[Wanderlust Tips February 2018] Guatemala is a great country. You will find delicious, cheap street food, the friendliest people in all of Central America and many natural as well as cultural highlights. It is also a very popular country for activities of volcanoes lying right on top of the infamous ring of fire.
There are three main volcanoes that tourists can climb and the most rewarding option by far seems to be Volcan Fuego. It is actually the most active volcano in all of Central America and you can even watch it from a safe distance, being on top of neighboring volcano Acatenango. Take a 2-day tour and wait until it gets dark for a show that you will never forget. Reaching the summit of 3,976 metre high Acatenango was a serious hike and you should only attempt it with a high fitness level, as it will certainly not be a walk in the park. Make sure you get some really good hiking boots. While I personally did not struggle too much with the hike, we had passed the first group crying out of exhaustion after just 20 minutes of hiking and the complete trek usually takes about 7 hours to get to the top. Luckily, I was in a good shape and only had my guide with me; so we made it much faster.
Speaking of which, it is really important to choose a good guide for this volcano. Even though you could do this trek on your own, since the path is pretty obvious, there have been reports of robberies at the start of the hike and according to my guide from the small local starting village of Alotenango, robbers are usually after the bigger groups leaving from Antigua with the more profit oriented companies, while leaving the local guide alone. So I can only suggest you to try to go up with a local guide rather than the profit oriented companies.
My guide did not speak any English at all while my Spanish was even worse. So it is an understatement to say that we had a little bit of a communication problem. However, thanks to drawing little pictures on the ground with a stick, we were always able to communicate somehow.
The hike had a lot of great spots for pictures to offer and you should make sure to take enough water. Getting to the highest point of the Acatenango volcano was certainly a highlight, you will be rewarded with a great panoramic view and it was amazingly silent up there with only us 2 on the summit. The only thing that disrupted the silence was the immense loud sound of erupting volcan Fuego. After enjoying the peaceful moments on top, we descended down a bit to our camp site, which was already set up by my guide’s father and had a direct view of volcan Fuego.
I did not have to wait long for the first small eruption with lava streaming out on all sides. Some other groups were here too and enjoyed the show as well and then, suddenly, the first major eruption happened and everyone was just amazed and stunned by this force of nature, the volcano throwing car sized rocks in all directions. Luckily our camp site was still way out of reach. I could sit there for hours to watch a show that would never get even slightly boring since every new eruption was a little bit different than the one before. So I was sitting on the ground without any isolation, in my T-shirt and just behind my little tree trunk tripod at nearly 4000 metres, wondering why it would not get cold in the middle of the night here. Really unusual, but also enabling me to witness the show for about 4 hours without getting even slightly uncomfortable. It was a challenge to get some sleep when I decided to retreat into my tent, the sound of every eruption made me curious and I would always open up the tent, again and again, checking the eruptions until I eventually passed out around 3am.
The next morning featured one of the best sunrises I have ever seen, surrounded by other picture perfect volcanoes while having the most beautiful light, I spent hours taking pictures before finally starting to walk back down. We probably broke another speed record getting down and I started to hitch hike back into Antigua after leaving a tip for my great local guide, who always gave his best to communicate with me since he did not speak any English at all and I had just started to learn Spanish.
If you make it to Guatemala and want to see an active volcano, I would suggest you look no further than Acatenango. While Santiaguito is also pretty to see, it is less active and the easy hike to Pacaya is just too crowded with tourists. I really enjoyed the small groups on top of Acatenango and probably the best view on a live erupting volcano.
* * W.TIPS * *
In order to enter Guatemala, Vietnamese travellers must have a visa issued by the Guatemalan Government. Travellers can apply for Guatemala’s tourist visa through visa services or at the Embassy with the following documents: Original passport with more than 6 months validity, proof of current employment (payroll statements; labour contracts), financial proofs, information and authenticity papers relating to Guatemala tour booking from travel companies or air tickets booking, hotels reservation, travel insurance.
The Guatemala’s currency is Quetzal (CTQ). The current exchange rate: CTQ1 = VND3,095,520.
The first thing you need to do is get yourself on a plane to Guatemala. The cheapest flights will probably arrive in Guatemala City, the capital of the country. From there, you need to take a bus to Antigua Guatemala not far away at all. This will be your base for the Acatenango Trek.
Of course you need to document the amazing experience you are about to witness. I have always used Sony Mirrorless cameras because of their speed and lightweight, offering superb image quality for their price. If you are on a budget and can’t spend much on camera gear, just go with a Sony A6000 and kit lens (USD500). If you can spend some more, get the newer 4K capable Sony A6300 Body (USD700) and a good lens like the Sony 18105 (USD520). Make sure to take a tripod with you as well.
Finding a good guide is the most important thing. There are many bigger tour operators that offer the overnight trip for USD100-60. As described in my post, I would recommend finding a local guide though. They should cost between USD50-30 and can be found in La Soledad. Once you get a guide, you will probably have to choose between one of the two entry points. La Soledad is one of them for the most popular and easier route, I had chosen the longer and harder route from Alotenango, which I can only recommend if you are in a good physical hiking condition.
Another option is to go up on your own, which is fine if you can carry everything you need to camp up there, it will probably be a pretty tough trek even if you are fit. The path is easy to follow though, so it’s an option for experienced hikers that don’t worry much about getting robbed on the way.
Make sure you take enough water and everything you need for the night on the volcano. The tour guide will already prepare the tent site for you. This usually includes the tent, a sleeping bag & mattress as well as a nice camp fire. All of which will have an amazing view of the erupting Fuego volcano.
Shoes: The Shoes are probably the most important equipment to have. As with any other hike, you need some proper hiking boots that support your ankles. I can only recommend high quality shoes from Germany. They are a bit more expensive, but you will probably not have to buy another pair again anytime in your life! And they even ship to Vietnam as well.
My recommend is: Meindl’s brand
Backpack: Your backpack should not be too big as you would only need to carry stuff for 2 days and 1 night. Unless of course, you travel with your backpack all the time and you have no other choice. I can recommend the Osprey for a smaller backpack and the Crux AK 70 is the one that I always trust.
Clothing: For a serious hike such as this one, you want to make sure you got the proper clothing. Merino Wool is the best you can get based on my experience; it will keep you warm when it is cold and also cold when it is warm. Sounds crazy, but it’s actually true. It is also super comfortable and helps to reduce body odor. The only down side is the price from the quality Ice Breaker products, but again – they will last you much longer and you won’t have to replace them anytime soon. I would suggest getting a Short & Long Sleeve T Shirt from Icebreaker.
Christopher Heil | Wanderlust Tips