How to climb Acatenango volcano without a tour


Our in-depth guide to climbing Acatenango without a tour or a guide and saving up to 80% off the cost.

Most people climb the Acatenango volcano with a tour group, but you don’t have to! Climbing Acatenango without a guide is totally doable with the proper preparation and knowledge. Guided tours are convenient and simple, but can really make a dent in your wallet. Climbing Acatenango without a tour takes more planning and work, but it’ll enable you to have more adventures with the money you save. Sometimes choosing the cheapest option can mean missing out on things, but not in this case. Summiting such an impressive volcano while foregoing the tour is much more rewarding. Here is our Dirt Cheap Travel Guide on how climb Acatenango volcano without a guide.

Why Guatemala?

There are many reasons to love Guatemala. The culture, the history, the people. But let’s face it: in this age of social media and travel blogging, remarkable photos go a long way toward grabbing your interest. That’s precisely how we fell in love with Guatemala. While doing a random Google search through pictures of Central America, one specific vista showing the Agua volcano overlooking Antigua Guatemala struck us in awe.

Note: check out our article on the best things to do in Guatemala.

Living in Quebec, Canada, Dereck is blessed with never ending wilderness. Nature so abundant it’s hard to imagine there’s anything else beyond. But as with most of northeastern North America, volcanoes and sharp mountains are not a thing. Seeing the vibrant colors of Antigua and its three giant volcanoes in the background completely charmed him. Before we’d even researched the country, before we knew of Tikal and Atitlán, before we even considered returning to Latin America, here we were, musing about that little town and climbing its mighty volcanoes.

Inspiring landscapes

Fast forward a few months and we’re renting a house on the slopes of Volcán Agua, granting awesome views of Volcán Acatenango and the erupting Volcán de Fuego. Amazing! One question quickly comes to mind. How do we get up there? What are the options for climbing the Acatenango volcano? Can I make it in one day? Do I need a guide, a tour, a shuttle? Is it possible to climb Fuego? Will I have to rent some equipment or will my standard gear be sufficient?

Being a guide, Dereck approached the situation differently than many would. He has a ton of experience outdoors, in cold and harsh environments. At the same time, that experience leads him to be very cautious. He’s too often seen clients come for dog sledding rides ill-equipped just to suffer through an outstanding landscape. He’s seen so many others undertaking hikes well beyond their ability because of a lack of information. Having climbed the 6,000 meter Huayna Potosi in Bolivia, he also had a previous taste of how inclement mountain weather might be.

Which volcano around Antigua should I climb?

We figure this is a fairly common question. Volcán Agua is the most obvious sight from Antigua, but hardly anyone climbs it anymore. Theft is ripe and tour companies have completely abandoned the itinerary. Still, we might give it a try this winter and if so, we’ll post an updated guide on the matter. Stay tuned!

What about Volcán de Fuego (volcano of fire)? Fuego is the star of Antigua nights. Lava spewing out of its crater is often seen from downtown! For that very same reason, people don’t often climb Fuego. They climb Volcán Acatenango, which is joined by a ridge to Fuego. This knife’s edge can be accessed, up to a point, rather safely. But as Acatenango is actually taller than Fuego, the best views of the red giant are up there, right on this dormant rim. Acatenango can be done as either a day hike or overnight. If you have the time, definitely choose the overnight!

What about Volcán Pacaya? Pacaya is located much farther out of town, about an hour and a half drive. It’s significantly easier and is an ideal family choice. Roasting marshmallows over lava hot spots on this mild mountain is a popular evening activity for hikers and while tour companies sell it well, they often don’t do it. Instead, you’ll be roasting over a fire in a barrel. Sometimes. It’s important to note the Pacaya volcano cannot be climbed without a guide to our knowledge.

This is a guide to hiking Acatenango in two days: going up the first day, spending the night, and heading back the second. However if you’re strapped for time, Acatenango can be climbed alone in one day. Start early, leaving between 7-8am. The directions to get to the trailhead and the bus fares will be the same, just climb straight to the summit. Even at a mild pace, you can get home before dark.

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Should you take a guide to climb Acatenango?

Yes you can take a tour. But you can also climb Acatenango without a guide. After climbing Acatenango twice, once on a tour and once on his own, Dereck decided to write down this little thorough guide to help you prepare for your climb. It contains directions, which chicken buses to take, admission fees, itinerary help and a list of essential gear you’ll need for a successful summit attempt.

