How to hike the Acatenango volcano

Ties Lagraauw

written by
Ties Lagraauw

updated 20.05.2024

Located in the Antigua region of Guatemala, awe-inspiring Acatenango volcano offers one of the best hikes in Central America. So, if you’re looking for an adventure that takes your breath away, climbing Acatenango is a must. Though the hike to the summit is no walk in the park, it’ll leave you with memories that'll last a lifetime — we're talking breath-taking views of lava flows and explosive eruptions. To help you make the most of this exceptional hike, read on for my first-hand account of this unforgettable experience.

Why you should hike Acatenango volcano

In short, we’re confident you won’t regret climbing Acatenango volcano. The ascent to the 3975 metre-summit was a highlight of my Guatemalan trip.

One of the highest volcanoes in the country, the view from the top is something you'll never forget.

From start to finish, the route through thick forest along a trail of volcanic ash is, quite simply, extraordinary.

While you might initially wonder, "what have I let myself in for?", hold that thought — after seeing the stunning view over the valley from the summit, all your aches, pains and sweat will become a distant memory.

Start planning your trip to Guatemala today! Simply get in touch with our local experts who will tailor a unique itinerary to suit all your wishes. Also for better planning, read our breakdown of how many days are optimal for visiting Guatemala and our Guatemala travel tips.

From the slope of the Volcán Acatenango you can see the active Volcán de Fuego. The views from the volcano are definitely worth to make the climb and spend the night in a tent.

From the slope of the Volcán Acatenango you can see the active Volcán de Fuego.

What did I think of Acatenango?

Visiting Acatenango and Tikal were the only things on my absolute must-do list for Guatemala. And, despite having heard horror stories about altitude sickness, bad weather conditions, and the sheer physical challenge of hiking Acatenango, I went ahead and I'm glad I did it — no regrets! 

The vistas throughout the climb are utterly enchanting, and that’s no exaggeration. On the left, you’re served epic views of Agua volcano. On the right, you’ll be greeted by a vision of a lava-covered Fuego volcano.

If that wasn’t enough, the three volcanic peaks around Lake Atitlán jut up from the west, with Santa María volcano veering behind them. 

If you don't climb Acatenango volcano during a trip to Guatemala, you're missing out bigtime.

Hiking Acatenango: a day-by-day itinerary 

Full disclosure — in all honesty, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect before tackling Acatenango’s summit. We’d heard different accounts from other travellers, but didn’t really know what awaited us. 

With that in mind, here’s my overview of what to expect, and how to make the most of your own experience of hiking Acatenango, with a day-by-day overview of my own itinerary.

Day 1: from start point to basecamp

We’ll begin with a word of warning — day one will see you walk the greatest distance, so pace yourself and be prepared! 

Tours start out from Antigua, where you’ll be picked up from your accommodation. From here, you’ll be taken to the town of La Soledad, either to the office of your tour operator, or to the home of your local guide. 

In my case, the tour I opted for was with an operator that supports the local community. 

After enjoying breakfast, you’ll be taken to the trailhead of the hike. 

Tip: if you haven’t come with supplies, this is your last opportunity to stock up on water and snacks.


Antigua, Guatemala © Shutterstock

From agricultural landscapes to basecamp 

The hike starts out through farmland, with the ascent ramping up after you've passed a clutch of cornfields.

While the initial section is tough, if you're pretty fit, it’s by no means unmanageable. Keep that in mind for when the going feels especially tough!

After a stretch of agricultural land, the trail continues through a magical mossy forest, where the air feels fresher and cooler. 

Once you've enjoyed lunch and a well-earned break among the lush forest, you’ll continue your ascent and experience another shift in landscape. In essence, the higher you climb, the sparser the forest becomes.  

Next, after climbing through cloud cover, fresh magic awaits in the form of a beautiful carpet of aromatic flowers. For me, the landscape just before reaching basecamp was the most special.

Need to know: tours tend to begin around 11am, and you’ll reach basecamp around 3pm, which means you’re “only” hiking for 4-5 hours.

View from Acatenango basecamp 

On arriving at basecamp, you might want to take a moment to recover before checkingyour tent (tents are already set up in base camp, no need to carry this) ahead of having your effort rewarded by a truly majestic experience. 

At around 3800 metres, the camp looks out over Fuego volcano, one of the world’s most active volcanoes.

Come nightfall, the sight of its eruptions will have you thinking you’re on another planet. Remarkably, Fuego erupts every twenty minutes or so.

Sitting around a campfire, feeling the ground quake while watching it shoot lava skyward was one of the most memorable moments I’ve experienced in all my travels.

