El Fuego Volcano & Colonial Antigua

El Fuego Volcano & Colonial Antigua

April 2023

One of the highlights of Guatemala is the active volcano with the wonderful name El Fuego (the fire). Due to its activity, it is not possible to climb to the summit. However, you can climb its neighbor, the Acatenango volcano, and of course we didn’t want to miss out on that.  The ascent starts from the small village of La Soledad. The drive there from Lago Atitlan was once again a long one. A thousand bends, road works, bad roads, roadblocks – a bit of everything. In between, the road suddenly disappeared and we had to cross a river.

The last four kilometers were marked as a hiking trail in our navigation system and we weren’t sure whether we would make it with our car. We asked a Collectivo driver and he said without hesitation “si, no problema“. In the end, it was just another gravel road, but it was easy to drive on and so we arrived at Parqeo El Amigo just before nightfall. We ended up in the middle of dogs and chickens on the farm of Hector and his family.


There was certainly no need for an alarm clock the next morning. The dogs were barking, the roosters were crowing and the sheep were bleating. The next night we would sleep in our tent just below the summit of this almost 4,000-meter-high volcano. Climbing El Acatenango is very popular, and 95% of tourists take part in a tour organized from nearby Antigua. To get ahead of these groups, we wanted start hiking at 9 a.m.

We packed our tent, sleeping bags, mattresses and cooking utensils into our backpacks and set out on the walk. In total we carried eight liters of water which should be enough to drink and cook from for the next two days. This still made our backpacks heavier than expected and we hauled 15 kilograms per person up the mountain. And how up it went. In total we had to climb 1,300 meters today over a distance of only six kilometers. We had been on the road for half an hour when the first tourists approached us. A long procession that seemed to have no end passed us.


Then we had the trail to ourselves again, sharing it only with several dogs that showed us the way up. Somewhere halfway up we had to register and pay the entrance fee at the official park entrance. The fog prevented us from seeing anything of the area. By now we had covered more than 800 altimeters on a path that made its way up through many hairpin bends. The tree line had still not been reached, though. Indeed, the first campsite we passed at 3,600 meters was neatly hidden in a relatively dense forest.

After five hours we arrived at the spot where we intended to pitch our tent. Still hidden in the fog we could hear El Fuego spewing out its ashes in the background. Not much later we were rewarded and could witness this spectacle from our tent. The fog had lifted and El Fuego showed itself from its most beautiful side. The main reason to climb Acatenango is not Acatenango itself, but more because of the fact that from here you have a brilliant view of one of the three active volcanoes in Guatemala. With some regularity El Fuego sents ash and lava into the skies. For us it meant waiting for darkness to fall because only in the dark can the red color of the lava be seen. 

After an afternoon nap and dinner it cleared up and we were able to enjoy a fire-breathing volcano from our tent all evening. A vista we won’t soon forget!

Despite the beautiful view, we dove into our sleeping bags early. When the sun disappears, it gets pretty chilly at almost 4,000 meters, and our plan for tomorrow was to watch the sunrise at the summit of El Acatenango. At 9 p.m we zipped up the tent and tried to fall asleep with the rumbling of El Fuego in the background.

After a somewhat restless night’s sleep, the alarm clock woke us up at 4 a.m. Quickly we were in action mode, as we didn’t want to lose much time. Although we would be passing by here again after the volcano ascent, we had decided to take everything with us apart from the tent, as we had read about some thefts from tents. So it was time to get dressed, roll up our sleeping bags and mats and put everything in our backpacks. We started the ascent at around half past four, with 300 meters of altitude laying ahead of us. It was still pitch dark and, armed with just one flashlight, the path was not easy to find. At this time of day, our blood circulation wasn’t really up to speed and so the relatively short distance of just 700 meters felt like half a marathon. In the background, we could still see the lava rain of El Fuego rising into the night sky from time to time.

At some point, we caught up with the tour groups that had set off before us. They were only making progress at a snail’s pace, but what would normally be quite annoying now gave us a welcome breather. Slowly it got lighter and we could see the sunlight creeping out from behind the clouds. After about an hour, we had reached the summit. A cold wind was blowing. To the right, El Fuego continued to spew ash, but there was no more lava to be seen in day light. Straight ahead, the ball of sunlight appeared blood-red in the sky. A beautiful natural spectacle, that we enjoyed for a while. Then our fingers started to get cold and we made our way back to the tent, where we cooked ourselves a hot cup of tea and ate the last of our bread.

Sunrise on top of Acatenango
Sunrise with Volcano de Agua
View of El Fuego after sunrise

After all the tour groups had disappeared, we packed up the tent. Now we had to descend the 1300 meters of altitude again. With slightly lighter luggage, we set off in high spirits and made very good progress. We always had to be a little careful, as it was quite slippery on the sand and rubble of the volcano. Every now and then one of us lost his balance. But it was still noticeably easier than ascending yesterday. In contrast to yesterday, today we had a really good view of the surrounding mountains and could see the Atitlan volcano and many other mountains in the distance. Slowly we felt our thighs getting weaker and we were relieved when we hit the tarmac again shortly after 11a.m.  A small café was waiting for us at the end of the path with a real caffeine boost.

Walking down is much easier
A coffee well deserved

After stowing our entire luggage back in the car, we said goodbye to our hosts in La Soledad and set off for Antigua. It was only 25 kilometers to the most beautiful city in Guatemala, albeit on a gravel road. But we reached Antigua without any problems and found our place to stay for the next two nights on the grounds of the tourist police. And we weren’t the only Overlanders who gratefully took advantage of this free place to sleep. There were two more vehicles with German license plates and we were joined also by Brazilians and French people. We used the afternoon to relax and have a quick chat with Romy’s compatriots.

To celebrate the day, we had a culinary reward after our strenuous volcano climb and so we enjoyed tacos camarones tempura at Cactus Tacos Bar in the center of Antigua. Afterwards we fell into bed, tired and exhausted.

Campsite Antigua
Fellow German Overlanders

The streets of Antigua are laid out in a perfect chessboard pattern. Antigua was the capital of Guatemala until 1773. After a terrible earthquake it was replaced by Ciudad de Guatemala, which was built about 30 kilometers from here on the other side of a mountain range. Because Antigua is still subject to earthquakes, there is always something being restored somewhere.

Square stones provide a paved surface in the town center. The stones are now so jagged and crooked that you literally have to be careful where you put your feet. Perhaps that is a disadvantage of Antigua being on the UNESCO world heritage list, because in order to preserve its heritage, the poor condition of the streets simply comes with it.

We visited several churches and walked under a yellow gateway on our way to Plaza Real. Again, it was the colors that cheered us up where every house was painted with a different pastel color. We liked the city very much. The fact that Antigua is on practically every tourist to-do list only confirms this.

Then it was all over for us as far as Guatemala was concerned. The next country – El Salvador – was waiting for us.

Eddy and Romy van Es © 2020, All Rights Reserved.

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