Yes, you can take a chicken bus to Acatenango

First things first though: should you take a tour to climb Acatenango or should you attempt to do it on your own? It depends. As a tour guide, Dereck can surely appreciate the need for one. On the other hand, if you’re an avid hiker, comfortable with summits, altitude and being independent, this article will help you climb Acatenango without a guide for much cheaper than any tour agency in Antigua will offer.

Note: We mean it. Do not undertake this endeavor if in doubt. People actually die on Acatenango due to being inadequately prepared and this guide is no replacement for professional guiding services. If you’re hesitating and we happen to be in Antigua, don’t hesitate to hit us up in the comments below so we can talk about this over a beer!

What equipment will I need?

Tour operators generally provide the basic gear you need to spend a night on the mountain, but to climb Acatenango without a guide, you’ll have to put a little forethought into your pack.

Antigua feels like spring all year round. At the high altitude of Acatenango however, the nights get cold. Rain is possible on the slopes and it can get pretty windy. As a general rule, the clothes you need to bring around should be outdoor clothes. That means you shouldn’t wear any cotton clothing. Yes cotton is cheap, comfortable and stylish but it soaks up with moisture from the air or perspiration, and doesn’t dry. This is a perfect recipe for freezing up there. Dressing properly is an essential step to independent backpacking. To remain comfortable, favor clothes made of nylon, polyester or wool. Pants, shirt and socks matter most.

Tip: Check our backpacking packing guide for more information on the subject!

Acatenango is a very steep climb. Over just a few hours, you’re climbing hundreds of meters in elevation. Eventually, altitude kicks in and oxygen becomes more scarce. By that point, any superficial, useless trinket you’ve brought will weigh heavily upon you. Be sure to pack “just enough”. For example, in two days you don’t need two shirts or two pair of pants. You can even keep the same underwear. Don’t worry, we won’t tell. Below is our essential packing list for a two day climb on Acatenango without a tour.

What to pack for an overnight trip to Acatenango volcano

  • Clothing
  • 1X synthetic base layer (Top and bottom)
  • 2X pairs wool socks
  • 1X pair of trekking boots
  • 1X waterproof jacket
  • 1X polar fleece jacket
  • 1X medium weight down insulator
  • 1X windproof gloves, better if well insulated
  • 1X beanie or warm hat
  • 1X pair of sunglasses
  • 1X hiking backpack around 50L
  • 1X rain cover
  • Optional: if no rain cover, waterproof bags for your essentials
  • Camping
  • Tent or bivy, windproof-waterproof shelter
  • Shelter footprint (rocks are sharp up there)
  • Inflatable sleeping mattress
  • Winter sleeping bag (rated 0 degrees Celsius or better)
  • Gear
  • 1X headlamp: don’t rely on your cellphone for something so important
  • Enough spare batteries
  • Toilet paper
  • Altitude sickness medication
  • Pocket knife
  • Lighter
  • Sunscreen (Essential)
  • Insect repellent (Optional for anyone but Cass)
  • Moleskin
  • Basic first aid kit
  • Basic hygiene kit: toothbrush, deodorant
  • Consumables
  • At least 3 liters of water per person
  • Plenty of food to last for two full days
  • 1 garbage bag
  • No more than 125Q: Enough to pay admittance fees, chicken bus and small unforeseen issues. Too little to be mugged.

Tip: don’t carry a pillow to the top. Instead, stuff some extra clothing in your sleeping bag’s stuff sack. Remember you’re gaining a lot of elevation and any extra gear you carry will be too much when altitude sickness kicks in.

What to eat and how to deal with food

In all likelihood, your trip to Acatenango will require about five meals. We advise to plan for six and to have more than enough calories to keep you sustained. We don’t travel with a stove and considering the duration of the hike, we don’t advise planning to cook too much on the trip. Instead, prepare what you need in comfortable Antigua. Bring minimal containers and cutlery, to keep pack weight down. What you want to eat is up to you. Some suggestions include hard boiled eggs, sandwiches, pre-cooked meat, yogurt, granola and plenty of chocolate and snacks to fuel up your ascent.

Preparing yourself to climb Acatenango

Before attempting to climb Volcán Acatenango without a guide, you should undertake a few preparation steps.

Acclimate

Antigua itself stands at relatively high altitude so a few days in the city beforehand should help you acclimate. Still, Acatenango is much higher at nearly 4000 meters and your body will probably need to acclimatize more as you trek upward. One thing that might ease the process is a drug called Diamox. It’s available over-the-counter in Antigua under the name “Acetazolamida” for decently cheap. Look online for information on how to use it before climbing Acatenango. Neither of us are health professionals and you should consult with a specialist before taking any drug, or so they say. You may need to start a few days before the actual hike. This step isn’t strictly necessary, but it’s worth considering if you are sensitive to altitude.

