Hiking Acatenango Volcano overnight to watch the sunrise over neighbouring active Volcano Fuego sounded like such a good idea at the time. In actual fact it was one of the most mentally and physically challenging things I’ve ever done.
Thinking about doing the 10 hour overnight hike? Read this first.
We arrived in Antigua on a beautiful sunny day – day 10 of our 2 week G-Adventures tour. Our guide was reading out the day’s activity options on the bus, the first of which was a 10 hour overnight hike up Acatenango Volcano – it would be cold but well worth it for the view. 8 of us put up our hands, to our guide’s surprise. I should have known then it wasn’t going to be easy.
We were picked up from Antigua at 10pm in a small shuttle by our guide Fernando for the hour drive to where you start the trek. I thought perhaps we’d have two guides, given there were eight of us, however this was not the case. We all had stacks of layers in our bags as we’d been told it was going to be cold. The bus stopped and we were let out on the side of the road in the pitch black. I can assure you describing the hike as ‘cold’ was an understatement. It was bloody freezing up there, a little taste of just how cold it was going to get. Freaking out slightly from the darkness and sheer icy conditions, we piled on the layers, pulled on our backpacks and followed Fernando to commence the incline. We’d read the first 10 minutes we’re going to be tough…
The first 10 minutes
The first 10 minutes were literally hell. Clambering up a ridiculously steep and slippery incline with nothing but head torches and sticks for balance. One of the girls in our group was struggling badly and our guide Fernando wasn’t too helpful. We should have know then…
1.5 hours in
The incline had levelled off slightly, however every step was still tough and catching your breath was impossible. To make matters worse the path was slippery and it was quite hard to see where to step by the light of our torches. Our friend was still struggling, and the rest of the group was urging her on… Our guide? No where to be seen. We could hear him cackling and whistling at us far up ahead though… Real helpful Fernando…
the next 2 hours
Finally our first break… Not that Fernando wanted to give it to us. As soon as we sat down we started getting cold. This was a lot harder than we’d ever imagined. After 10 minutes we were at it again, at least now we know it’s going to flatten out. Now when I imagined the hike flattening out, I literally assumed there would be no more incline. No incline on a volcano hike? What was I thinking? Once again Fernando was no where to be seen, we could just hear him laughing like a madman up ahead, pulling out his flask of whisky every few minutes for a sip… Was this guy for real?
hitting altitude (5 hours in)
Strangely, we all felt the effects of high altitude at the same time. Ok, now this was really getting tough, I had a headache, and was basically dozing off while I was walking. We were also plotting ways to push Fernando off the the Volcano while ‘Can you hear the drums Fernando’ was on rotation in my head. Acatenango you bastard!
We hit the crater after 6 hours of walking, Sunrise was half an hour off, and we were not going to get to the summit on time. For the last 3 hours Fernando had been trying to leave our friend who was struggling, behind, and lying about how much longer we have left in the trek. I could hardly put one foot in front of the other but somehow was making progress.
Finally we reached the almighty summit, except it was so cloudy we couldn’t actually see anything. It was also so insanely freezing that I just wanted to run back down the volcano. Not that I could have given how tired I was. After a few quick photos where I filled the time in between takes by complaining about the cold (it helps I swear) it was time to make our way back down. Thank God!
The descent was much quicker than the climb – about 3 hours. As it was now light we actually got to see some of the beautiful views from Acatenango… And realise how bloody dangerous doing this hike in the pitch black was. As it’s a volcano there were narrow pathways and craters that dropped a few meters into the muddy ground below everywhere.
Finally on the ground below we could appreciate the gravity of what we’d just done. While I would never do it again I’m glad I experienced it. And for all those considering the hike, there is a much better two day hike where you camp on top of the volcano available for about $20 USD.