I know, Volcan de Fuego as seen from Acatenango Volcano oozes soo good that you might question your purpose in life. While the experience was not a series of unfortunate events as told by Lemony Snicket to children, I am saddened to say that this post will be an expectation vs. reality one, in that while the weather forecast was the most ideal on the day of our hike, the clouds seemed to have gotten too excited with our arrival at the camp that they wanted all the attention to themselves. You have been warned and if you still decide to carry on, my, I must’ve said something right in this paragraph. The photo is courtesy of Tropicana Hostel’s Instagram account.
Flying to Guatemala came to fruition after randomly looking for affordable flights with the dates I had in mind. When it popped after I missed grabbing San Andres in Colombia, I booked it in a heartbeat since Filipinos with US visas can also set foot in the country. After some reading, I decided to just settle in Antigua and see how things go from there; I had no plans of doing any Acatenango Volcano hike at all.
I was quite active with machines and weights (right, the gym) before the trip but it wasn’t a deciding factor for me to actually hike Acatenango Volcano. That didn’t mean I wasn’t open to the idea either as I brought layers—a jacket and a hoodie. On my second day in Antigua, with the following day’s forecast being very favorable, the hostel staff finally convinced me to do the activity.
“Since you’re already here, you might as well do it.”
Sold! Among the inclusions of what I paid for were:
- Round trip transportation
- Two pieces of cold weather clothing
- Four meals (not that I’m one, but there was a vegetarian option)
- A snack
- A private campsite with toilet
- A post-hike refreshment
The number of meals may be very enticing but it’s just the right count for an overnight trip so I bought protein bars and nuts in case my appetite needed additional attention. Each participant was to bring four liters of water to be used for food preparation and this didn’t include drinking water yet. I’m not thirsty like the wolf but I brought more than enough, which turned out to be a good idea as increased water intake may help in acclimatization.
For the clothes, I chose gloves and a puffer jacket. While there are also pants you can borrow, I’d say it’s best if you really have one that has a snug fit. You won’t necessarily be wearing them during the hike since you’re on the move but you’ll definitely need them at the camp when the cold’s starting to bother your follicles.
Breakfast came in at eight and I was surprised—and glad, actually—that there were only seven of us set for the hike (there were around or more than 20 the day before). Five were already huddled on a table so I took the empty one next to it where I was eventually joined by the last participant.
Our shuttle left before nine and within an hour we were at the starting point where a handful of furries were among the welcoming committee. If you think your legs will wiggle along the way, you can start looking for a walking stick here. A conically shaped mountain, which I assume to be Volcan de Agua, can be seen from a distance.
Our hike commenced before 10:30 and in approximately 50 minutes we were at our first stop where I was tempted to buy some beers for the night. With the presence of welcome signs, it looked like a rangers’ station.
In the ten minutes that we were there, I already went nuts over some of the nuts that I packed.
After a quarter of an hour we arrived at a shed where we rested for a bit again before continuing our pursuit to overtake other groups.
At midday we had burritos for lunch and the stopover provided the last chance to stock up booze for the overnight. “Nope, not this time,” I
lied to told myself. There was a toilet, but as much as I wanted to clear my bowels, nature wasn’t hooting yet.
Being someone who tends to capture every fleeting moment, I’ve always preferred being at the end of a moving line so I can stop anytime without inconveniencing anyone. Just like being seated at the end of a bus, I find it satisfying being able to see what’s happening to everyone. Lakas maka-chismoso! (I was about to cite being seated at the end of a plane but since I never really pay for my seat during a flight, bus to the rescue there. #poor)
The trail transitioned from rainforest into, for lack of a better description, an open one with trees that looked like they were remnants of Praimfaya in The 100. (Here comes my post-apocalyptic tendencies again!)
Before long, an unobstructed view (well, if it weren’t for the looming clouds) of the mountain which was visible from the jump-off point materialized. If you’re from the Philippines, Mayon will definitely come to mind. At 15 minutes past one o’clock, we had our first group photo taken.