It was, in a word, otherworldly.

Need to know: come prepared for the cold! While Guatemalan days are wonderfully warm, bear in mind that at altitudes over 3500m, evening temperatures drop fast. So, bring a jumper, long trousers, and a coat. You can buy this on the market in Guatemala or rent ir from the tour operator.

Acatenango and a basecamp © Shutterstock

Acatenango and a basecamp © Shutterstock

Day 2: from basecamp to the summit 

Next morning, after waking at 4.30am excited by the prospect of hiking the last few hundred metres to the summit, it looked like my plans might be thwarted by the weather.  

However, despite the raging wind and the air being thick with fog, I pressed on to the top.

Overall, I’d say this is the trickiest segment of the hike. While it’s not that physically demanding, the volcanic sand terrain is challenging to navigate. 

Tip: wear decent footwear. While I don’t usually tend to wear full-on hiking boots, I was very glad I’d opted to wear them for this trek.

At the summit 

After trekking that tricky volcanic sand terrain for around two hours, I reached the summit.

While the view from here should be out-of-this-world spectacular, the foggy conditions meant I couldn’t see more than two metres ahead.  

Given that taking in the view from the summit is one of the main reasons for hiking Acatenango volcano, this was pretty disappointing. That said, I didn’t feel dejected for long. 

Hiking Acatenango volcano is, quite simply, an incredible experience. After all, trekking through such varied landscapes and witnessing wild volcanic eruptions isn’t the kind of thing you see every day.

The descent  

As is usually the case when hiking mountains or volcanoes, descending Acatenango volcano is harder than the ascent. People with knee problems, should take this into accaunt. 

Since Acatenango has a lot of volcanic ash (and I mean a lot), it’s easy to slip, so watch your footing and take your time.  

The good news is, once you’ve returned to basecamp after an hour or two, the going gets much easier, and much faster. 

From basecamp, you’ll be back at the starting point another few hours, ready to return to La Soledad, and then onto Antigua, having experienced something you’ll never, ever forget. 

Hiker on top of Acatenango volcano watching Fuego volcano eruption © Shutterstock

Hiker on top of Acatenango volcano watching Fuego volcano eruption © Shutterstock

Tips for climbing Acatenango volcano 

While it’s true to say that climbing Acatenango volcano is no easy task, if you’re reasonably fit, you’ll be good to go. 

In my experience, having climbed volcanoes in Asia like Rinjani and New Zealand, and having tackled the challenge of hikes in Colombia, climbing Acatenango was eminently doable, despite some of the horror stories we’d heard!  

To help you prepare and make the most of your own experience, here are my tips for climbing Acatenango.

1. How and where to book an Acatenango tour

If you want to reach the summit of Acatenango volcano, you’ll need to book a tour.  

With the volcano located near Antigua, most travellers opt to book their tour here — the city isn’t short of tour operators 

It’s also possible to book a volcano hike tour along with your accommodation, but don't just choose any old organisation! 

Tip: go local — whatever tour you choose, book with an operator that supports the local community. 

2. Is it difficult? 

How hard it is to climb Acatenango volcano?  — a tricky question I’ve been asked a lot.  

In my experience, despite having being warned about extreme cold, altitude and muscle pain that lasts a week, I wasn’t affected by any of these issues.

For another example, a 50+-year-old couple on our tour made it to the top without any problem. 

That said, to be clear, this climb isn’t easy, but if you’re in good physical shape, you should be able to make it to the summit, and enjoy the experience.

One word of warning — as the summit of Acatenango volcano sits at almost 4000 metres, some hikers can suffer from altitude sickness.

Tip: aspirin is said to decrease the incidence and severity of altitude sickness symptoms. 

3. Walk at your own pace

Remember everyone has a different pace, and it's almost impossible to stay together. So, always walk at your own pace, and resist the temptation to force yourself to keep up with others. 

If you're struggling to keep up with the pack and need a break, take a break. Simple! 

There are plenty of resting points along the way. What’s more, with a guide upfront and behind, you won’t get lost. 

In short, it's your experience, so enjoy it your way, at your own pace!

4. There are porters 

Worried you’ll struggle to carry your gear? Fear not — local porters can be engaged to do it for you. 

While I didn't use the service ourselves, chances are, plenty of hikers will find this enhances their trip. 

As with taking the trek at your own pace, don't feel too proud to ask for help. Porters are happy to assist hikers, and the money will be appreciated. 

5. Don't drop out after the first half hour 

“The first hour and a half of the climb is the hardest”. This is, most likely, the first thing your guide will say as you set off towards the summit of Acatenango volcano. 

