Have you ever witnessed an Active Volcano erupt in front of your eyes? I have... Holy S##T it was Epic!
Written by: Jacques Massie
4.25AM & its freezing cold and after a night of minimal sleep we are already late. Half asleep, Fuego greets us with a show of mother nature’s power and the mood changes as we become more urgent in our summit push. The night before we had planned to be leaving the campsite at 4.30AM allowing our group plenty of time to view the sunrise over Guatemala. At 4.45AM the group is finally ready to go and time is now against us. Half way up and a quick time check suggests we may just miss the sunrise, frustration starts to show and tempers start to flair amongst the group. Finally the peak comes into view, a looming tower of shadows and loose rocks. After keeping the group together the whole way up the guides finally let the faster people push on themselves. Like dogs off a leash we scramble up the last hundred meters as fast as our tired legs will take us.
Where and How?
First of all we were surprised to even make it to Antigua in the first place. We had previously experienced driving in Central America but I don’t think anything could have prepared us for the drive from Semuc Champey. What was meant to be an 8hr + drive took our driver an impressive 6hrs. Solid effort really if not slightly terrifying. The driving itself can be a whole new blog however a quick tip is to shut your eyes and try not to think about driving on the wrong side of the road and overtaking on blind corners. Fortunately we made it in one piece and could then focus on organizing our next adventure, hiking ‘Volcan Acatenango’.
A large majority of backpackers go to Antigua specifically with the intentions of hiking Acatenango. This makes booking a guided tour very easy. We decided to go with the easy option and booked with our hostel, Tropicana which cost us $48 US each. If you have the time I would recommend finding a local tour operator and booking through them as you can save a bit of money through cheaper rates (don’t be afraid to barter with the locals). Unfortunately we only learnt this afterwards. In retrospect we would have probably saved about $20 U.S each, the equivalent of 2 days of living in Nicaragua.
One really nice aspect of booking through the hostel is that it includes a pancake breakfast for everyone so you get to meet the others on your hike. The day started at 6:30AM for breakfast and the shuttle picked everyone up afterwards.
What you are supplied with:
- Breakfast x 2, lunch and dinner
- Tent, sleeping bag and mat
- Traditional Mayan hot chocolate and coffee
- Discount on accommodation for the night we returned
- Free secure storage of luggage left behind
What you need to bring:
- 4L of water
- WARM CLOTHES (you can hire extra warm gear however to save money bring your own)
- Hiking pole if you find this helps (again you can hire one for a cost if you wish)
- Camera – this is definitely something you want to look back on. I recommend a camera that can take good night photos as well as the lava spurts at night are incredible.
- Extra snacks – the energy expenditure is huge for this hike
- Toilet paper (yes you go “oh natural” and use the bush)
Our shuttle took us to a small village where the trail head was located. This is also where we met our local Mayan guides and got kitted out with our overnight hiking equipment.
One of the first things that stood out to us before we started the hike was the guides informing our group that we would be stopping every 500 metres. Sounded a bit excessive for just 4km worth of hiking, ‘reckon I’ll cruise this’ I thought to myself at the time. The start of the hike took us through farmland where we could see some locals tending to their crops. It was slightly uphill but nothing too extreme although the horses looked rather tired working out in the heat! The first 500 metre stop came up very quickly. We were all puffing to some extent but the guides only laughed and mentioned this is where the climb begins! After this point the uphill gradient was relentless. Fortunately we now had the cool shade of trees covering us from the scorching heat of the sun. It seemed that with each stop the hike just got steeper and steeper. I will admit now that I struggled. It was very impressive to see people much less fit than myself pushing hard throughout the entire uphill slog.
Once we ascended past 3000 metres it became difficult to get moving again after each break due to the thinner air and of course tired legs. When Mount Fuego came into view we realized we were experiencing something special. The eruptions “rolled out the red carpet” for us as we stumbled into the campsite. A quick setup followed by silence and a true moment of awe. Picture this; A volcano spewing ash and lava to the left of your view with a blue sky as backdrop, while a thunder and lightening display light up the thick mass of cloud right next to it, the sunset giving off a fiery background. The pictures we took really did not give justice to this amazing display by mother nature.
It’s 4.20am…remember the restless night followed by one last steep scramble up to the summit? This was definitely one of the times where minimal sleep didn’t matter at all. Absolutely stoked to have made it to the top of Guatemala’s third highest volcano we watched, grinning from ear-to-ear, as the sun crept up beyond the horizon and illuminated the landscape below. The mist rolled lazily between the mountains which peaked out above to greet the sun as Fuego continued to erupt for us. A pretty surreal way to start the day.
Challenging, rewarding, impressive, these are just some of the words to describe this hike in Antigua. Even without the impressive displays from Fuego the challenge of accomplishing this assent is one to be proud of. Get a piece of paper, get a pen and put this one down on your bucket list.