Acatenango and Fuego Volcanoes: Overnight Hike with OX Expeditions
WARNING: This challenging hike is NOT for the faint of heart. Your physical endurance and mental fortitude will be continuously put to the test. However, the gloriously epic payoff to see glowing lava is worth the aching muscles, drenched gear, and shivering sleepless night on the side of an active volcano!
When Brad mentioned he wanted to hike a volcano in Guatemala I was automatically on board. Who wouldn't want to add an adventure like that to their bucket list, right?
The only pressing questions were when to pull the trigger and which tour operator would show us the way. After our third week in Antigua, we decided it was time to commit. The long anticipated wait was over.
Booking the Acatenango Volcano overnight hike with OX Expeditions was an easy decision. The company's informative website answered all of our questions about gear, extra costs, and timelines. We even scored a 10% discount after an email inquiry!
Although OX Expeditions falls on the mid-high scale in terms of cost, the company is worth every penny. Hiking a volcano, let alone two, is very dangerous. The guides at OX Expeditions have been safely guiding groups since 2004.
Whether you decide to book online or onsite, a deposit of $29 USD (228 GTQ) per person is required. The remaining $51 USD (400 GTQ) is due the night before at the pre-hike meeting.
If you decide to do the Double Whammy (night hike to Fuego Volcano from base camp) it's an additional cost of $37.50 USD (294 GTQ) per person. Brad and I waited to pay for this portion since we didn't know if we would be up for it. Luckily we were and paid upon our return to Antigua. You only live once!
The total cost for the Acatenango Volcano overnight hike with Fuego Volcano (Double Whammy) through OX Expeditions was $117.50 USD (921 GTQ) per person.
Entrance fees to the park are not included and cash only. Be sure to bring 50 GTQ ($6.40 USD) per person.
Porters are available for hire to carry your bags to and from base camp. Brad and I opted for our 40L backpack to be hauled one way for only 200 GTQ ($26 USD) plus tip. Employing a porter supports the local community which depends on income from tourism. Not only will you save energy for the hike, but also help Guatemalan families.
Walking sticks can be rented at the start of the hike for 5 GTQ ($0.64 USD). Our wooden companions were invaluable as we traversed steep inclines and declines covered in loose gravel. I highly recommend using one or two depending on your preference.
Additional spending money is also handy if you want to buy water or snacks on the trail. I also heard stories of hikers forgetting eye glasses and cell phones along rest areas. Expect to give a big tip if you want a guide to hunt down your lost property.
Get your head in the game with the pre-trip meeting (5:00-6:30 PM) the night before your trek at the OX Expeditions headquarters in downtown Antigua. Introduce yourself to the other hikers before going over what to expect during the two-day journey.
Our lead guide, Chino, covered terrain, elevation changes, altitude sickness, kilometers, weather, gear, safety protocols, food, water, camp, sleep conditions, and risks. All questions and concerns were answered after we signed the waiver full of extensive terms and conditions. Goodbye liability!
A lot of the experience is contingent on the weather. Be prepared for a variety of microclimates. The rainy season (May-October) doesn't guarantee crystal-clear views or sunshine. We experienced mist, rain, lightning, and sunshine during our two-day hike. Put aside expectations and leave the rest to Mother Earth!
Antigua has an elevation of 1,545 m (5,069 ft). If travel plans allow, try to acclimate yourself to the altitude a few days before the hike. You will reach an elevation of 3,976 m (13,044 ft) at the summit of Acatenango Volcano!
Hiking experience is a plus, but not necessary. In the last few years, Brad and I hiked the Bavarian Alps and Sawtooth Range. Those don't even come close to the difficulty level of Acatenango Volcano and Fuego Volcano.
Age is just a number! Our group varied in age between late 20s to early 50s. The eldest woman in our group was an inspiration to us all as she reached the summit with a smile on her face.
My best advice is to be physically and mentally fit. A positive attitude and the will to achieve the unthinkable is a recipe for success!
Hydrate with plenty of water and eat meals rich in carbohydrates the day before the trek. Also be sure to stretch and get as much sleep as possible.
OX Expeditions provides a variety of gear such as fleeces, jackets, gloves, backpacks, ponchos, hats, and headlamps. The gear is distributed on day one of the hike so get to headquarters early in the morning for first dibs.
After Brad and I finished the pre-trip meeting, we rushed out the door to begin our supply run. We planned on borrowing a headlamp, wool gloves, and winter jackets from OX Expeditions, but decided to buy our own hats at the local market.
Besides two sports bras, Brad and I each packed the following clothing items:
Food & Drinks
A vital part of the hike is nourishment. You'll be burning a TON of calories! Stick with foods that will fuel your body with the energy it requires to keep up. We found everything we needed at the La Bodegona grocery store, which is only a few blocks away from the OX Expeditions headquarters.
Brad and I packed the following items to share:
OX Expeditions supplies four meals. On the first day you will have a traditional breakfast of coffee/tea, scrambled eggs, beans, plantains, and tortillas at a local restaurant. A filling meat or vegetarian pizza sandwich is provided for lunch. Pasta with a vegetable tomato sauce is served for dinner along with red wine. On the second day you will have bagels, banana bread, cream cheese, jam, Nutella, and coffee.
