Prior to visiting Guatemala, Antigua was a destination I had heard about from several travellers, stating that the former Capital is their favourite city in the country. On the 3rd of December 2018, I left Lake Atitlan with so much excitement, ready to explore the city of Antigua.
Antigua was the colonial Spanish capital of Central America and the former capital city of Guatemala. It’s a picturesque city surrounded by fiery volcanoes and has become a magnet for expats.
The city’s most photographed attraction is the mustard-yellow Santa Catalina arch which stands above the cobbled streets and in front of Agua Volcano. Although it may seem to be just another arch, to locals it represents the resilience of the city and a history that spans four centuries. On either side of the arch are two convents, the Convent of the Virgin and the Convent of Santa Catalina.
We wandered around the city and ate most of our meals at the central food court. One of the joys of Antigua is kicking back at a rooftop bar while sipping on a beer or cocktail. Sunset Terrace is a relaxing restaurant that is above the streets and away from the tourist spots. Although the prices aren’t backpacker friendly (about 175 GTQ / R 300 / 23 USD pp for a main meal and drink) it was a lovely treat.
First impression of Antigua
It’s not cheap. Antigua is probably the most expensive place in Guatemala. Surprisingly, we paid 50 GTQ (R 90 / 6 USD) pppn for accommodation, which of course is quite reasonable.
I could not help but compare Antigua to Mexico’s San Cristóbal Del las Casas because I feel that the cities are similar in that they both have cobblestone streets lined with brightly coloured colonial buildings. I prefer San Cristóbal Del las Casas, I just don’t get the hype about Antigua. Who knows, maybe if I had explored this city first, I would prefer it…
Hiking up Acatenango which towers above the landscape at 3976 m is undoubtedly the top activity to do while you’re in Antigua. Acatenango gives hikers a bird’s eye view of nearby Fuego Volcano which has been erupting on a near constant basis. The most recent eruptions were in June and November 2018 (two weeks before I hiked up). There are at least 37 volcanoes in Guatemala of which 3 are active. Pacaya, another active volcano, is also just a few km away.
Day 1: At 8 am we were picked up from our hotel. We drove 23 km to the Mayan village of Soledad where the Acatenango trail starts. At the trail head, there are locals who rent out hiking sticks, gloves, beanies and even sell rum.
We were a group of 7 (including our guide) but a few minutes into the hike, the only other female in our group sprained her ankle. So, her and her partner did not continue with the hike.
About 2 hours into our hike, we stopped for lunch, then made the final push of the day to our camp site. Luckily, our tents were already set up by our tour agency. After hiking for 4 hours that day, we relaxed and watched the sweeping views of the sun setting behind Fuego Volcano.
For supper we had spaghetti followed by coffee, tea and even marshmallows over the campfire. Our camp site was facing directly over Fuego Volcano. We spent the evening gasping at volcanic eruptions and staring into a sky full of the stars above.
Day 2: The following we had an early wake up call of 3:30 am and continued hiking up to the summit for sunrise. This was the toughest part for me. Apart from struggling to see the path in the dark, it was extremely cold, maybe about -5 degrees Celsius, I was tired and it was steep, quite dangerous actually. I started to question why I needed to do this and stopped several times to catch my breath and cry a little, haha! Frederik continued to motivate me and just over an hour later, we had made it!
This was such a rewarding climb. I was on top of the world and felt more alive (and colder) than ever!
After we had all taken enough photos of the sunrise, we started our descent. We first stopped at the base camp, had breakfast and gathered our belongings. The hike back down to Soledad took 2 hours. We arrived at 10 am and waited for our transport back to Antigua.
I have always been a huge fan of Shaggy (the musician, not Scooby-Doo’s friend). So, while we waited, the locals played one of his songs (It wasn’t me) which made me so happy! In a small village, in the middle of Guatemala, what are the chances, right?! I couldn’t help but dance although my whole body was aching. Best moment ever!
If you’ve been following my posts, you’ll know that this was my third volcano hike in Guatemala. Compared to Santa Maria and San Pedro volcano, hiking up Acatenango was by far my favourite, especially because we rewarded with the best views!
The price of the hike was 280 GTQ (R 480 / 36 USD) pp which included the following:
- Transport from Antigua and back
- Meals (lunch, supper and breakfast)
- A guide
- A tent, sleeping bag and mattress
I hope my post has convinced you to add hiking up Acatenango Volcano to your bucket list. I can’t promise that you won’t regret it while hiking up but you’ll certainly be proud of yourself once you’ve conquered it.
Thank you for reading,