Drink up!

You will also need to hydrate yourself. Diamox makes you pee and your body requires massive amounts of water when climbing. You should drink significantly more in the 24 hours before your departure to ensure your body is well hydrated. Remember it takes a while for your body to assimilate water. You can’t just down two liters of water before departure and hope for the same effect.

Sleep well

Get more zzz’s not just the night before departure but also the one before that. Climbing in altitude will stress your body and lack of sleep will only increase the discomfort.

Fuel your body

Shift your diet to a carbohydrates based one. You don’t need only carbs, but carbs will go long ways in prepping your body for this tremendous effort. Bring a chocolate bar or twenty for the climb, too.

Check in

Before you leave, be sure to warn other people of your itinerary and your intentions, as you’ll likely not have signal up the mountain. Also, be nice and let them know when you return.

The trail up to Acatenango. Get the guidance waypoints with the MAPS.ME app or follow the red path marked. The trail is shown in the default area map.

Getting a map of the trail up Acatenango

Acatenango’s trailhead is located in the village of La Soledad, and the trail itself is fairly simple to follow. There are a few instances where you may hesitate, though. For this reason, we recommend getting the application “MAPS.ME”. We’ve used it all around the globe with great results as it works offline and shows many trails that Google Maps doesn’t have. As a bonus, it works offline, as long as you download the map of your area prior to use. Just be sure to fully charge your phone before you set out. Read on for detailed information on how to reach the trailhead. Once you have downloaded the map of the area, you can also access our waypoints that should help you along the path.

Option one: ZIP file Android friendly, possibly iPhone.
Option two: .KMZ file, not iPhone friendly but works Android and Windows if you have MAPS.ME installed.
Option three: A slightly bugged, web export of the waypoints. May be downloaded into the MAPS.ME app.
Option four: Another web export of the same file.

Getting from Antigua to Parramos

Going from Antigua to La Soledad, the Acatenango trailhead

Taxis will drive you just about anywhere for the right price, but you’ll be wasting your money. From Antigua, you can take two frequent and easy chicken buses (camionetas) to get to the trailhead. This alone is a great cost saver, and doesn’t take much more time if you’re lucky. However, if you’re unfamiliar, be sure to read our chicken bus safety guide. Your initial destination is the town of Parramos. Buses going to either Chimaltenango or directly to Parramos are your best bet because they drive by every five minutes or so. You can take these buses from the main bus terminal in Antigua or along the plazuela (central plaza) in Jocotenango just about anytime from sunrise to nighttime.

We suggest leaving by eight in the morning. The cost should be Q3 (about $0.40usd) from Antigua to Parramos, and if you hop on early enough, you should be able to sit with your luggage. The distance really doesn’t justify putting your bags on the roof. Regardless, you should be aware of your bags and keep them in your grasp at all times to protect yourself from bag slashers. Hop off the bus at the gorgeous central plaza in Parramos.

From Parramos Plaza to La Soledad bus stop

From Parramos, walk to this corner (shown on map) and wait for the chicken bus going to La Soledad. You may have to wait for a while as La Soledad is more remote. In Dereck’s case, it was about a 30-minute wait. It’s a full-sized bus that was at capacity by the time it picked him so he had to put his bag on the roof. We really hate leaving our packs but it was safe, despite not being attached. Be sure to tell the ayudante (the driver’s assistant) that you’re getting off at Acatenango. You can monitor your progress on your phone’s GPS to be sure not to miss it. The chicken bus from Parramos to La Soledad is Q7 (about $1usd).

The road from Parramos to La Soledad
Satellite view of the exact stop and trail departure to Acatenango

Welcome to La Soledad

La Soledad is a small village, and the main feature you’ll see is a tienda (small convenience store) located just before the trailhead. Kids and families sell hiking sticks that you can return afterwards. They also sell snacks, drinks, and sometimes you’ll see an occasional guide offering to take you alone. You will sometimes also be offered porter services, which are locals who will carry your pack for you. See FAQs for more information on porters. In our experience, everybody out there is quite friendly and not pushy. Nearby are benches where you may stretch and exercise before you begin hiking. Adjust your pack, take a sip of water, eat some chocolate and there you go!

