Conquering volcano Acatenango: an overnight lava spectacle in Guatemala

Hiking and conquering volcano Acatenango in Guatemala to see neighbouring volcano Fuego spit out its red glowing lava at night is a truly unique experience. You don’t want to miss this overnight lava spectacle on your trip to Guatemala!

Highlights hiking Acatenango:

  • Enjoy jaw dropping views of the lava from neighbouring volcano Fuego
  • Accessible from Antigua: 1 – 1,5 hours drive.
  • The trip only takes 1,5 days, so it will fit in any itinerary
  • Sunrise summit views of the surrounding volcanoes and landscapes
Fuego volcano with smoke and blue skies in Guatemala

What to wear during you hike up Acatenango volcano

Layer up, because it is cold! The hike in the early morning of the second day is cold. And it’s even colder once you reach the top. Howling winds with wet condensation from the clouds are pretty much the norm up there. You can see an accurate prediction on where you’ll see temperatures close to freezing are no exception.

What to wear:

  • Two thermal shirts
  • Fleece sweater
  • Down jacket/thin jacket
  • Water proof windbreaker
  • Thermal pants
  • Quick drying (hiking) trousers
  • Sturdy hiking boots

What else should you bring up volcano Acatenango?

Don’t forget to bring these essentials when attempting to summit volcano Acatenango: 

  • Toilet paper
  • Head torch
  • Extra snacks

Tip: Rent a walking stick (10Q) to help with the steep terrain. There are people renting them out at the base of the hike. 

Sunrise at Acatenango volcano with Fuego volcano views.

Drinking water along the Acatenango hike

Most companies advise taking 3L of drinking water. Often you will need to take up an extra litre of water for the cooking (soup, hot chocolate, oats). Keep in mind you need more water at higher altitudes than at sea level. Your body might need more water than the recommended amount of 3L. I brought 1,5L extra in addition to the recommended 3L and finished every drop. Do what is right for your body.

Itinerary overnight Acatenango hike

The itinerary is pretty much the same for all companies. They make an effort to all start at slightly different times so the trails don’t get congested. On the way up we only ran into two other groups.

Day 1: Gaining altitude

  • 08:00 Breakfast at the accommodation in Antigua
  • 09:00 Departure by minibus
  • 11:00 Start hiking
  • 14:00 Lunch
  • 17:00 Arrival at base camp
  • 18:00 Dinner & watch Fuego erupt

Day 2: Summit day

  • 04:30 Wake up time!
  • 04:50 Start hiking to the summit
  • 06:00 Summit with sunrise
  • 07:30 Breakfast
  • 08:15 Hike down
  • 11:00 Departure by minibus
  • 12:30 Back in Antigua
Person standing in front of active, smoking volcano Fuego at sunrise.
Sunrise summit on Acatenango volcano with views of the active Fuego volcano.

How difficult is the hike up Acatenango?

This hike is no walk in the park. The altitude makes it very challenging. There are many steep parts that go straight up the volcano. Other parts are flatter switch backs. That being said, it is do able. Take your time, take lots of breaks and drink enough water. Good luck!

The lava spectacle

Fuego is an active volcano and you are pretty much guaranteed to see lava spitting from its top. Every once in a while there is rumbling or a loud explosion. The rumbling sounds like a mix of a jumbo jet and a thunder storm.

We saw lava exploding from the peak of Fuego many times. We also saw the lava slowly slide down the side of the volcano, giving it a red glowing hue. Unfortunately my photography skills weren’t good enough to capture this.

Instagram vs. Reality

During our hike we had quite a lot of clouds. The view of the lava was sometimes slightly obstructed. Also on the summit we faced cloudy weather. We waited in the howling winds for short moments in between clouds to snap photos. Luckily we could enjoy the view for brief moments. Sometimes the sky was clear enough to see Lake Atitlan in the distance, which is 70km away!

This was the view of Fuego we saw in between the clouds.
Person standing in front of volcano Fuego which is covered in clouds.
Reality... Volcano Fuego in the clouds! Luckily we also has sunnier weather during the two day hiking trip up volcano Acatenango.

