Visa runs while living abroad are a great excuse to travel and a great way to keep in touch with my Costa Rica TEFL classmates. I decided to meet up with a friend to hike Volcán Acatenango, just outside of Antigua, Guatemala. It was the best decision and would be yet another travel destination checked on my bucket list.
I met up with a friend who I did my TEFL certification with, her name is also Lizzie! We took a quick and easy flight from San Jose, Costa Rica to Guatemala City. After a short car transfer, we had the whole day to explore the rich and historical gem that is Antigua.
Antigua is a very walkable city that has so many amazing restaurants, shops, and bars. From the cobblestone streets to the multi-coloured buildings, you’ll feel like you’re on a movie set. We ate some amazing food and explored the little stores while taking in all of the history that the city has to offer. Then, it was an early night for the both of us as we had to be up at 6:30am to meet our tour company at 7am.
Up the Volcano
In the morning, we walked over to our tour company’s headquarters to get all of the gear that we would need for the hike. We got all of our gear sorted, ate some nutritious breakfast, and used the last real toilet we would see for the next 28 hours. We all piled into vans for an hour drive to the base of the volcano. Once we got there, those who hired porters (people to carry your bags up the volcano), gave their bags away and off we went with our guides. I decided to carry my own bag up, all 36 pounds of it; this included 4 liters of water, warm clothes, food and other things.
Immediately, the hike is steep. When I say steep, I mean STEEP! In addition, the base of the volcano is about 2400 meters above sea level. I could already feel the altitude in my lungs, the air was getting thinner each step I took. Acatenango is a dry volcano, meaning there are no water sources, making the terrain very dry. Every step I took, it felt as though I was slipping backwards. We all kept trekking up the volcano, taking small breaks almost every 10 minutes to catch our breath.
After what felt like forever (but was only two and a half hours), we stopped and had lunch that we brought up with us, which consisted of vegan meatballs, mashed potatoes, and mushroom gravy. It was delicious! Then, after a short rest, we continued our journey up the volcano. After another 3 and a half hours up the volcano, we finally arrived at base camp, which is 3600 meters above sea level.
Lizzie and I chose not to do the extra, 4 hour long, Fuego hike. This hike would have allowed us to get up close to the nearby active volcano, Volcán de Fuego, but we were too exhausted. As the sun went down, we watched the volcano erupt while sitting fireside, roasting marshmallows, and drinking hot chocolate. Our guide served us some delicious lentil curry and we continued to enjoy the breathtaking views. I had never seen a volcano erupt in my life and I can easily say it was the most magical and powerful thing I have ever experienced.
We tucked ourselves into bed early and tried to get a good night’s sleep in preparation for the morning’s hike.
We woke up at 4:15am to get ready for our hike to the summit of Volcán Acatenango. Then we got dressed in our warm clothes and set off to tackle that day’s adventure. It was very dark, so we all used headlamps as we made our way up the steep hike. It took about an hour and a half for us to get to the summit which is 3763 meters above sea level.
We sat at the top of the volcano and watched the sun rise over Antigua while we continued to watch Volcán de Fuego erupt. After being up there for about 30 minutes and taking so many pictures, we began the journey back down to basecamp. Going down from the summit was like sliding in sand down a steep hill. You had to really be aware and use your hiking poles to brace yourself.
Down the Volcano
We got back to basecamp, where we had breakfast burritos waiting for us along with tea and coffee. We all soaked up the views one last time while we ate, then we packed up our stuff and prepared for the hike down.
At the start, the hike down felt like a breeze compared to the way up. We were making good time and taking less breaks than on the way up. Once we got about halfway down, we all started to feel it in our joints (my knees were killing me). But, we trekked on and made it down in about 3 hours.
We were all exhausted by the time we made it back to the vans that would take us back to the city of Antigua. I spent the ride back taking in the fact that I had just climbed a volcano, something I never would have thought my body could handle. It truly gave me confidence in myself that I never thought I would have.
After an amazing hot shower, Lizzie and I decided to go out and grab some lunch and drinks to take advantage of the last few hours we had in Antigua. We had a great time and even met up with some of the people who were on the hike with us.
All in all, this experience was once in a lifetime and I will never forget the rollercoaster of emotions that I went through during the hike. The moral of the story is push yourself, believe in yourself, take risks, and soak up the views.
Truly, a once in a lifetime experience which reminded me that I am capable of tackling what seemed like an impossible physical challenge. I look forward to the next adventure….Machu Picchu is calling, see you there fellow Costa Rica TEFL grads!
By: Lizzy Fenn
CRTEFL Administrative Coordinator