I met Roman in Antigua Guatemala, when I was there last year. I had asked him to write this article about the Acatenango hike before the fatal eruption of Fuego volcano in Guatemala on June 3rd 2018. I thought long and hard about whether to publish it at all after so many people lost their lives, homes and loved ones. However, tours to do the Acatenango Volcano hike are running again, so hiking Acatenango responsibly and donating some of your time or money will help the local communities who lost everything in the eruption.
If you would like to help the people affected by the eruption in Guatemala you can donate to the Red Cross here (US citizens only), or if you are in Antigua you can also volunteer in person at Casa Troccoli on 5a Avenida Norte helping to prepare meals for the families affected by the volcano. More information on that here. Alternatively, ask your guide about how to help the local people, I’m sure there are plenty of ways to help if you are in Antigua.
This is Roman’s experience of hiking Acatenango Volcano to see Fuego Volcano erupt in 2017. All photographs by Roman Daudrich.
Watching Fuego Volcano Erupt at Night – An Incredible Natural Wonder
Arriving in Antigua, I was surprised by how beautiful the historical city was. Colourful buildings, friendly people and delicious food waited to be explored. But really, I could just focus on one thing. My adventure to do the Acatenango Volcano hike and see Fuego Volcano erupt at night. Unfortunately, it was only after I arrived in Antigua that I asked myself: How am I actually going to do that? Can I just hike up on my own? Where am I going to hike up? Would the weather conditions in mid-June be good enough to actually see something?
The Best Acatenango Tour Company
Luckily, a friend from Costa Rica gave me a name and contact number that I could call. Gilmer Soy: +502 4169 2292 – that´s all the information I had. Since I didn’t have enough time or knowledge to hike up on my own, I contacted Gilmer and we agreed on a day that he and his team would pick me up early in the morning to make my dream adventure come true. And honestly, during the hike, I understood that I was really lucky with my choice. Gilmer´s team consists only of locals who are incredibly fit and know the area really well. If somebody ever gets injured, even if s/he is not part of their tour, the guides will still make sure that everybody gets down the volcano safely again. Check out Soy Tours’ webpage.
The Acatenango Volcano Hike
Before the Acatenango hike, I thought that I was quite fit. But I quickly came to realize that hiking up volcano Acatenango was a lot harder than I had previously imagined. Even though we were only hiking approximately 10km, the elevation increase was about 1.200 meters and the hike took the whole group about six hours to complete, with a couple of breaks to rest. Everybody was carrying their own backpack, packed up with dry and warm clothes, food, camping gear, etc. Overall, I enjoyed the hike, despite how hard it was.
We were always chatting to somebody from the group, helping each other out, supporting each other during the climb. It was a pleasure to meet so many amazing people from all over the world.
We were actually kind of lucky with the hike since it has only rained for the last hour of our ascent. June is rainy season in Guatemala, and even during that short time the trail had gotten really slippery making every step a challenge. And even though I sometimes caught myself thinking about whether it´s worth it to hike up a volcano to only see clouds at the top, I still kept going.
Finally, one of the guides cheered that the base camp wasn’t too far away. Completely wet, cold and exhausted we reached our base camp at last. The temperature had dropped significantly so we made sure to pitch our tents and get a fire going. “Normally, you would see Fuego just over there. But it seems like we have to wait for some time”, our guide Elisandro told us, pointing right at the clouds in front of us. “That´s nature at its finest”, I thought to myself “You never know what you get.”
Hearing Fuego Erupt
While sitting at the fire and preparing dinner, we suddenly heard a massive eruption. It felt like Fuego was just having a huge party right next to us. Everybody started to get excited. Unfortunately, we could not see anything as the cloud was still too thick. So, we all just looked back at each other and kept on preparing our dinner. After some time at the fire, a lot of the group started to feel sick from the altitude and went to bed. Making it all the way up to around 3500m that day, I didn’t just want to go in my tent and miss the opportunity to see a volcano erupt at night. Especially as I was already able to hear it so clearly and so close to me. So, I set an alarm for every upcoming hour and closed my eyes. Feeling completely exhausted and freezing cold, I kept asking myself what I was really doing there.
The Clouds Finally Cleared
At 1am my first alarm went off. I quickly opened the tent and saw exactly the same as before – clouds. The same thing happened at 2am, 3am and 4am. But at around 4:30am I was not woken up by my alarm but by somebody else shouting: “Everybody wake up!!!”. Quickly I unzipped the entrance of the tent and the scene has completely changed within the last 30 minutes. There it was. Fuego Volcano was right in front of my eyes shooting lava high up in the air! I jumped out of my tent – completely shocked. All the clouds had gone. Suddenly there was a huge volcano right next to us, shooting up red lava out of its crater. It was insane. I went completely nuts! People started hugging each other and celebrating that moment. By now all the pain, the cold and exhaustion were gone. And a feeling of pure joy overcame every one of us. This was the reason why we were all here. And damn – I have never seen anything like it before! It was majestic. Nature at its finest! I could not really believe how I had been sleeping next to such an incredible volcano as it was erupting for almost four hours.
The Final Part of the Acatenango Hike
After watching this wonder for some time, the light of a new day slowly started to spread across the horizon. It was only when the sun started to rise that our guides asked us if we wanted to hike up completely to the top of Acatenango. Some people stayed at the base camp as their altitude sickness has not gotten any better, but I was up and ready for the last 400 meters. And it was the most spectacular 400m of the whole Acatenango hike.
As the clouds had cleared we were able to see more than ten different volcanoes, as well as Antigua and some other little villages in the valley, still always having the erupting Fuego Volcano in sight. We reached an altitude of around 3.976m, and the group soaked up every moment until we decided to descend again. A few minutes after we had decided to go down, a cloud formation came in and all the views were suddenly gone. “It was a wonderful morning and we were incredibly lucky with the weather”, Elisandro told me, as we made our way down to volcano. Just after we had left our base camp, it started to rain again. On our way down, I hoped that every person we met who was currently fighting their way up Acatenango Volcano, would be able to experience the same natural wonder we had just experienced. A natural wonder that I will never forget.
About the Author
Roman Daudrich is a freelance photographer who loves to combine adventures with his travels. As a blogger he tries to inspire people to head out and take on their own adventure. You can find his blog at www.romandaudrich.com or follow him on Facebook or Instagram.
Have you done the Acatenango hike in Antigua Guatemala? I’d love to hear your stories about hiking Acatenango, and of any other ways to help the people affected by the eruption of Fuego.
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