La Soledad to the toll booth

The first part of the climb is quite steep, climbing through crop fields growing on the slopes of the volcano. Many people make the error of overexerting themselves. The sandy trail is hard on the ankles and on your balance. Remember, this is a marathon, not a sprint. Even if people pass you at first, many of them will wear down and you may catch up eventually. Instead, use this slow section to make sure your setup is ideal. Feeling discomfort in your boots? Fix your lacing right away. Does your pack pull too hard to one side? Shift the load now. Same for that sweat you’re building up. Don’t wait for it to be uncomfortable, as soon as you warm up, shed layers and stay dry.

These adjustments will mean a world of difference between success and failure. As a guide, it’s one of the things Dereck looks for the most. After a while hiking, you’ll reach the toll booth. At this point, you must register and fill out a little form. There’s an access fee for foreigners of Q50 (about $7usd). Be sure to get a receipt that matches the amount. Clerks up there are known for giving receipts of substantially less value, meaning they get to keep the difference. While we don’t like those fees, they help make Acatenango a safe mountain to climb and, to this day, one of the few that can be hiked without a guide.

From the toll booth to the tree line

Assuming you’re still following the map we provided, this part should prove easy. But beware as there are certainly ways where you may end up in the wrong place, instead of the crater rim. To climb Acatenango without a guide means being extra vigilant about direction. Nearing the tree line, some people will start feeling altitude sickness. Be especially careful of the symptoms. People can suffer from a loss of balance, irritability, loss of judgment and extreme exhaustion, among other things. Take regular breaks, eat and drink plenty and soak yourself in sunscreen. As the altitude increases, the sun becomes harsher. If you exhibit worsening symptoms, the only treatment is usually to abort the hike. Altitude strikes indiscriminately from your fitness and these symptoms can sometimes degenerate and cause death.

There is a small rest area where you may buy fluids, rest and potentially get some snacks. It’s a convenient place for a longer pause should you need it. Later on, just before you leave the forest, you’ll come across a camp. There, you may plant your tent after you summit, if you wish. You can also camp now and summit the next morning for sunrise. Either way, beware of theft and always pack everything with you. Do not leave anything unattended in the camp.

From the tree line to the crater

 As you leave the trees behind you, the crater reveals itself. Sharp, steep and sandy, it won’t be easy. There are two paths up. The right path is very soft and hard to walk. The left path is marginally better. Whichever you choose, this may prove to be the most difficult part of the trip. Altitude strikes some people very hard and the wind tries to blow you sideways. Take as long as you need to climb, the summit isn’t going anywhere.

The Crater

Congratulations! Judging by the surrounding landscape it may feel like you’re on Mars but this really is the summit. Some vents let steam off and Volcán de Fuego is in front of you, a few minutes across. You’ll notice a structure in the middle of the crater, it’s a shelter. It was pretty gross when Dereck was up but in case of emergency it’s said to be usable. Gravestones and crosses dot the summit, as a reminder that the mountain may be unforgiving. On his second climb, this is where he camped.

By all means, camping on the summit is not the “best choice”. It’s windy and colder. It’s also the spot with nicest view of Fuego. On a clear night, you may even see the glow from the erupting Pacaya volcano in the distance. Many camping spots below the summit will also provide a fine view of Fuego, so you won’t be missing the firey nighttime display; you’ll just see it from a different angle than you would on the summit. Depending on the weather and your mood, camping on the summit is an option. Just be sure to stake your tent extremely well and consider filling it with rocks to add weight.

Dereck put his tent so it faced Fuego and left the door open so he could wake up and enjoy this amazing display of fire. Best decision ever as it proved to be a hyperactive night for the volcano. Giant balls of fire being thrown in the air, loud bangs, quakes… really a sensory experience! As the sun sets, the area quiets down for the night. Enjoy the peace, because morning will bring hordes of tour groups coming to see the sunrise. If you sleep below the summit, wake up early and get to the top to watch the sunrise with the other tourists, it’s completely worth the extra effort. Before sleep, stretch your legs well to reduce next day soreness.

Volcan Fuego
Fuego erupting

The Ridge and hiking to Fuego

Tours hike the sharp trail to Fuego in the evening, making it potentially crowded. At first glance, it’s more a matter of saying “I went to Fuego” than actually doing anything worthy. Agencies charge a premium for that part and the word “cash grab” is all over. If you’re bent on getting close to the fiery mountain, though, be very careful of hard winds and don’t go if you suspect it’s not safe. We’d advise doing so in the morning, after you’ve packed up your camp. Follow the existing trail and don’t actually climb on Fuego. Stop where everybody else does to avoid giant boulders of fire. The trail is clear and it takes about an extra hour each way.

