Flight booked. I hadn’t really thought about going to Guatemala before, but then my friend asked to go somewhere that neither of us had been to, and 20 minutes later we were booking flights to Guatemala. Little did I know that this beautiful country has SO MUCH to offer. It was pretty spectacular.
From volcanoes, to cute towns, to beautiful lakes, and amazing people. What more could you even ask for? I only spent 7 days there and it wasn’t nearly enough. I separated this trip into 3 parts – Antigua, Volcano Acatenango and Fuego, and Lago de Atitlan. All totally doable in a 7 day period, but it definitely felt a little rushed, and I could have happily spent a few extra days on the front end and the back end exploring Antigua and Lago de Atitlan.
However, there was one truly standout moment, and that was the backpacking trip up two of Guatemala’s most famous and incredible volcanos: Volcano Fuego and Volcano Acatenango.
We were very last-minute planners and booked our volcano tour 2 days before heading out to the Selina Hostel in Antigua. We chose to stay at the Selina Hostel because it was super affordable and very much a backpackers’ paradise. There’s a pool, a bar, hammocks, a courtyard, plenty of tours, and a bunch of events and activities. The city is incredibly safe with cool bars and restaurants, beautiful cobblestones, and lots of fun enjoyable activities to do and hang out with. We spent our time roaming around the city and enjoying the beautiful architecture and very traditional streets. And then the next day we embarked on a crazy journey that we truly had done zero research into and had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.
We booked a tour/guide directly from the Selina Hostel which ended up being the most economical option. And we tacked on a massage for when we got back. Note that you have to go with a guide, you aren’t allowed to do this backpacking trip by yourself.
They pick you up in the morning in Antigua and take a van up to the start of the hike. The backpacking trip up Volcano Acatanango and Fuego is a thrilling adventure that takes you through stunning landscapes in Guatemala. If you do both volcanos they both stand at over 13,000 feet and you gain about 5000 feet during the hike, which is not for the faint-hearted, so if you have altitude issues this may not be the best hike for you.
It is an extremely strenuous hike, and on day 1 even just to get to base camp you’re hiking for about 6-8 hours. Acatanango is a dormant volcano and base camp is located around 11,483 feet above sea level. Here you can rest and enjoy a well-deserved meal while basking in the awe-inspiring panorama of the surrounding mountains and valleys.
At this point, you have a choice to either go up and get a closer look at Volcano Fuego which is an active volcano, or just stay and hang out at basecamp. While I was very much exhausted at this point, I dropped my Deva 60 Gregory backpack off in my tent and kept going to get a closer look at Volcano Fuego. If you have any extra energy DON’T MISS THIS PART. This was a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience that I will never forget. The hike to the saddle is extremely exhausting, strenuous, and rocky, but so worth it.
After another few hours of hiking, we finally arrived at Volcano Fuego and it was a phenomenal experience. Turns out you can’t see lava during the day and you can only actually see it at night. We hiked up to Volcano Fuego right at sunset, and we were well above the clouds. The volcano was unbelievably STUNNING. It erupted every 15-30 minutes and we saw the live lava erupting from the volcano and spewing out over the sides. And throughout our entire hike back to base camp, we just kept turning around and admiring the beauty.
You have the option to wake up before dawn and mark the final ascent to the summit of Vulcano Acatnango. Some people decided to wake up the next day and summit the Acatenango Volcano for sunrise. However, just know that this final push isn’t totally necessary. The majority of us stayed in bed and watched the sunrise from base camp, and you had a clear shot of the volcano and the views were still so sunny. Remember that the soil is super ashy going up the volcano so it is a super strenuous hike.
After that, you have the long trek back down to the bottom of the mountain. I recommend bracing yourself and running down half of it because I found that to be mentally and physically less exhausting than trying to be careful and walk down every step.
It was honestly and truly one of those TRULY magical incredible experiences I know I will remember forever. It’s not every day you get to see a live active volcano. That whole experience was one that will be burned into my memory for the rest of my life, just like motorcycling the Ha Giang Loop in Vietnam is, or riding camels and camping out in the Sahara desert.
If it’s not already, Guatemala you be on the very top of your travel list! What an absolutely underrated country with so much to offer!! Happy traveling!