From personal experience, I can confirm this is the case — at the start of the trek, I admit to asking myself what I was doing! Also speaking from personal experience, I urge you to put that thought aside and keep going.

It definitely gets easier after the first couple of hours. And, once you hit basecamp and the summit, all that early pain will be forgotten. 

6. Bring warm clothes

Given the overnight drop in temperature at this altitude, and the fact you’ll need a good night’s sleep, I want to highlight the need to bring warm clothes for your overnight stay. 

What’s more, your morning walk to the summit might also be on the chilly side. 

Personal tip: I came prepared with thermal clothing, which doesn’t take up much space in your backpack, and will definitely keep you cosy through the cold night. 

7. Come armed with a camera 

From start to finish, through shifting landscapes, the views throughout this hike are truly breath-taking, and often jaw-droppingly bizarre. 

From views of a volcano spitting lava at twenty-minute intervals, to vistas of majestic mountains and sweeping valleys, to the sea of clouds you’ll see at 4000 metres, these are moments you won’t want to forget, and won’t want to miss capturing.  

Fun fact: I took over 300 photos in two days!

8. What should you bring? 

Basically, don’t bring too much with you, and pack what you need in a small backpack. Someone in my group brought 18 kilos with him, and had a hard time carrying it. 

Sunset view of Fuego volcano & Acatenango volcano © Shutterstock

Sunset view of Fuego volcano & Acatenango volcano © Shutterstock

Personal tip: wear your oldest clothes. After sitting by a campfire all evening, the smoky smell is hard to shift!

In terms of clothing, I brought:

  • 2 t-shirts
  • 1 sweater 
  • 1 pair of shorts 
  • 1 pair of long trousers 
  • Poncho (very useful!) 
  • 2 pairs of socks 
  • underwear for 2 days
  • 1 pair of sneakers 
  • 1 pair of mountain boots 
  • Thermal clothing — this made a massive difference!  

In addition, my tour provider lent us jackets, gloves, hats and a torch. Almost all tour operators offer these, but it's best to check.

Other items I brought: 

  • 4 litres of water per person 
  • Snacks 
  • Camera
  • Sunscreen
  • Toiletries 
  • Plasters and paracetamol 
  • Cash 

Renting clothes versus buying 

A question I’ve been asked a fair few times is whether you need to bring all these clothes with you. 

The good news is, if you’re on an extended trip and prefer to travel light, you don’t have to bring everything. 

In my case, I didn’t have my own thick coats, hats, mountain boots, gloves or tent. While a tent, mat and sleeping bag are included in tour operators’ prices, you can rent the following:

  • Torch
  • Gloves
  • Jacket
  • Walking poles  

I bought mountain boots for US$15 at the second hand market in Antigua. You can also buy the likes of jackets, torches and gloves here.

Going to Guatemala? Start preparing by familiarising yourself with things to know before you go.

What is the best time to climb Acatenango? 

In short, it’s possible to climb to the summit of the Acatenango volcano all year round.  

Given that conditions can change fast, it’s pretty impossible to predict whether the weather will be dry or clear. What you can do, however, is keep an eye on the general outlook for weather in Guatemala. 

Unfortunately, when I first reached Antigua, the weather wasn’t great, so I decided to travel first — taking in Atitlan, Chichicastenango and Quetzaltenango — before returning to Antigua to climb Acatenango.  

By a stroke of bad luck, the conditions at the summit weren’t much better when I returned.  

November to April 

On balance, the best time to climb Acatenango volcano is during the dry season. This runs from November through April.  

In the rainy season, between June and September, you’re much more likely to experience rain during your trek.

This also means there’s likely to be a lot of view-inhibiting fog at the summit.

For more on the best time to travel, read our guide to when to go to Guatemala.

colorful antigua guatemala

Antigua, Guatemala © Shutterstock

Keen to enjoy adventures in Guatemala? Get yourself The Rough Guide to Guatemala, and read our Guatemala travel tips.

For more inspiration, check-out our customisable Guatemala itineraries, or contact our local experts who are on hand to help you curate your perfect trip.

Ties Lagraauw

written by
Ties Lagraauw

updated 20.05.2024

Ties is a true world explorer - whether it be for work or leisure! As Content Manager at RoughGuides, and the owner of Dutch travel platform, Ties is constantly on the move, always looking for new destinations to discover.

Planning your own trip? Prepare for your trip

Use Rough Guides' trusted partners for great rates

Ready to discover
tailor-made travel?

Get support from our local experts for
stress-free planning & worry-free travels

Plan my trip ⤍