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Climbing down

After all this, it’s time to go down! I mean, stay up if you like but if you really did bring only one pair of underwear, you’ll be dreaming of a change. After a good breakfast, remember to warm up and stretch. To head down, backtracking is easiest. There’s no fee to exit the mountain and by the time you reach La Soledad, you can flag the bus heading to Parramos. It takes about the same time as taking the tour shuttles since chicken bus drivers are crazy about speed. From Parramos, hop on the Antigua-bound bus and you’ll be home in no time! Again, remember to stretch your muscles well once you’re done hiking to reduce soreness.

Leave no trace

As an important additional note, remember that we’ve all got to play our part in keeping this beautiful volcano clean and enjoyable. Be sure to bring back all garbage you generate on your trip. Yes, even compostable waste. Acatenango is a very busy mountain and your apple core won’t biodegrade as fast you think. As a nice gesture, also consider picking up some extra garbage along the way down. Facilities are rare on the mountain. There are a few outhouses that you can use to your pleasure. If you must do elsewhere, be sure to bury your “gift” to the volcano, and do it well away from the trail to keep people from seeing, smelling or walking into it.

Bottom line, costs and more

How much does the most it cost to climb Acatenango? How much do you save by doing it solo?

In our case, climbing without a guide saved us mucho. From Q750 (about $90usd) quoted by some agencies, we managed to spend just Q70 for transport there and back, plus the entrance fee. That’s a savings of 90%. Our food and water costs add around Q50, which still makes our total 81% cheaper than the most expensive option in town. Climbing Acatenango without a guide is really the cheapest way we know. Plus, saving that money allows us to extend our travels.

Thanks for taking the time to read this very long guide! Dirt Cheap Travel Guide is our little project, our give back to a community that has so often inspired us to travel. Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter and to like us on Facebook for other tips and tricks on how to save money traveling this amazing planet. If you have any questions, drop them in the comments below. If you’re in Antigua and need some more professional advice, don’t hesitate to hit us up for a meetup, Dereck is a guide after all!

FAQ’s

How long does it take to climb Acatenango?
The time it takes to climb Acatenango depends on your fitness and how well you’ve acclimated to the elevation. It takes roughly five hours to hike up to the general camping area, and another 45 minutes to reach the summit. If you continue to Fuego, it’ll take about an extra hour each way. Hiking down takes about two hours from your base camp to the trailhead.

Is climbing Acatenango volcano dangerous?
It depends on the danger. The likelihood of being in any danger from the nearby active Fuego is next to none. Don’t let the fact that it’s a volcano scare you. The climb itself can be dangerous if you push yourself too hard, particularly because of the altitude. Acatenango is nearly 4000 meters high. Take your time, stay hydrated, and listen to your body.

What is the entrance fee for Acatenango volcano?
The entrance fee for Acatenango is Q50, or about $7usd.

What is a porter?
In La Soledad, near Acatenango’s trailhead, you will be offered porter services. These are locals you may hire to carry your pack for you. You can have them carry your pack just on the way up, or hire them for the way up and down, which will cost you double. Porters cost Q200 (about $25usd) each way, and will carry up to 40 pounds. If you are climbing Acatenango without a tour or guide, you probably don’t need this option.

When should I climb Acatenango?
Guatemala’s dry season is from November through April, and this is the optimal time to hike. You’ll have a better chance at a clear view and dry trail. However, Acatenango can be climbed year round.

Where can I camp on Acatenango?
Tour operators have designated base camps that they prefer not to share, or may ask you to pay a fee to stay. However, you’ll be able to find a “public” spot to pitch your tent, whether it is near the tree line or on the summit. Think about placing yourself in a position where you have a view of Fuego.

How cold does it get on Acatenango volcano at night?
With the wind and the altitude, count on Acatenango being very cold. In general, temperatures can range between -3 Celsius to 6 Celsius (26°F to 42°F). Make sure to have the proper gear to stay comfortable all night.

Where can I rent gear to climb Acatenango?
Some Antigua tour operators will rent out gear such as packs, sleeping bags and tents for a fee, but it’s not advertised because they would prefer you to buy a tour. You can also buy gear for about the same price as you would pay in your home country. There is a North Face near Antigua’s central square, and some tour operators have a small gear shop. You’ll find a wider selection of gear for sale in Guatemala City.

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