I was pretty impressed with the spread considering we were camping on the side of a volcano!
Brad and I were able to combine our clothes, food, water, and miscellaneous gear into my The North Face 40L Solaris backpack. Once we arrived at OX Expeditions headquarters the day of the hike, we took a share of the community food to haul up along with our sandwiches for lunch.
Our other backpack, the Peak Design 15L Everyday Zip, carried the Canon camera, GoPro, and wallet. We also stuffed some snacks, hand sanitizer, and toilet paper inside.
Additional essentials included Advil, Pepto-Bismol, chapstick, toothbrushes, toothpaste, paper towels, headlamps with extra batteries, sunscreen, deodorant, sunglasses, dry bags, earplugs, and eyedrops.
Brad and I arrived at OX Expeditions headquarters at 6:30 AM sharp to pick out our jackets and gloves. Once everyone finished packing, we loaded into three shuttles and drove to the breakfast restaurant at 7:30 AM.
The shuttles arrived in La Soledad, our starting point for the hike, around 9:45 AM. We handed off our 40L backpack to a porter before renting a couple of walking sticks. Willy, the assistant guide, joined us at the trailhead.
The hike began at 10:00 AM through the Farmland Area. The steep incline full of slippery loose soil is considered a warmup. Yikes!
I noticed my breathing picked up as my legs adjusted to the difficult terrain. My rain jacket quickly came off as my brow started to glisten with sweat. I didn't regret my decision to start the hike wearing shorts and a t-shirt!
Brad and I arrived at the first checkpoint after 30 minutes. Following a 20 minute break, our group hiked another 40 minutes to the registration area where we paid the park entrance fee. We covered a distance of 1.7 km (1.05 mi) with an elevation gain of 370 m (1,214 ft).
Cloud Forest Area
Chino sensed approaching rain and stopped at a sheltered rest area for lunch. We all scarfed down the pizza sandwiches in momentary silence. Exhaustion was creeping into all of our psyches after the harrowing switchbacks. At this point we reached an elevation gain of 3,000 m (9,843 ft).
Since the temperature was cooling down, Brad and I changed into our hiking pants and rain jackets behind a shed. After a quick visit to the outhouse, we were ready to head out.
Traversing the Alpine Area was eerily beautiful. A thick mist hovered in the air obscuring our view of the surrounding pines. Lush ferns, yellow flowers, and intricate mosses covered the landscape.
Chino's prediction soon came to fruition around 1:30 PM. However, the light rain couldn't wipe the smiles off our faces!
The steep trail eased up with a few flat parts. Camp came into view around 3:00 PM, followed by a cheer of excitement from the group. We covered a total distance of 12.1 km (7.5 mi) and reached an elevation of 3,550 m (11,647 ft) in 5 hours!
Ominous storm clouds quickly approached. We all scurried with our backpacks to claim a spot inside of the cabins. Each cabin was equipped with six sleeping bags, mats, and pillows.
As the thunder and lightning rattled above camp, a wave of relief hit us knowing we were going to sleep comfortably within a cabin instead of a tent.
The next big decision was whether to make the 9.1 km (5.65 mi) roundtrip trek to Fuego Volcano (Double Whammy). My jello legs protested, but my intention never wavered. I was going to get as close as I could to Fuego Volcano no matter what!
Chino delayed our hike by one hour because of the thunderstorm. I was grateful for the extra rest even though darkness was approaching. About 3/4 of our group decided to forgo the warm campfire for the chance to see fire erupt from the depths of the Earth.
Fuego Ridge aka Double Whammy
Just a few minutes into the hike to Fuego Volcano I had to plead with my muscles to remember my earlier rhythm. The walking stick was my saving grace as I navigated the steep decline to the bottom of the ravine.
The rain was creating narrow trenches of loose gravel and slippery mud. I braced for impact at least twice as I fell on my butt. With Brad ahead of me, I carefully mirrored his steps to reduce the chance of another humbling slip.
Looking at our upcoming ascent to the peak of the ridge was daunting. After a 10 minute break to empty the tiny pebbles from our shoes and hydrate, we slowly made our way up. As my quads screamed in agony over boulders and clumps of grass, I prayed for Fuego Volcano to reward our passage with splendid views.
The fierce wind at the top pierced right to my core. With chattering teeth, I looked towards the direction of Fuego Volcano and couldn't see anything besides a thick blanket of mist.
Hope seemed all but lost until the clouds cleared. Morale shifted in seconds. Roaring cheers exploded from the group as Fuego Volcano spewed forth its glowing lava in four consecutive eruptions.
Our camaraderie was sealed as we all shared in the magical moment. Chino's eyes beamed with pride. Patience and fortitude payed off!
We activated our headlamps to prepare for our return in the darkness. Fellow hikers with glowing headlamps could be seen in the distance making their way towards our position. After a quick victory snack of gummy bears, it was time to do the grueling trek all over again back to base camp.
