Guatemala is pretty well known for being full of Volcanos. In fact, the country which is only the size of Tennessee, is home to 33 volcanos, 4 of which are still active - and as I always try to plan something “active” on our trips if I can, a volcano hike seemed to be an obvious thing to sign up for!
Antigua is the best place to base yourself for a volcano tour and from there you basically have 3 options:
- A half day hike up Pacaya a fairly easy walk which takes you across volcanic ash hot enough to roast a marshmallow on! Fun for all the family.
- A full day hike up Acetenango – a challenging 10 hour roundtrip
- An overnight stay on Acetenango – for the super adventurous who are willing to sleep in a tent to see Fuego erupting at sunrise
We opted for the full day Acetenango hike and booked with Ox Expeditions who offer all of the above 3 versions as well as many other tours in and around Antigua.
The 4am wake up call was fairly brutal but we pulled on our hiking gear and set off for the meeting point full of anticipation and a few nerves about what lay ahead –a 5 hour uphill climb to see a live volcano in action up close but hopefully not too personal. We boarded the bus to take us to the start of the walk with 8 other sleepy heads, wandering if we were all completely mad. Who gets up at 4am to walk uphill for 5 hours? “It better be worth it” kept rolling around in my mind, keeping me awake as the bus wiggled it’s way through local villages, alive with people heading off to work (Guatemalan’s are up EARLY!). Pretty soon we were booted out of the bus, handed a stick and the climb began.
The tour is advertised as “challenging” – and it is. First of all, you’re at altitude and if like us, you live at sea level, 5 hours on a stepper at 4000 meters is hard work. Second of all the ground is uneven and often slippy and worst of all, most of the climb is up volcanic ash so one step up is accompanied with a ½ step slide backwards…soul destroying. Thankfully the views are enough to keep you going.
The last section really does come down to a battle between mind and matter. As we approached the summit our guide started to break up the remaining section into 10 minute chunks as he knew from experience people can suffer from exhaustion and altitude sickness.
Finally, and I really mean FINALLY, we made it. And it WAS worth it. After 5 hours of hard work, we were rewarded with lunch overlooking this.
Watching and listening to molten lava burst out of the top of a volcano is a mesmerizing and incredibly humbling experience and I was sad when all too soon we had to tear ourselves away from the fireworks to start the journey back down. Another 3 hours and some 20,000 pain inducing steps later we were at the bottom and ready to crack a beer :)
Back to the hotel to enjoy the hot tub before dragging ourselves to a well earned dinner. We went to Hector’s which is a tiny French Bistro on the outer edge of the city, run by an energetic local couple, who lived in Canada for a few years and chat to every table in a loud mix of Spanish, English and whatever other language they come across. We had to queue for a little while to get a table but it was worth the wait – good food and wine, which was all we needed to finish the day off and send us stumbling back to our beds.
It was tiring. In fact it was rueling. But OH MY, it was worth it.