So in the 100 days post-stem cell treatment, I was meant to be taking it easy. I was encouraged to do exercise but not to the extent I had been doing previously. I’ve never been much of a hiker, I would always prefer to do something more fast-paced, something that I will feel the burn from, like football, running, circuit training, weights etc and so hiking just always seemed, well, boring! But with me having to slow myself down, it’s forced myself to look beyond my previous mindset and give things like hiking a go, and I have to say, I will be doing a lot more of it from now on. It’s almost like a moving meditation and when you reach the summit of wherever you’re heading, the high you feel is akin to the way you feel when you’ve finished an intense workout, only this time you get to stare out miles into the distance and really appreciate what you’ve just done. This all being said, by doing each of these three hikes, I definitely pushed myself more than I should have done; they weren’t an hour up, an hour down, they were between 5-9 hours and no matter how bad I feel, I can’t ever let myself be at the back of the pack, which is an idiotic way to think in my condition. However, you live and you learn and on the upside, each of these hikes were such amazing experiences in their own way and would recommend anyone giving them a go if they have the time.
1. Indian Nose.
Now if you’re doing a hike mainly for the view, I would suggest this one and if you can force yourself, go for sunrise, I promise you won’t regret it. Normally you can get a tuk tuk to take you to within 30 minutes of the summit and so the hike is quite a tame one but you get the most unbelievable views (see below).
However, luckily for me, the road the tuk tuk goes up was closed and a 90 minute round trip turned into a 6 hour round trip, starting with me getting up at 3am! For any hike you do in Guatemala, I would suggest getting a guide, they know where they are going but most importantly, you won’t get mugged! I was told by my Spanish teacher that if you refuse to get a guide then it’s actually the guides that mug you! However, my guide, Victor was an absolute legend and he certainly wouldn’t be in that bracket. He pulled up in his tuk tuk and after 5 minutes of him speaking broken English and me speaking broken Spanish, we realised this would be an interesting 6 hours together! In San Marcos, there are so many westerners that I didn’t get much of a chance to speak Spanish so one of the most amazing things about this hike was being able to practice my limited Spanish with Victor. Due to the closed road, a large majority of my morning was basically walking up a very steep road, so this wasn’t the most exciting start. Having said that, most of this was in the pitch black which definitely made it more of a challenge! Once we reached the normal trail and it started to get light, I saw why this is such a popular hike for tourists. We reached the top at around 6.15am and it was breathtaking; you could see all of San Pedro as well as Fuego (one of Guatemala’s three active volcanoes) erupting in the distance. The sky was an unreal mix of reds and pinks and whilst Victor saw this as an opportune time to get some sleep, I soaked up every minute.
Fitness level required – With the road open, this really isn’t a challenging hike, you would be going more for the views and the experience of seeing the sunrise in such a spectacular setting. Therefore, as long as you know this going in, I think this is a must for anyone who comes to San Marcos / San Pedro.
Ideal time to hike – Sunrise. I had to get up at 3am but I think that when the road is open, it would be more like 4.30am. I think if you’re going to do it, do it right!
Total time for hike – for me it was just under 6 hours but with the road open, I think it’s around 90 mins – 2 hours total (including time at the top).
Guide? Absolutely – you can go to any tourism shop in San Marcos or San Pedro. I think if there is more than two of you, the normal route is operational and it is daylight, a guide isn’t needed as the normal route is just a small hike.
Bring with you – 3L water, sweater, camera, money (to tip the guide) and some food for sunrise.
Cost – 160 Q
2.Volcan San Pedro
So this was the first of two Volcanoes we hiked. We had been told we should start early, around 8am, so typically for us we started at 11am! From San Marcos, we got a boat over and immediately upon stepping on the dock in San Pedro, we were approached by people selling us tours and so we negotiated with the first guy we saw. He said that for 150 Q, he would take us up in a tuk tuk, walk us 20 minutes up the hike and then pick us back up afterwards. Given that it was 100 Q to hike the Volcano anyway, I thought this was a good deal.
We were told that people take anywhere between 4 – 6 hours and so we aimed to do it all in 4, starting at 11am, we had agreed to meet our driver at 3pm. What can I say about the hike? It was steep!!! There are is a clear path all the way to the top and so you definitely don’t need a guide to guide you but there is still the risk of muggings so I would say that if there is only 1 or 2 of you, get a guide all the way to the top. There were three of us, all guys, so we were less of a target or maybe we were just lucky!
There are good places to stop on the way up to have a break if you want and there was even a cool rope swing if you want to give that a go. It was a lot of fun but my brother did try something stupid and almost got himself stuck out hanging 20 ft above the ground before we just about wrestled him in, so make sure you are careful. What I will say about this hike is that it does require a certain level of fitness and so if you aren’t much of an active person, I would suggest doing Indian’s Nose instead or at least to build you up. On our way down we saw a guy only 1/5 of the way up and he looked in a bad way, I think his girlfriend / wife had talked him into it and he was clearly regretting it!!
1/3 of the way up, we stopped talking and just got into the zone; the ascent was tough but it was weirdly meditative at the same time. These volcanoes have some kind of crazy energy and you can definitely feel it throughout the hike up; not to mention when you reach the summit. The summit we reached just after 1pm and its was unbelievable; most of the views on the way up are covered by trees and greenery and so when you get to the top, it feels like the big reveal and wow was it worth it. You can see Santiago, Fuego and out across most of Lake Atitlan. We were lucky that no one else was up there with us and so we just soaked it all up, just the three of us on top of the world, miles away from reality and our normal lives.