From then on we were greeted by a green landscape with more of the towering leafless trees where our guide showed us a leaf that can be used to save your ass (literally). It was timely for a call of nature, as the clouds started creeping in.
After steep trails and another stop 30 minutes past two, it was already a walk in the
volcano park, with the terrain changing to a volcanic one. And breathtaking at that!
A mist was edging and thankfully, unlike in the movie, no extradimensional creatures emerged out of it.
It was three o’clock when we arrived at Tropicana Hostel’s camp and our guide mentioned that, given the duration of our stopovers, we were fast. Of course, it can be attributed to our headcount. Apart from the tents, there was a cabin which had enough room to accommodate twice our number. It was agreed immediately, though, that we’d just huddle up on the mezzanine.
The highlight of climbing Acatenango Volcano, for pros and beginners alike, I’d say, is witnessing an exhibitionist across it—in the form of Volcan de Fuego—rumble night and day. To appreciate the trickle of lava off its orifice, one simply has to stay overnight. After arriving at the camp, we were only blessed with a few minutes to see most of this neighboring volcano before the mist started engulfing it.
I pretty much accepted at that instant that it was not gonna be what we hoped for, but, being the hopeful human that I am, I still hoped against hope anyway.
It was supposed to be for dinner, but before four o’clock struck we were already enjoying the wine and toasting using plastic glasses. Past the hour, part of Volcan de Fuego was still visible, until the clouds became totally unforgiving, utterly blinding us from the volcanic activity that’s only a stone’s throw away.
The clouds were heavenly against the setting sun.
When the cold was already making my skin crawl, I put on my jeans over my shorts and donned the hoodie on top of my jacket. The food was served early, followed by hot chocolate and
s’mores marshmallows on sticks.
Conversations in front of the bonfire flowed smoothly since there were only a few of us. Aside from the basic introduction through the where-are-you-from question also came the question:
“What are your ages?”
In descending order, it was 31, 29 (American), two 27’s (American and Ozzie), 23 (Montrealer), and two 22’s (Irish). As we progressed I revealed that I brought three 700 mL cans of Gallo beer and that every arduous step on a precipitous slope during the hike I just kept telling myself that the extra weight is a reward that’ll be literally off my shoulders on the way back. Talk about motivation! Besides, there was NCIH that there was gonna be enough wine.
It came as a surprise to them that it had to be the oldest one who’d thought of such a thing so hopefully I only gave the impression that Filipinos are just social and not heavy drinkers. Gehee.
One of the Americans is into diving and has been to Palawan and it came out that the other one had the same Uber that I managed to book from Guatemala to Antigua. That driver was so conversant; there was no dead air during the long ride and if only he lived around town I would’ve asked him that we try the wild local drinks he was talking about.
We probably lasted longer outside had we had more to drink but since the supply was very limited, we called it a night before eight and made ourselves homey in our accommodation. The cabin was actually cozy that I had to take off an upper layer (I was already wearing the puffer jacket) before settling next to the wall. More chitchat followed which included hostel encounters and some topic which made me bring up The Purge.
Before silence fell and all we could hear was Volcan de Fuego grumbling, we agreed to wake up ’round midnight to check if nature became lenient.
I’ve always been a beach guy and not into climbing every mountain
searching high and low so it was my first time hearing about altitude sickness. I felt difficulty in breathing when I was trying to fall asleep but I must’ve only been paranoid after seeing two in the group get sick upon arriving at the camp. I didn’t sleep well and when the alarm awoke me, the sound of the wind and my instinct told me that the view wasn’t any better, so I no longer went out to check if there was any lava visible amidst the black and white.
Part of the Acatenango Volcano tour is another hike from the camp to the summit for the sunrise and an even better view of Volcan de Fuego. We started the new day with a bonfire at four o’clock but due to strong winds and one of us getting more sick by the minute, we decided against it in the end and just waited out breakfast. With the view not showing any sign of clearing up, we might’ve just ended up with zero visibility—not even a sea of clouds—had we decided to carry on.
