Today we want to share with you few tips for hiking Acatenango volcano in Guatemala without a guide. The only advantage in doing it with a tour we see in smaller load you need to take up there. If you have hiking experience, common sense and equipment available, it’s probably worth considering hiking Acatenango volcano on your own.
Acatenango volcano is 3rd highest peak of Central America with its 3976m and it was last active in 1972. But the main drive to hike up this high is its neighbour – El Fuego. One of the most active volcanoes in the world will provide a show of a lifetime (if it doesn’t have particularly sleepy day). You will camp just few kilometres from Fuego, direct view from your tent, you’ll find yourself looking for the aeroplanes in the nearby skies, but it’d be the volcano making that sound!
The hike to the campground takes 4-6 hours, depending on your fitness and load you’re carrying. It’s definitely one of the toughest hikes we’ve done, thanks to the character of the surface that is very loose. Especially the last bit from the campground up to the top is a bit hellish in terms of this. Combination of loose volcanic sand and soil and the steepness was a killer. That took us about 2 hours but we were taking a lot of photos, playing with GoPro on Lolo and droning. Normally it takes about 1,5 hours according to one of the guides. You can do it but be prepared for tough conditions :).
What to consider and how to prepare for hiking Acatenango volcano without a guide?
What to take with you for hiking Acatenango volcano?
- camping equipment (tent, warm sleeping bag, well isolating mattress – prepare for freezing temperatures at night)
- many (many!!!) layers of clothes
- cap + gloves for the night, warm socks
- good hiking shoes
- some sort of cooking equipment is really helpful – you’ll thank us later for that hot tea and warm food, while watching El Fuego erupting (stove may not be necessary as all the campsite, where there was a guide present, had campfires)
- first aid kit
- and if you want to make your life much easier walking in the loose volcanic soil – TREKKING POLES – they’re invaluable
Be prepared for everything, but for sure be prepared for cold when hiking Acatenango volcano. What worked for us was wearing everything we had (merino base layer, hoodie, winter jacket, long pants) and sitting in the opened tent, with the camera in front waiting on the tripod for us to press the button when Fuego decided to erupt. Like that we lasted hours watching it without freezing.
Food + water
This is completely up to you what kind of food you prefer but it’s worth considering bringing food and water for two days if you’re not lucky the first night. You don’t want to do that hike up and down again ;). There are no water sources up there apart from friendly tour guides who could give you some but we didn’t want to risk it. So we carried (or for the majority of time Tom carried 20 litres of water). Ouch!
The hike starts in the village of La Soledad and you can get there by chicken buses via Chimaltenango and Páramos. If you speak bit of Spanish, local transport is easy. Tell the bus driver to drop you off at the trailhead. Just beware of and be ready for loco drivers!
We were checking where we are on maps.me offline map. Generally it’s quite easy to navigate there even without the map, just be careful at the forks. According to HikeBikeSafari advice, we took the green trail, meaning taking the left one at the fork above the entrance station and it gave us beautiful view of Fuego. There are occasional green marked trees on this trail. The other one, going to the right on the fork, is marked red.
You really don’t need much as there’s nowhere where to spend it. We passed closed restaurant about 30 mins from the start of the hike and we didn’t even pay the entry fee 50 GTQ as there was nobody at the entrance station to pay it to. But we paid 25 GTQ to one of the guides for the campsite (which may not be the “standard procedure” but it was getting dark and we figured since we haven’t paid the entrance fee…).
How to take good pictures of erupting Fuego at night
All these pictures were taken on Nikon D7500. But we understand that most people won’t run around carrying DSLR. Here are few things to consider when you want to be able to take a nice sharp photo of the eruption at night.
- you should be able to manipulate ISO on your camera/phone (aiming for higher numbers)
- you should be able to control shutter speed (we shot these pictures with these settings: ISO 1000, f 5.6, time 10 secs)
- have your camera on the tripod or steady surface
- use self timer – you don’t want any shakes
- when it’s cold, your battery will die sooner – have a spare one in your inner pocket to keep it warm
And then it’s all about playing around to find the ideal brightness and shutter speed to give you nice results. There was a lot of humidity up there when we camped so before taking pictures we always cleaned the lens.
If you’re travelling in Guatemala, hiking Acatenango volcano will be a highlight, we can guarantee it. We hope you’ll enjoy our photos and if you want to see everything in action, click here.
Have you hiked Acatenango?
Do you have hiking advice for this kind of conditions?
Let us know in comments!