Los volcanes de Guatemala

I discovered a passion for hiking after my first multi-day trek on Mount Kenya a few years ago. Since then, I always make sure I pack my hiking shoes and poles when I travel! …and I usually pick destinations where they will be in good use! ☺️

Did you know there are 37 volcanoes in Guatemala, including 3 active ones? The reason is that Guatemala is located right on the Ring of Fire (the volcanic and seismic activity area circling the Pacific Ocean), just like Japan, Philippines, New Zealand, Chile etc. More than 75% of the world’s active and dormant volcanoes are located on the Ring. When I wasn’t studying Spanish, I was surely climbing a volcano somewhere! Here’s a brief summary of my wonderful treks (please note that all of them are doable in one or two days).

Tajumulco

  • Altitude: 4222m (Highest peak in Central America!)
  • Level of Difficulty: 4/5
  • Duration: 2 days (5 hours to base camp, 1h to summit)
  • My trek: I did a two-day trek with Quetzaltrekkers, a local volunteer-run company in Xela (all the profits from their trips go to Escuela de la Calle, an organisation that provides education, housing, and social support to disadvantaged children). I was extremely pleased with this hike! The first day included quite a strenuous 5 hours climb to base camp (we had to carry all our camping gear, food and water; that was the tough part!). Next morning was an early 4am wake up to climb to the summit, but what a better feeling than catching the first rays of sunshine at the roof of Central America! We had perfect weather which made the experience unforgettable. After a stroll around the crater we slowly made our way down for a total of 6 hours of hiking for the second day. I warmly recommend this company to anyone who wants to tackle Tajumulco. Price was Q500 including all meals and gear (food is amazing!).

Acatenango

  • Altitude: 3976m
  • Level of Difficulty: 4/5
  • Duration: 2 days (4 hours to base camp, 1h15 to summit)
  • My trek: Acatenango is the most hiked volcano in Guatemala. You quickly understand why when you get to base camp and see from your own eyes the very active Fuego volcano, as well as Agua and Pacaya in the background. If luck is on your side, you might even get a spectacular night-time lava show from Fuego. I did this trek twice since the weather was sh*t during my first attempt. I went firstly with the popular company Wincho and Charlie (Q450) and the second time with a cheaper local company in Antigua (Q300). The only differences in the price include the comfort of the base camp (tents, beds), the quality of food and the number of people in the group (I was as satisfied with the cheaper smaller company). The first day is a 4 hours (steep!) uphill trek to base camp through corn fields and lush forests. Afterwards, it is another 1h-1h30 of trekking through volcanic ash to summit for the sunrise or/and sunset. During my second trek I was spoiled with clear skies and a few red eruptions at night. I was very happy I came back! This is a must-do trek for anyone who is relatively fit!

Pacaya

  • Altitude: 2552m
  • Level of Difficulty: 2/5
  • Duration: 1 day (2 – 3 hours round trip)
  • My trek: Pacaya first erupted over 23,000 years ago and it has been active since. Papaya’s eruptions are non-explosive (compared to Fuego) which means the lava flows are relatively calm. It is not uncommon to spot lava flowing down the peak. Unfortunately, the day of my hike, Pacaya was taking a nap… so no magma but clear views and a wonderful sunset! Pacaya is an easy day trek from Antigua (about an hour drive). Many companies offer morning and afternoon tours. The trail is well indicated so it is possible to do it on your own. I went with a local friend who knew the route so I only had to pay the Q50 admission to the park. I really enjoyed walking through the black lava fields, feeling the warmth coming out of the geothermal holes. A wonderful hike in a surreal landscape!

San Pedro

  • Altitude: 3020m
  • Level of Difficulty: 3/5
  • Duration: 1 day (5 – 6 hours round trip)
  • My trek: The San Pedro Volcano is a must for any hikers staying around San Pedro La Laguna (the party-village at the Lake Atitlan)! I did the hike with a buddy and, to be on the safe side, we decided to hire a local guide for Q120 each (which included the admission park fee of Q100). We have been warned and strongly encouraged to hike with a guide since there have been reports of harassment and robberies in the past few months (something to be cautious when trekking around Atitlan). The hike is mainly through the jungle with a few miradors (view points) along the way. It is a good three hours climb but you’ll get rewarded with magnificent views over the Lake. Don’t forget to get your picture taken with the tire swing!

Santa Maria

  • Altitude: 3772m
  • Level of Difficulty: 3.5/5
  • Duration: 1 day (5 – 6 hours round trip)
  • My trek: The last eruption of Santa Maria was in 1902 and was considered one of the three largest eruptions of the 20th century. The eruption completely ravaged the countryside of Xela (now covered with coffee plantations and farms). Since, Santa Maria has been dormant. This was my first volcano hike of my trip. I did it with an amigo from my Spanish school. Feeling pretty confident and fit, we decided to tackle the volcano ourselves. Beforehand, we found this very useful website enumerating all the necessary information (with pictures) about doing the trek on our own: https://diytravelhq.com/hike-volcan-santa-maria/ Like any other hikes, it is recommended to leave as early as possible. You want to reach the summit before the clouds show up. We left Xela at 5:30, started climbing at 6:00 and reached the summit three hours later. The trek goes from easy to moderate to difficult (the last bit only). However, the panorama at the peak will quickly make you forget the pain! When we summited, we were surprise to see many religious groups singing and praying (apparently it is a common activity for locals to do on a Sunday morning). What a soothing experience to hear this music while admiring Xela from above!

Santiaguito

  • Altitude: 2550m
  • Level of Difficulty: 2/5
  • Duration: 1 day (3 – 4 hours round trip)
  • My trek: Santiaguito is the third active volcano in Guatemala (alongside with Fuego and Pacaya). It is not actually possible to climb Santiaguito because of its activity (it is one of the most active volcano in the world!). However, there is a mirador (view point) you can hike to get a clear view of the monster. I went on a field trip that my Spanish school organised. Therefore we had a local guiding the way (but it would be possible to do it on your own). The Santiaguito Mirador trek starts at the same location as the Santa Maria trail (both volcanoes are neighbours), but instead of climbing up, this trek goes around Santa Maria. There is a Q10 entrance fee (since the trail is on a private property) we had to pay directly to the farm owner. Once we reached the mirador, we were fortunate to see not one, but two eruptions (in less than one hour)! Another very pleasant and recommended morning trek from Xela!

Happy trails to you all! 👣

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