Smart questions to ask before booking your tour up Acatenango volcano

All tour agencies offer a slightly different tour. Below are the most important differences between the different agencies. Make sure to ask these questions if you have specific wishes. Otherwise just go with the flow.

  • Does the camp have a view of Fuego?
  • What do I need to carry up?
  • Is the national park entrance fee included?
  • Is there a dinner tent to stay out of the wind while watching volcano Fuego?
  • Can I leave my bags here and shower afterwards for free?

If you want to know more about certain agencies in particular, keep reading!

Where to book your trek up Acatenango volcano: travel agencies compared

All tour agencies offer a slightly different package, though the experience is pretty much the same. There are slight differences in the pricing, camps and provided gear. 

Tropicana and Balam Tours have camps on the eastern side of Acatenango. Apparently this route is slightly easier because it’s less steep. Most other agencies have their campsites on the western side of Acatenango. There are 4 different routes up the Volcano Acatenango. This way the crowds are spread out. 

We saw people with blankets and lunch boxes tied to their backpacks. Others got drinking system from company. Each company has its own pros and cons. Below is a comparison between some of the tour agencies offering trips up Acatenango volcano. This can help you decide which agency fits you best. 

Tropicana travel agency

The camp run by travel agency Tropicana has 2 houses with 14 beds each, so they take up a group of maximum 28 people at a time. Tours can be booked from their agency in Antigua. 

Pros Tropicana

  • You do not need to carry your own gear up the volcano. 
  • The entrance fee to the national park is included in the tour price.

Cons Tropicana

  • The campsite of Tropicana only has huts for sleeping and does not have a dinner tent to keep out of the wind. Once you reach the top it can get really windy. There will be no shelter  while watching neighbouring volcano Fuego erupt. 
  • Sleeping on the upper level of the hut is uncomfortable if you need to go to the toilet during the night.
Simple huts on the Acatenango volcano with clear blue skies overlooking the valley below.
The huts Tropicana travel agency offers
Person standing in front of sleeping huts on the Acatenango volcano in Guatemala. Person is looking at views of Fuego volcano.
Here you can see the view from the Tropicana camp. In the backdrop you can see Fuego in the clouds.
The inside of the huts offered by Tropicana travel agency.
Volcano Fuego in the clouds, will everyone is gathered around the fire. It gets cold! Not having a dinner tent is a downside.

Wicho and Charlie’s travel agency

Which and Charlie’s is one of the most well known agencies offering tours up Acatenango. Their office is based in Antigua. 

Pros Wicho and Charlie’s

  • Renting warm clothes is included in the price.
  • Wicho and Charlie’s provide a dinner tent to stay out of the cold.
  • You only need to carry 2 litres of water and can refill.
  • This agency also offers climbing Fuego after arriving at base camp, instead of only looking at it. This unique experience comes at an extra fee of 200Q.  Another option is climbing to the Acatenango summit for sunset.

Cons Wicho and Charlie’s

  • At 475Q Wicho and Charlie’s is one of the pricier travel agencies.
  • They fail to mention that the entrance fee of 50Q is not included in the price.

Soy travel agency

Soy travel agency is great for budget travellers looking for a deal!

Pros Soy

  • For 350Q, Soy offers a great deal.
  • Renting warm clothes is included in the tour price. 
  • The 1L of water for cooking is carried for you.
  • The half open dinner tent allows you to eat out of the wind.
  • Soy has the highest camp site, which gives you great views.

Cons Soy

  • Some of the clothes offered to rent are dated.

Balam tours travel agency

Balam tours has their camp next to Tropicana. 

Pros Balam tours

  • Balam tours has stretcher beds at their campsite for you to sleep on. 

Cons Balam tours

  • Balam tours has big groups of 30-35 people.
  • You need to carry up a blanket and bulky lunch box.
  • There is no dinner tent to stay out of the wind.
Balam tours camp as seen from Tropicana camp site.
Balam tours does not have a dinner tent to stay out of the cold.
The weather can change quickly on Acatenango volcano. Balam tours camp is in the clouds.

The verdict

The altitude makes the hike up Acatenango difficult! Despite cloudy weather, the lava and hiking was spectacular! 

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