Whether backpacking through Central America or spending a week in the capital on business, there is no escaping the commanding presence of the volcanoes in Guatemala. With a total of 33 to choose from, these majestic peaks offer a challenge to any able-bodied traveler drawn to off-the-beaten-path experiences. Moreover, many are relatively accessible from major cities, leaving no excuses for those considering a venture into the wild. In light of the number of options, here are our suggestions for the best volcanoes to hike in Guatemala on your next trip.
Acatenango (13,043 ft)
For those seeking a test in endurance, OX Expeditions (www.guatemalavolcano.com) offers a route to the Acatenango summit which is bound to leave group members breathless from both the heavy physical exertion and the frequent eruptions of the nearby active volcano, Fuego. Visitors pass through four different ecosystems on the way to the top (farmland, cloud forest, high alpine forest and volcanic zone), and often make it an overnight trip in order to capture the picturesque views at dawn.
Acatenango isn’t just challenging, it’s also incredibly fun. The route has a wild feel to it that will quickly capture the appreciation of any trekker, and shouldn’t be missed by those who are in good shape. This one’s a short drive from Antigua Guatemala.
Tajumulco (13,845 ft)
Located near the Mexican border, the starting point for the highest volcano in both Guatemala and Central America will require a few hours of riding on overcrowded buses but is well worth the trip. Quetzaltenango, Guatemala’s second largest city, is a popular spot for backpackers looking to connect with a guide service for Tajumulco. Among the best in both cost and professionalism is Quetzaltrekkers (www.quetzaltrekkers.com), an all-volunteer group of Western guides who donate 100% of revenue to a local non-profit that provides education to kids living on the street.
Tajumulco is typically done as an overnight trip, and ranks as moderate in difficulty. The trail is conspicuously marked and well maintained, allowing for a worry-free hike to the summit which includes views of the Pacific Ocean, Mexico and numerous surrounding volcanoes.
Agua (12,336 ft)
The Most Unusual
The most prominent volcano as seen from both Guatemala City and Antigua Guatemala, Agua has historically faced safety concerns in the form of robberies by bandits on the trail to the summit. As a precautionary measure, backpackers often arrange to be escorted up the volcano by armed, off-duty police officers from the nearby town of Antigua. Many local Guatemalans hiking up the trail openly carry machetes as deterrents. Keeping in line with the volcano’s unique personality, those who reach Agua’s summit will encounter the remnants of a military helicopter that crash landed and whose crew barely made it out alive.
As a foreigner, the only two reasonably safe methods of climbing Agua are to either hire armed guards or pay an indigenous guide service located in the nearby village of Santa Maria de Jesus. Most reputable tourism companies escorting travelers on holiday in Guatemala avoid Agua altogether due to liability issues, so a strong command of Spanish is required in order to independently seek out and make plans with local contacts. Don’t bring anything to Agua that you wouldn’t mind losing forever, and don’t take any unnecessary risks.
Agua is a strenuous day trip, and travelers should be off the mountain and out of Santa Maria de Jesus before sundown.
If You Go
-The dry season in Guatemala runs from November to April. Volcanoes in Guatemala can still be climbed during the rainy season, but be extra mindful of changing weather patterns.
-Looking for a way to travel between Guatemala City and Antigua Guatemala that keeps costs low while ensuring good security? Atitrans (www.atitrans.net) offers shared shuttle services for US $10 each way.
-Longer routes such as Guatemala City to Quetzaltenango can also be arranged for US $10 on luxury bus lines that make no stops between its points of origin and destination (www.xelapages.com/trans.htm).
-Despite Guatemala’s high crime rates, its tourist-friendly areas are well protected. Moreover, any street smart Spanish speaker who understands the concept of maintaining a low profile is unlikely to encounter problems.
Author Bio: Dennis Lawrence is a consultant and freelance journalist. He lives in Denver.