I’m a self-proclaimed volcano junkie, so it was no surprise when I booked a last minute trip to Guatemala after seeing a photo of the incredible Fuego volcano (3,763m). Guatemala’s impressive landscape is dominated by 33 volcanoes of which only three are active.
I arrived in Antigua, a beautiful colonial town and immediately eyed up three picture perfect volcanoes looming in the distance. They were classic examples of stratovolcanoes, conical in shape and made up of multiples layers of ash and lava.
I decided on the two-day “Double Whammy” hike up Acatenango and Fuego, which are collectively known as the La Horqueta. It was advertised as the “toughest volcano trek in the area” that should only be attempted by those in top physical condition. I decided it couldn’t be worse than summit night on Kilimanjaro, which I’d climbed only four months before, and eagerly signed up for the next day’s trek.
At 4:30 am, we drove an hour to the beginning of the trail (1,500m) and, before I knew it, we were hiking a gruelling seven hours up Acatenango Volcano (3,976m). The first hour and half was the toughest. As we continued to gain elevation I reminded myself hiking is 20% physical and 80% mental. I slowly pushed on. Luckily, our beautiful surroundings were the perfect distraction and we eventually found ourselves in a barren, volcanic landscape.
The hard work was worth it and, as we reached the campsite, we were rewarded with this amazing view of Acatenango’s twin volcano, Fuego (3,763m).
We set up camp, dropped off our heavy bags, added a few extra layers of clothes, and set off to get a closer look. We hiked down the steep slopes of Acatenango to the “knife-ridge” of Fuego, a small trail with 500m drops on either side leading to the fuming caldera ahead. This wasn’t for the faint hearted.
I will never forget the feeling of the ground rumbling beneath my feet, the heat on my skin, and the smell of sulphur hanging in the air. I had no sense of control over the situation, yet I felt empowered by the volcanoes strength.
I stopped halfway along the ridge, hoping to take some close-up shots from a safe distance. The volcanic ash and stones that covered the ground wasn’t the best place to set a tripod, so I balanced my camera on a rock and hoped for the best.
After spending some time at the ridge, hunger and exhaustion hit us. We had been fueled solely by adrenaline for far too long, so we made our way back to camp. Luckily, dinner (and even a glass of wine) was waiting for us, along with a stunning sunset to enjoy while huddling around the campfire.
As darkness fell, I realized just how exposed we were. The temperature plummeted and I knew we would have to head into our tents for shelter soon. Eagerly, we made a plan to wake up at 3am and hike to the Crater Lake above us to get a panoramic view of the area at sunrise.
However, we weren’t in for an early night.
Peering out of our tents, we were captivated by the bright molten lava creating a fiery path down the knife-ridge where we had stood only a few hours before. We stayed awake most of the night — mesmerized by the power, sound, force, and excitement of the explosive volcano in front of us. The experience felt surreal, and the unpredictable behavior of Fuego meant we were at the mercy of the volcano.
Surprisingly, I managed to wake up the next morning for the 45 minute hike up to the Crater Lake. It was a steep ascent and the sand and gravel trail didn’t make trekking in the dark any easier. Luckily, we were blessed with an impressive 360 degree sunrise view of the chain of volcanoes stretching from Mexico to El Salvador.
We headed back to camp for breakfast and paused to enjoy our surroundings one last time before packing up and hiking four hours back down.
I’ve hiked many volcanoes, but this trip was different. It’s rare to be in such close proximity to fresh magma manically spewing from the Earth’s core. I will never forget the smoke and fire filling the sky, the luminous lava streaking across the landscape, and the thunderous sounds echoing around me. Fuego is a true testament to the power of mother nature, making this hike one for the volcano bucket list.