Recently I challenged myself and climbed the volcano Acatenango in Guatemala. It was an unbelievable experience for me. You might have read about the experience itself in the blog post I wrote about this hike. In this post however, I would like to share some thought about how I prepared this hike. Because I have to admit that I was nervous prior to this hike. I write this with the hope, that it might help somebody out there with their decision making or preparation process. When preparing for this experience, I was researching exactly this kind of information. I found the post from Kristen the most helpful, giving a very objective view of what to expect. And I agree with all of the points she made. Still, I am going to write up some tips based on my own experience and my own point of view.

What is the hike like?

The route itself is not particularly hard. There is no climbing involved, and most of the time, a clear path is visible. But let me be clear on this: The hike is hard. Not because of the route, but because of the heavy gear you have to carry uphill, the steep path, the altitude, and the loose ground that makes you waste a lot of energy.

But let me tell you also this: It is definitely worth every drop of sweat and every blister you have on your feet. When you reach the base camp or even the top and see what the view is like, you feel so happy that makes you forget all the pain you experienced during the climb. I definitely had one of happiest moments in my whole life up there.

If you want to experience what it is like to hike in a somewhat less challenging environment I recommend you visit the Pacaya volcano. I find that at least the steepness of the path and the structure of the ground are very similar. Of course, keep in mind the other factors such as the additional weight you need to carry, the duration of the hike, and the altitude.

Who is the hike for?

Anybody who likes some adventure and is in moderately good physical condition. You don’t need mountaineering experience for this climb, and you also don’t need to be a top athlete to climb Acatenango. I consider myself neither as a couch potato nor as a top athlete, and I was surprised in a positive way how well my body performed during this hike, especially at the higher altitudes at which I have few experience.

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How to prepare for the hike?

  • Tour operator: Look for a travel agency that helps you organize the tour. They usually provide the gear (tent, mat and sleeping bag), food, transportation and – most importantly – a guide. In my opinion it is irresponsible to go without a guide who knows the area and the conditions at the mountain. We went with Adrenalinatours which turned out to be a good choice. They provided all the things mentioned above, and as far as I could tell based on other stories we also had some extras. For example, we heard that some agencies do not provide enough food. I have seen some tours where the overnight option only costs USD 19, which cannot possibly be serious. Serious tour operators will charge you between USD 45 and USD 140. Our tour was USD 65, and we were perfectly happy what we got for that price.
  • Research: Well, if you read this post you are probably doing it already. I found it really helpful to read about other experiences. Again, hat tips to Kristen for her post.

What to pack?

That is probably the trickiest thing to do. Basically you need to keep 2 things in mind:

  • At night at the top, it gets COLD. So make sure that you have enough warm gear with you.
  • While it is good to bring a lot of warm cloths, keep in mind that you have to carry it all the way to the top.

Here is a list of clothes I brought, feel free to use this as an idea.

  • Hiking boots: I actually bought a new pair because I was afraid that my 3 year old trekking shoes wouldn’t do it. And I was glad I did that. I saw people climbing in tennis shoes, which in my opinion is not appropriate.
  • Hiking socks: Just a good idea to keep the feet comfy. I packed a second pair which I didn’t use.
  • Trekking pants: If you don’t have any I guess it’s not the worst thing, but I thought they were comfortable.
  • T-Shirts: I brought 2 but ended up only using one.
  • Fleece jacket: Because it’s comfortable for the hike.
  • Soft shell: Another layer which is not that bulky.
  • Rain jacket: I never go on a hike without a rain jacket. And it turned out to be a good wind blocker as well.
  • Jump suit: This was my last resort which I didn’t use at the end.
  • Cap and gloves: You’ll definitely need them. If you don’t have any, you can rent some at the beginning of the trail.
  • Boxer shorts: You know why…

Other gear that I found helpful:

  • Sun block: Keep in mind that the sun gets stronger as you go up.
  • Sun glasses: No further comment required…
  • Camera: Believe me, the view is stunning up there. You really want to take some pictures up there. But also, don’t forget to soak it in and watch the spectacle, not looking at the camera.
  • Head lamp: This comes in really handy after dark in the dark, as well for climbing to the crater before sunrise.
  • Walking stick(s): I think it was a great idea to have one. We didn’t bring any, but at the beginning of the trail, you can rent some basic wood sticks for 5 Quetzales (~ USD 0.8).
  • First Aid Kit: Hopefully you won’t use it, but I think it’s a good idea to have it ready when needed.
  • Ibuprofen or Aspirin: It is highly possible that you start to feel the altitude in the form of a headache. If that happens, just pop in a pill.
  • Toothpaste and toothbrush: Too keep your breath fresh.
  • Kleenex or toilet paper: They are no sanitary installations on the mountains.
  • Hand sanitizer: Same reason again.

Also, think about food and liquids. In many tours, the food is included. I thought it was a good idea to bring some snacks, such as nuts, dry fruit, and chocolate. This gives you quick energy whenever you feel out of energy. Another important point: Water. I think 4 liters should be enough for most people.

Bring a large enough backpack (>= 55 liters). Keep in mind that you have to carry your sleeping bag and your mat yourself, maybe even a tent. In my case we strapped all those things outside of my backpack, which worked pretty well. The guides are happy to help you packing the backpack and strapping the additional gear.

Oh, before I forget: A big thanks goes to Claudia who lives in the same host family, because she lent me her backpack, her cap and her gloves for this hike! 🙂

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Some tips during the hike

As I already mentioned: Hiking Acatenango is hard, probably for the majority of the people out there. It is definitely a challenge for your body. But I think most of all, it is a challenge of your mind. Especially that first bit, steep with loose ground, is evil. As if it would constantly tell you to turn around and give up. At that point, you have to take step by step, and you find yourself climbing higher and higher. Take a moment to look back sometimes, just to see how much you have already climbed. You’ll be surprised how fast you are really climbing. Also, don’t be afraid to ask the guide to climb slower, or to take a break if you need one. I think when you reach the forest part of the hike, you can be really confident that you are going to climb all the way to the top. By that time, you have found your pace, and your body knows what to do. You have also more solid ground below your feet, which makes the climb more energy efficient.

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And last but not least: Enjoy the experience! Believe me, when you reach the camp or the top of Acatenango, you will be so overwhelmed and happy, and that makes you forget all the pain you have suffered when climbing up.

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If you have comments and other tips for hiking Acatenango, please leave them in the comment section below. Also, I would love to read some of your experiences!

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