Rest & Relaxation
The promise of hot pasta, dry clothes, and sleep upon our return was the kickstart we all needed. Dinner was ready by the time we reached camp at 9:00 PM. We sat down on the picnic tables and dug in.
I was so exhausted I barely had the strength to lift my fork. Brad and I quickly brushed our teeth before heading to bed. Our clothes were soaked, but our spirits were high. We completed day one!
My restless night was due to the ravaging cold. My sleeping bag was positioned along the side of the cabin next to the door. I tried my best to wrap extra clothes around me, but to no avail. I must have slept a bit since I awoke to the sound of my 3:00 AM alarm with a bit of drool on my face. Little victories!
The red glow of Brad's headlamp helped us get dressed in the dark. Our four other roommates hit the snooze button before emerging from their cozy cocoons.
I quickly brushed my teeth, washed my face, and went to the bathroom before it was time to make the final push to the summit for sunrise.
The sleepy group left camp promptly at 3:30 AM in total darkness. The sound of volcanic rocks crunching beneath our shoes created a metronome for us to follow as we proceeded single file up the steep face illuminated only by our headlamps.
I pulled off to the side of the trail numerous times to catch my breath. The altitude seemed to be hitting me. Eventually I began to shorten my steps to accommodate my desperate lungs. My mind took control and simplified the process. Left foot. Right foot. Repeat. Inhale. Exhale. Repeat.
My physical mantra was working. As the distance between Brad and I grew, I motioned for him to continue on without worry. There was no doubt in my mind I would make it to the summit.
Feeling my boots sink beneath the dry volcanic rocks was metaphorical. Acatenango Volcano could defeat you with a single step, but only if you succumbed to the physical pain.
A quick glance up to the top ushered in a wave of inner peace. With only 200 m (656 ft) left, I instinctively turned to my left and stopped in my tracks. The sky was waking up with rich hues of indigo and orange. A blanket of pillowy clouds stretched out before me as I marveled at Agua Volcano towering over glittering cities in the distance.
The sheer magnificence of the scorching sunrise will live in my memory forever. Walking towards Brad at the summit was one of the happiest moments of my life. To be on top of the world with my soulmate was a tremendous feeling. In that instant I knew love was an infinite force transcending time and space.
Mesmerizing views were enhanced with the eruptions of Fuego Volcano every 15-20 minutes. Lava and smoke spewed into the atmosphere with intense force. From an elevation of 3,976 m (13,044 ft), we were able to see from a uniquely rare perspective.
The joy was palpable after our strenuous 4.1 km (2.55 mi) climb to the summit. Frigid winds seemed to dissipate as we all marveled at the grandeur of Mother Earth.
After approximately 45 minutes, we began our 16.19 km (10.06 mi) descent of Acatenango Volcano.
Everyone made it back to base camp by 7:30 AM for breakfast. Sitting around the campfire with a hot cup of joe in hand was absolute perfection. We all munched on bagels and banana bread to fuel the climb down. The hardest part of the trip was behind us!
Sunshine warmed the crisp morning air as we packed our backpacks and cleared the cabins. Brad took the 40L bag while I took the 15L bag. Fortunately we ate and drank most of the weight, so our shoulders didn't have to handle too much.
The temperature increased as we descended into the Cloud Forest Area. Brilliant shades of green highlighted by rays of light surrounded the trail. Since we no longer had to conserve our breath, Brad and I conversed with several group members and exchanged travel stories.
We only stopped a couple of times to hydrate and eat snacks. Every so often we would take off another layer of clothing. With a moderate pace, our group reached the trailhead by 11:45 AM.
Upon arrival in Antigua, we unloaded our trash and borrowed gear. A few of us swapped contact information, pictures, and video clips. The awesome attitudes, chill vibes, and friendly personalities really enhanced the overall experience.
Brad and I shook hands with Chino and Willy while thanking them for an amazing adventure. Their hard work, attention to safety, and positive reinforcement helped to make the hike a success for all involved. These men are rockstars!
After a relaxing hot shower I climbed into bed with every intention of moving as little as possible. To celebrate our achievement, Brad and I ordered a pizza and snuggled with our roommate cat Yala. The next day we pampered ourselves with a couples massage at a luxurious spa.
Although we didn't get altitude sickness, Brad experienced a headache after completing the Double Whammy. One hiker opted to skip the summit trek to Acatenango Volcano while another had to turn back due to exhaustion. Pay attention to your limits to avoid an accident.
In my opinion, the night hike to Fuego Volcano was the hardest and best part of the two-day journey. Chino later told us our group was the only one to see eruptions that evening. Unfortunately the other groups didn't have any visibility due to the weather. Luck was on our side, but keep in mind there are no guarantees.
The two-day overnight hike to Acatenango Volcano and Fuego Volcano was the hardest thing I have ever done. Reaching the summit was a monumental and pivotal moment in my life. To witness the volcanic power of Mother Earth was invigorating.
Not only was this hike a highlight of our visit to Guatemala, but one of our favorite travel crusades to date!