horqueta, it is one of three volcanoes overlooking Antigua, Guatemala, and is joined to its nearest neighbour – Volcan Fuego (Fire Volcano) by a short saddle. Fuego volcano is known for its frequent volcanic activity (both minor ash clouds and major eruptions) which can be clearly seen from the surrounding area, with a recent eruption in early 2015 which showered surrounding towns in layers of ash.

The Acatenango hike itself is not particularly long or strenuous – rather, it is the altitude which causes the greatest problems. Most people are likely to feel this, being extra tired and finding the hiking harder – and altitude sickness is also a real possibility. Unfortunately, like the other volcanoes around Antigua, Acatenango volcano has been known for serious robberies in the past and it is recommended to go with a tour group and security.

To climb Acatenango volcano we started at 6am from just outside Antigua, and quickly drove around the volcano to start the ascent from the far (Northern) side at a hamlet called Aldea de Soledad. Here there are small tiendas (shops) selling the typical supplies of a small Guatemalan village, but you would be wise to bring all ‘hiking’ food with you from Antigua.

Starting the hike, we climbed quickly through maize plantations. In the cool, clear morning air we could see as far as the volcanoes around Lago Attilan, about 30 miles away.

Hiking Acatenango volcano

Starting out very early in the morning

After a long, steep hike through farm land and then into pine forest and up switchbacks, the path split at a run down campsite where we took a short break. It is possible to break the Acatenango hike into a 2 days / 1 night trip and camp either here or further up at the saddle between the volcano’s two peaks. However, camping so high after so little acclimatization is not a good idea, and we figured that bringing the necessary equipment for a night at this altitude would be more of a hindrance.

From the campsite there is a direct path which proceeds straight up Acatenango’s secondary peak, Yepocapa, also known as Las Tres Hermanas or the Three Sisters (3880m), and down the other side. Alternatively, there is an easier, flatter route with contours around Yepocapa and then joins with the first path in the saddle between the two peaks. Feeling the effects of altitude somewhat, we chose the latter.

Volcan Agua viewed from volcan Acatenango

Great views over the surrounding volcanoes. This is Volcan Agua (water volcano)

Rounding Yepocapa, we were treated to magnificent views over Volcan Agua (Water volcano) across the valley, and down to the towns below – Antigua and Antigua Viejo. As the forest quickly changed to grassland and then dust, we climbed the short section to the saddle, ready to tackle the final summit climb.

Acatenango volcano, near the summit

In the saddle between the two peaks

Not a crater in the traditional sense, Acantenago’s large summit plateau is a peaceful, barren place. It reminded me of Armstrong’s words on the lunar surface – “It has a stark beauty all of its own”. On the north side of the ‘crater’ is the highest point, complete with a strange metal summit marker. From the plateau there are spectacular views for miles and, of course, a close up view of Volcan Fuego. The altitude (13045 ft / 3976m) really became visible for the first time – above the clouds, with unhindered views and cold air despite a fierce sun.

Acatenango summit marker

High above the clouds – the summit marker on Acatenango volcano

Acatenango volcano summit crater / plateau

Magnificent desolation – the barren summit plateau of Volcan Acatenango

At that moment, just as we stepped foot on the summit, Volcan Fuego sent us a small reminder that Acatenango isn’t the only volcano in the area….at this distance Fuego’s ash cloud was already well into the air by the time the sound reached us. Fuego – only a few kilometres away – continued to belch ash at regular intervals the whole time we were on the summit (two weeks later it would erupt significantly, causing havoc in Antigua).

It is possible – sometimes – to descend Acatenango and climb Fuego (the path is clearly visible in the photo below). However, the hike takes several more hours and can be very dangerous. Even at this distance we could see huge boulders running down Fuego’s slopes every time it emitted an ash cloud.

Volcan Fuego erupting

Volcan Fuego (Fire volcano) erupting, just over 2 kilometres away. The path to Fuego’s summit – too dangerous in these conditions – can clearly be seen.

Map of the Acatenango volcano hike:

Download this map/kmz file

View more photos from the Acatenango volcano hike:

1 Comment on "Hiking Acatenango Volcano – Guatemala"

  1. I’ve just been reading your blog post on Acatenango Volcano – it brings back so many memories… mostly the pain but also the totally incredible scenery of seeing a volcano erupt!

    We wrote a blog post too, be great to hear your thoughts!
    http://adventureofalifetime.co.uk/acatenango-volcano-hike-fuego/

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