Hiking Volcanoes in Antigua (by Emily and Anna P)
What a week! After a long bus ride to Antigua, we settled into our hotel and set out to explore the cobblestone streets, local cuisine, and distinct culture- everywhere we turned there were mountains and volcanoes! Little did we know just how difficult some of those volcanoes would be to climb.
After a day to catch our breath from the travel, we set out on our first “warm-up” hike up Mt Cucurucho. We were supposed to hike Volcano Pacaya, but plans changed as Pacaya was active for the first time in ten years! I call it a “warm-up” hike because as we quickly discovered, the climb up Cucurucho was anything but easy. It started with about 30 mins of stairs and just kept going steeply uphill for 2 hours straight- no flats and no gentle declines, just up up up! It was all worth it, though, when we reached the campsite. We could see Volcano Pacaya exploding in the distance and incredible stars above us!
The following day, we hiked down the mountain and drove back to Antigua for a rest day before beginning our big hike up Volcano Acatenango. Needless to say, we were all mildly terrified to climb the 6 hours up Acatenango when the 2.5 hours up Cucurucho had been so challenging. But our guides Luis, Lucas, and Willy were fantastic, we told each other stories and listened to music to keep our minds off the hike, and before we knew it we had reached base camp. We had just started setting up our tents when a big rumble like thunder sounded and Luis told us that Volcano Fuego- the one right next to Acatenango- was erupting! We all peered out of our tents for a front row seat to the smoke and lava pouring out of the top of Fuego- it was a moment we will never forget. But easily the most spectacular moment of the day was when the sun went down and Fuego erupted- we could see the glow of the lava from our campsite!
The next morning we suited up for a hike over to Fuego (not all the way up of course) and got to see the eruptions close up. It was super windy and very dusty, causing us to get dirt stuck in our noses and teeth- a theme, we would learn, that would not be leaving us very quickly. We returned to base camp and after a delicious lunch and big time power naps, we got ready to climb to the summit of Acatenango for sunset. The climb was steep and sandy, the altitude making it especially difficult, but the views from the top were incredible! We celebrated while overlooking the clouds beneath us. We took lots of pictures at the true summit, then hiked around the crater rim to watch the sun set above the clouds as Fuego erupted below us and Pacaya continued to spew lava in the distance. It was easily one of the most rewarding and surreal moments of my life, and something I think we all are still processing and trying to believe happened.
The hike down from the summit was particularly fun as it felt a little like skiing down the piles of volcanic ash. After another night of watching Fuego erupt across the way, we began the hike down. While it was shorter, it was just as steep and dusty, and all in all not too much fun for those of us with bad knees. When we finally got down, we returned to Antigua for much needed showers and to celebrate Marco’s birthday!
Our last hike was more of a trek across the Guatemalan countryside to Lake Atitlan. This one was in some ways the most difficult, but also taught us a lot. Over the course of three days, we hiked and stayed just outside very small communities. We saw the crops they were growing- snow peas and coffee beans and avocado trees- and just how hard the people worked to grow and maintain those crops. We had an incredible opportunity to play soccer and other games with some of the local children outside one of the communities which led to some important and deep conversations about our own privileges, and how odd it must have been for them to have us in their town and to play with adults like us while their parents and siblings our own ages were still hard at work.
After three full days of trekking, we made it to Lake Atitlan and the Doron Yoga Retreat! It is beautiful here, and the perfect place to recover from such a physically, mentally, and emotionally challenging week.
This week, we are grateful for our wonderful guides from Old Town Outfitters, Luis, Lucas and Willy, the beautiful views we saw, the things we learned about ourselves and the world, the challenges we faced and overcame, the cute trail dogs, Willy’s guacamole, Nature Valley bars, baby wipes, athletic tape, rest days, each other’s positive energy and enthusiasm, and Jack & Amelia’s constant support.
Until next time!
Emily & Anna P