Excuse me while I kiss the sky. - Jimi Hendrix
Birds flying high, you know how I feel. Sun in the sky, you know how I feel. - Nina Simone
Location: Chimaltenango Department, Guatemala
Elevation: 3,976m (13,045ft)
Difficulty level: Advanced - Not for the faint of heart
Trail length: 18km (11mi)
Elevation gain: 1500m (5,050ft)
Camping / Huts: Yes / No (scroll below for more info)
Date hiked: December 30 & 31, 2017
Dec 30, 8:55am. My friend Tom and I finished stuffing a ridiculous amount of food, water, and alcohol into our bulging backpacks and threw down the rest of a third cup of coffee. We were ready to tackle Acatenango. . .
Description: Normally a two day/one night hike (we did it in three days/two nights)
Day 1: The trail starts from the trail entrance across the street from the bus stop, where your shuttle or local bus will drop you off at tiny pueblo Aldea del Soleadad. There are roughly three segments to the trail.
1) 2,000m elevation - trail entrance. The first segment runs through a tapestry of agricultural fields, but the trail itself is, unfortunately, all steep, loose gravel, with no shelter from the sun, and by all accounts - it's a rough start. For every two steps forward you take one step back, and the sweat will be pouring if the sun is out. There is a 'descanso' or rest stop with snacks at the end of this segment.
2) 2,772m elevation - park entrance. The second segment starts out as... steep, loose gravel. Sorry. BUT it quickly changes as you reach the tree line of the tropical cloud forest, and the trail changes to packed dirt (still steep), and as you climb higher in elevation it gets mercifully cooler. There is a 'descanso' or rest stop with snacks at the end of this segment at the official park entrance, where you will need to pay the entrance fee (50Q each).
3) 3,700m elevation - the base camp for hikers. The third segment runs through a high alpine forest quite literally in the clouds, and then you burst out onto an open dirt road. After a while it becomes a trail again, winding around the top third of Acatenango, with sparse pine trees and views of the surrounding valley and volcanoes, until you finally get your first view of Vulcan Fuego. Then you're only minutes away from one of the most scenic lunch spots/campsites in the world!
4) Optional: 3,976m elevation - summit. If you’ve made it to base camp, you’re already included in the elite trail running category. But if you want to push it even further, and you’ve brought appropriate cold-weather gear, you can set out the extra 300m up to the summit of Acatenango. The trail here is loose, steep gravel again, this time at high elevation - it’s not even close to easy after the already grueling ascent to basecamp, but the views from the summit are spectacular. You’ll have a birds’ eye view of the surrounding valleys and volcanoes, above the sea of clouds, and the indisputable right to say Vini, Vidi, Vici (I came, I saw, I conquered).
Day 2: From the campsite back down to the trail entrance across the street from the bus stop at Aldea del Soleadad.
Trail: Well-maintained. Some steep loose gravel, loose dirt, clay, and packed dirt trails.
a. Download the trail route for use offline with Maps.Me, Waze, or Google Maps (there's no reception on the hike).
b. Bring a walking stick.
Organize before the hike:
You can hire a guide, or join a guided tour - this is what probably 90% of hikers do, and what pretty much everyone in Antigua will tell you is "the only way". It's not the only way. My friend and I negotiated with a tour company to just charge us $25 instead of $55, and this would only include transport from Antigua to the trail entrance and the park entrance fee - other than that, we were on our own. The requirement from them was that we promised to go up the mountain with a guided group, and come down the mountain with a guided group - while up there, we could do whatever we wanted.
Later we found from another solo hiker that you can even go up without a guided group - she had figured out how to catch a bus to the right stop, paid the entrance fee, and then just followed groups up the mountain and camped in her own tent. While I can understand why they don't want a bunch of crazy tourists taking stupid risks and dying (several people died in 2017, which is when they cracked down on the rules), most people who undertake these kinds of ventures are relatively prepared.
It's different for everyone, so just make sure you have all the information and gear you may need before you go.
Pack: Walking sticks, sunscreen, warm gloves, warm hat, warm jacket, and at LEAST 2L water per day, per person (there's none up there).