Acatenango might well be Guatemala’s best known hike, thanks to its stunning views over Guatemala’s long chain of volcanoes and the ever-erupting Fuego next door. It’s also one of the tougher climbs, with a steep two-day ascent through fields, forest and volcanic ash.
Fuego is the real star of the show. Weather permitting, you’ll be treated to a stunning series of eruptions from base camp, loud enough to wake up even the deepest of sleepers. And a good thing too, since the views of the volcano at night are by far the best.
No list of the best volcanoes to climb in Guatemala would be complete without Tajumulco. At 4222m it’s not only country’s biggest but in all of Central America. Perhaps surprisingly then, most consider this to be an easier ascent than Acatenango, mostly because the hike starts at an already lofty 3000m and isn’t as steep as some of its neighbours.
Tajumulco can be hiked in a day, but for the best views book in with a tour and camp out near the peak. Altitude sickness can be an issue with Tajumulco, so if possible acclimatise in nearby Xela for a few days first.
San Pedro certainly isn’t an easy climb, but it is one of the simplest volcanoes to tackle in Guatemala. The hike starts from the town of San Pedro la Laguna, one of the most popular places to stay on Lake Atitlan. It only takes half a day, and the entrance fee to the park includes a guide.
That simplicity means that lots of people try to take on San Pedro, but the difficulty of the climb ensures that not all of them make it to the top. Those who do are rewarded with one of the best views around Lake Atitlan.
For something a little bit different, consider climbing Volcan Chicabal. At 2900m, it certainly isn’t the tallest peak in the country, but the sacred crater-lake at the summit makes it one of the most unique.
Descending through cloud forest with the sound of Mayan rituals off in the distance is an unforgettable experience. And for a few quetzales, taking a pickup back down the treacherous dirt track is pretty unforgettable too.
Santa Maria towers over the city of Xela—somewhat menacingly, given the destruction wreaked from its eruptions in 1902 and 1929. Today, most of the volcano’s activity is centred on Santiaguito, a lava dome on its side that erupts semi-regularly. The hike up to the top has great views of Santiaguito, as well as the stunning countryside all around.
For the best Santa Maria experience, take the two-day full moon tour.
Another active volcano in Guatemala is Pacaya, situated around an hour’s drive from Antigua. It’s one of the easier ways to get up close and personal with an active volcano during a stay in the country.
Pacaya is usually tackled in a single day, and its eruptions tend to be a touch calmer than nearby Fuego. While hikers are unlikely to see red-hot lava cascading down its side, they will get the opportunity to toast marshmallows on volcanic rock.