I thought that the descent would be enjoyable but for anyone with the knee and joint problems I have,, the decline is not kind at all and so do bear this in mind. We made it down for 3.15pm and so we were happy with our time, particularly because we probably spent longer than planned at the top. All in all, it was a great boys day out, a good day to bond and hike a volcano together; not many days in the year you get the opportunity to do that!
Fitness level required – now I’m not a seasoned hiker but I would say that this would be at least intermediate, if not a little bit more.
Ideal time to hike – I would say that the very latest you want to start is 11am but I think the 8am we had originally planned for would be the best.
Total time for hike – just over 4 hours but allow between 4 – 6.
Guide? We didn’t but again, if there are 1-2 of you then I would probably say it’s worth it just to be safe. The route itself is pretty easy in terms of how to navigate,
Bring with you – 3L water, sweater, jogging bottoms (if it gets cold), and some food for the summit (you WILL be hungry by the time you get to the top). They also have these walking sticks available at the beginning, I originally laughed and said know but then took them and it was the best decision I made – MAKE SURE YOU DO TOO!!
Cost – 150 Q
3. Acatanengo (next to Fuego).
Acatanengo is a gigantic (well gigantic to me!) inactive Volcano which sits right next to one of Guatemala’s three active volcanoes, Fuego (meaning fire in Spanish). Initially, we were considering the option of camping overnight which meant we could actually get the chance to hike Acatanengo and then over to Fuego, either for sunrise or sunset. However, due to limited time, and being pretty disorganised, we opted for the full-day hike which actually turned out to be the more intense option, since you pretty much did the same hike but in a shorter period of time.
Again, we got a private guide through OX Expeditions and despite being told we should start the hike at 6am (5am meet), we convinced them of our superior hiking experience so we could get an extra hour in bed, something I kind of regretted later on. We actually easily made up the time but what I didn’t consider was that the idea behind the early hike was that you would miss the mad weather and actually get to see Fuego erupt.
Staying in Antigua, we had to get an hour’s bus to the base of Acatanengo and it was there we began our trek. 30 minutes into our ascent, my worries regarding the weather were confirmed, we were engulfed in cloud and seeing anything was proving difficult. That said, it was something I had never experienced before, actually being in a cloud and dealing with the harsh conditions that came with this.
After 3 hours of steep walking, we stopped just before the summit, made a fire, made some food and waited for Fuego to appear through the clouds. We could hear it growling as it erupted but each time, we couldn’t actually see anything, the whole thing was a tease and incredibly frustrating, were we going to come all this way and not actually need the thing erupt?! I mean, we had seen it erupting back in San Marcos so surely we had to see it here. Then, just when we thought hope was gone for the day, the clouds blew over and we saw this huge natural structure with billows of smoke coming out of the top right from the previous eruption. I scrambled for my phone and just as I pressed to record, it erupted in all its splendour, molten lava streaming down the side of then volcano and whilst the video didn’t do it justice, it wasn’t like anything I’d ever seen before.
After this, the clouds regained their position and despite trying to catch another glimpse, our chance for the day had passed it seemed. It was now time too make the short trip to the summit and back down and we were told to brace ourselves for bad weather conditions. Me, being a typical Brit, had only brought a pair of shorts and a sweater ands even the sweater, my brother forced me to bring, my thoughts we “it’s Guatemala, I should be wearing just a pair of shorts the whole time!”. The wind was unbelievable as was the lack of visibility, I didn’t have a clue where we were going or how long it was going to take us but walking through this madness in silence, there was actually a great moment of peace and whilst everything on the outside appeared chaotic, I think we were all secretly in another zone at that point.
It took us a good hour to get through this, and when we were on the other side, we started go down the deep descent, something my knees and joints really didn’t enjoy. There is a lot of unsteadiness; slipping and sliding and when you have bad joints, this can be particularly wearing. We continued to see groups of people on their way up to camp for the night, the majority of them asking (with miserable-looking faces) – “how long to the top”? One girl even asked “is it all up from here” to which I couldn’t help being sarcastic, how are you going to reach the top if it’s not all up?!?
We ended up making it up and down within 7 hours which we were happy with because they say to allow to up to 10 hours. I have to say, out of all of the three, this one was the most punishing physically and I think that due to my recent treatment for Lyme disease, I should have given it a miss but hindsight’s a wonderful thing!
For anyone looking to do this, I would definitely suggest to do the overnight trip as you will get to see a lot more and really experience it all; rather than rush through it all. I’m definitely so glad we did it, but I still feel like I have unfinished business with Fuego.
Fitness level required – I think the fitness level needs to be quite high here. I saw a number of people walking up who looked like they might be in trouble. Once you are halfway up, it’s kind of difficult to back out at that point!
Ideal time to hike – go as early as you possibly can if a day hike because the weather really can affect the trip but if you’re camping overnight, I think you start around 8am.
Total time for hike – allow 4-5 hours to the summit, 60-90 mins rest and then 3-4 hours to the bottom.
What to bring – lots of water, our tour guide cooked us lunch but we brought snacks too, jogging trousers as well as a sweater, cash to tip guides. Oh and make sure you get those walking sticks again, they proved invaluable!!
Guide? – Definitely! Don’t do this without a guide, you will get lost, particularly if you get weather like us!