Pets allowed
Allowed
Elevation Gain
5,150.00 ft (1,569.72 m)
Trail type
There-and-back
Distance
11.00 mi (17.70 km)
Please respect the outdoors by practicing Leave No Trace. Learn more about how to apply the principles of Leave No Trace on your next outdoor adventure here.

If you time it right, this two-day out-and-back will be one of your most memorable adventures. The trick? Go when the view is good – when the nearby volcano is spewing lava hundreds of feet into the air.

At this point most sane people should be asking, with reason, is it safe? In general, yes it is. The volcano that you ascend, Acatenango, is dormant, and the volcano you see from your campsite near the summit, Fuego, frequently erupts on a small scale and it is just far enough away to be a great view without great risk. To experience the show you'll need to pack for one night with ample food and water and warm clothes to weather the elevation (the peak of Acatenango is about 13,000 feet) and steep climb.

This trek is also the number one attraction in Antigua, Guatemala, on the TripAdvisor platform. That means tours remain price competitive (about $50 per person, including food and equipment), although there are higher price points for a little more luxury (the especially glamorous can pay to have their gear carried up by a guide). It also means you will not be the only one trekking up the volcano.

It is possible to go on your own without a tour, although for safety reasons it is not recommended. Stories of bandits in the area are mostly outdated, but they still warrant a cautionary mention. You will need to pay the $7 fee at the trailhead, which is a 30-minute bus ride from Antigua and isn't thoroughly marked. It is in the vicinity of Aldea de Soledad. If you arrive in the morning after 8:00 a.m., you will see other groups gathering there.

The initial ascent from the trailhead at 7,800 feet up to about 10,000 feet is the most difficult of the four- to seven-hour hike. The grade is extremely steep in parts, and the thick dirt makes hiking a slow go from the outset. The trail meanders upward with the occasional farmland to your right or left in the more sun-exposed sections. Then you'll enter the welcome shade of the lush jungle flora. For a more detailed look at the four distinct ecosystems you'll encounter on this hike, click here.

This narrower section eventually widens out into an alpine-esque landscape, trading welcome shade for welcome views. The last hour of the ascent traces the side of the volcano, traversing around to face its active sister-in-lava, Fuego. Rounding a bend just below the camping areas (these are not specifically designated but each tour group seems to have staked out their perch), Fuego comes into view and will stay that way until the descent the following day.

Camp is generally below the summit at about 12,500 feet. Tour groups create small campfires and settle in with hot chocolate to watch the show. Those with a well-positioned tent have a volcano view from the comfort of their sleeping bag. It's a surreal experience, and at night it is most spectacular. Keep an eye on the floating darkness for the liquid reminder of nature's sublime power. If you're a light sleeper, bring earplugs because an active Fuego means the sound of those explosions will accompany your dreams throughout the night.

At 4:00 a.m. groups don headlamps and make the one-hour (chilly) push to the summit for one of the most epic views in all of Guatemala. On a good day you'll see Volcano Fuego, Volcano Agua, Lake Atitlan, the Antigua Valley, and maybe even the Pacific Ocean. On a bad day, you'll barely see your hiking partner as thick fog and gale force winds test your zest for adventure.

The journey is a good challenge for seasoned hikers, but at a slow pace, even first-timers (with the support of the tour group) can make the grueling ascent. As with any good summit-bagging endeavor, the reward at the top is well worth it.

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)

Spring
Summer

Congestion

High

Parking Pass

None

Open Year-round

Yes

Days

2

Pros

Unforgettable views. A doable (albeit challenging) trek for beginners.

Cons

Popular. Congestion can be an issue.

Trailhead Elevation

7,850.00 ft (2,392.68 m)

Highest point

13,000.00 ft (3,962.40 m)

Features

Backcountry camping
Geologically significant
Big vistas
Guided tours

Typically multi-day

Yes

Permit required

Yes

Permit self-issue on site

No

Location

Field Guide

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