Visitors to Guatemala are immediately struck by the many volcanoes that dot its rugged landscape. Just outside of Antigua, four of these mammoth cones lie in wait for the adventurous hiker. Presented here are brief explanations of how to reach and summit Pacaya, Agua, Fuego, and Acatenango volcanoes. For more information, you’ll need to check out the travel guide.
VOLCÁN DE PACAYA
Pacaya is actually a short ride away from Guatemala City, but this hike is usually tackled via tours from Antigua. At only 2,552 meters (8,373 feet), it’s the most popular and easiest to climb of Guatemala’s four active volcanoes. Its last major eruption occurred in May 2010, during which ash showered down on the capital and nearby towns. Three were killed, and ash and lava damaged local crops. Activity resumed in 2013, and many tour operators stopped leading visitors to the very top as a result. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to ascend close enough to the cone to roast marshmallows over smoking-hot vents and peer into the magma-filled chamber. The trip is good fun no matter what, as it ends with a walk/slide down a face of loose ash.
Getting to Pacaya is very difficult without private transportation. Head south on the Carretera al Atlántico (CA-9) and continue past Lake Amatitlán. At KM 37.5, turn east and continue eight kilometers to the information center at San Vicente Pacaya. Then, climb ten kilometers until you reach the trailhead and ranger station at San Francisco de Sales. Park entrance is Q40. You can also book tours or a horse at the park entrance.
VOLCÁN DE AGUA
Agua is the majestic volcano overlooking Antigua from the south. It reaches a height of 3,760 meters (12,335 feet), and its name (water) comes from the destruction of Guatemala’s first capital in 1543, when seismic activity released its crater lake and flooded the towns below. In 2012, over 12,000 Guatemalans united in protest against domestic violence formed a human chain from the base of the volcano all the way to its peak. Many climbers spend the night at the top on weekends, and there is even a soccer field and small shelter in the crater.
To climb Agua, take a bus from Antigua to Santa María de Jesús, which leave every half-hour. From there, hike away from the church and past the cemetery, then continue on the straightforward path for to reach the top. Lots of cell phone towers and garbage taint the scenery, but on a clear day the moderately difficult hike is worth the views of Acatenango, Fuego, and sometimes even the Pacific coast.
‘Aca’ sits at 3,975 meters (13,041 feet) and is composed of the twin peaks of Pico Mayor and Yepocapa. Together with active Volcán de Fuego, the complex is referred to as La Horqueta (the pitchfork). Summiting Acatenango offers incredible views of Fuego and volcanoes throughout the highlands but is a worthy adversary in terms of difficulty. It is best done in a group and with extreme caution, as the security situation is consistently sub-par.
To climb Acatenango, take a bus from Antigua to San Miguel Dueñas, then a pickup (or two-hour walk) to La Soledad. There are sporadic buses on this route, but if you plan on going up and down in one day, it’s best to start early (5am) and pay for a ride. The trail begins to the left of the main road past the soccer field and winds upwards through pine forests. It is reasonably well-marked with white signs that say Volcán. After 5 hours you’ll pass the tree line and reach the top of the lower cone. An hour further is the second, higher peak. An alternate descent route leads down from the saddle between Acatenango and Fuego to Alotenango, but this trail is unmarked and it’s easy to get lost.
VOLCÁN DE FUEGO
At an at an altitude of 3,763 meters (12,345 feet), Fuego most recently erupted in 2015 and has been active ever since the conquistadors were in town. Most visitors hike Fuego as a guided tour through an outfitter like O.X. Outdoor Excursions or combine it with an overnight trip to Acatenango. Depending on its current activity, you may not be able to get any closer to Fuego than the narrow ridge below. However, from Acatenango’s summit, especially after dark, you can get unbelievable views of Fuego erupting. To hike Fuego, follow the same directions for Acatenango, then break off at the saddle in between the two. Realistically, reaching the very summit of Fuego is not only impossible but downright moronic to attempt, but getting close to this rumbling beast is for sure an unparalleled experience.