Among my issues in life (not really) is my high metabolism (so it seems) so prior to breakfast, I cleared the traffic jam on Hershey highway. The toilet had a seat but it’s basically a pit so deep that you won’t smell a damn thing at all. I was told that it gets “moved” from time to time, which makes perfect sense. It wasn’t fancy but it definitely did the job for someone who drops a load everyday. Wet tissues and alcohol, come to papa!
We got on our feet at eight o’clock, two hours after breaking the fast, and it was foggy almost all the way down. Like during our ascent, I chose to be at the tail.
Was the only thing that I could muster from time to time for the guide’s hijo.
I wasn’t able to take any photo but there was some sort of marathon going on. Made me so curious if they were supposed to get tagged somewhere above and then go back down.
When the first beer opportunity came, I made up for the shortage of the night before without batting an eyelash. After all, it may have been morning, but somewhere around the world it was nighttime and some people needed a drinking buddy. I was just being tactful.
As we were nearing the end of our hike, one of the Americans hinted at a group which was starting theirs that we enjoyed the experience. “You didn’t see it,” one of them shot back flatly. Man, was he omniscient?! Well, I could only hope they saw what we didn’t.
Three hours after starting our descent, breaks included, we were reunited with the furries and downing our post-hike refreshments. Our sick guy was not feeling any better.
Back at Tropicana Hostel an hour later the Ozzie was on the phone with someone who I assumed to be a doctor. Except for visa application requirements, I don’t really buy travel insurance. That would be the first time that I realized how important having one actually is. You can never go wrong with it.
Just like photos, I consider lines in a dialogue as triggers to memories and the ones below made the cut. I’m connected to all but one on Instagram and should they stumble upon this post, let it be known that there’s no negative connotation intended, just statements worth remembering.
American 2: It’s gone. I no longer have to pinch my ass. “I shit in the woods, mom!”
American 1 (on a sign in Palawan): Say no to drugs, yes to sex and diving.
Someone: There’s no such thing as bad weather; just bad clothes.
Montrealer (on brushing his teeth while driving): I just swallow. I’m used to it. #toothpaste
American 1 (before going to bed): Just looking for my sunglasses.
American 2 (already in bed): Oh, I’m wearing them.
American 1: How did you guys close this door?
American 2: Don’t tell her!
American 1: *painful throat in the morning*
American 2: You don’t remember what happened?
American 1: You wish.
- Do the Acatenango Volcano hike and if you have a day to spare, stay overnight. We haven’t seen any action in the dark, yes, but I can only imagine how spectacular it would’ve been (see the best night photos in this post!). I’d go back if I can just to see Volcan de Fuego squirting, especially since we don’t have such a volcano in the Philippines.
- I wouldn’t say that you have to be fit for the hike but expect really steep trails. Therefore, assess yourself. If you’re not confident about your physical capability or your gut simply tells you not to, don’t do it. I could no longer find the article about it but weeks prior to our hike, someone died. It was an old tourist and if I remember right, altitude sickness was a factor.
- Consider the weather not just on the day of the hike but on the previous days as well. It can be challenging and very tough when the ground’s wet. Sometimes it even snows on top. Our guide showed us photos, taken days before our hike, of snow on the ground.
- There are a lot of companies that offer the tour. It just happened that the hostel I was staying at also have it and even offered a discount so I no longer checked out others.
- If you opt for a cheaper tour like I did, check if you’re guaranteed a guide who speaks English. I haven’t heard ours speak English at all but thankfully one of the Americans lived in Mexico when he was a kid.
- There may be tours which limit the number of participants, which can make the group more connected. The renowned “pool” party was held on the day of our hike so I’m guessing we were only few because everyone else was raving.
- While I’m not complaining, the food may not be enough or that good if you’re going for a cheaper tour. Bring something that you can feast on in such a case.
- If taking a dump (yeah, let’s not sugarcoat it) is part of your daily routine, you might wanna make sure you’ll have access to a toilet.
- Tip your tour guide. Do it for their leg days.
Because I have different priorities in life, I’ve excluded my beers and bites.
Visited: July 2019