Tajumulco & Acatenango -Two Guatemala Volcano Solo Experiences

Tajumulco & Acatenango -Two Guatemala Volcano Solo Experiences


 Guatemala was not really on my bucket list. After 11 days in this beautiful, small, friendly and easy to travel country of volcanoes, indigenous, forests and chicken busses, I have to apologize and to say, I have to come back. There are 35 volcanos and other beautiful things left to explore – Hasta luego Guatemala!

I have been in Guatemala during the dry season from the 26th of December 2018 to the 5th of January 2019. Coming from San Cristobal de las casas (Mexico), I went first to Quetzaltenango (Xela) to climb the Tajumulco in an one day solo trip. Afterwards, I went to Lake Atitlan, a beautiful big lake surrounded by majestic volcanoes to celebrate the New Year for 4 days at the Cosmic Convergence Festival. Finally, I went to Antigua to climb the probably Guatemala’s most famous Acatenango volcano, in a two day solo overnight camping trip with an impressive view on the eruptions of El Fuego volcano next to it and a fantastic sunrise with view on the Agua volcano.





The Tajumulco is with 4,220 m Central Americas highest volcano. Close to Xela and the Mexican Border it has a fantastic round view, lays in a rural area with a lot of indigenous people, is comparable easy to climb and as far as I have noticed more climbed by Mexicans and Guatemaltecos than by tourists. A lot of good reasons to go there. I heard the sunrise is beautiful but a one day solo trip was also a great experience and I couldn’t find a FKT (Fastest Known Time), so I tried to do it light and fast 😉.


How to get there:



1)      Start early (5 am) from Xela – Minerva Bus Terminal to San Marcos, which takes 1.5 to 2  hours. At the bus station, go around the corner and/or ask for a bus to Tacana or directly to you destination Crucera Tajumulco. With waiting time etc. the full tour took me 4 hours from 5 am to 9 am before I finally reached the trailhead. Costs: 10 +10 Quetzales for the bus rides.


2)      Same like 1. with the different idea to do the bus ride the afternoon/evening before and stay at the Hotel Villa Real and have a more relaxed start the next morning. Hotel costs according to other sources around 60 Quetzales, which is 5 Q cheaper than my hostel.


3)      Do a two day overnight trip. A lot of people invited me and I’m sure it would have been a lot of fun.



My trip report:



Waking up at 4.20 am, I did a kind of scary around 2,5 km, 20 min warm up run from my hostel – The Black Cat hostel (I can definitely recommend it) – close to the Parque Central to the Minerva Bus station. You can also take a cab for around 40 Q, recommended by the really helpful hostel lady. Like written before, the bus ride took me around four hours. Two hours in a full chicken bus to San Marcos. Quite a bit waiting there, before I took a mini bus to Crucera Tajumulco. Just ask everyone for the volcano and you will find your way. It starts with a copplestone road, stay right before it goes over in a dirt road and then a trail. After around half an hour I got controlled by two guys, so I had to pay 30 Q entrance fee – I’m always not sure about this controls but let’s hope it helps maintaining the camino. After that point it’s just straight upwards on a dirt road – some people still drive further up. However, the trail is easy to find and splits sometimes up just to meet again. It passes fields, meadows and pine forests before it reaches the basecamp, where it splits up again. Both ways are ok. I took the right hand one up and came down the other side. Shortly after the basecamp, probably around 3800 to 3900 m high and after a pretty fast ascent a mix between running and pretty fast hiking, I got a little bit headache and took a short eating, drinking relaxing break. I reached the top after a little bit more than 2 hours which is fast considering a normal 3 to 5 hour hike.


Up at the top, I was next to the fireworks as a gringo a small attraction and some people asked me super friendly to take some pictures and some indigenous even invited me to some chips. I was the only Gringo apart of a Danish guy with a guide and some other Germans with a guide, I met on the way down and an American guy “Don Carlos”, I met on the peak and who was here with 7 Guatemalan girls.
He and his group also were it, who destroyed my planned downhill FKT but talking with him about his social foundation to support Guatemala girls, mostly really poor orphans on a social education path ,inspired by the book Les Miserables (the pastor), was more than worth it. The hike down was very inspiring and practicing Spanish with the girls was fun too. He also invited me to take me back to Xela in his Jeep, so I had no choice and slowed down. They stayed in the Hotel Villa Real before and the owner allowed them to shower after the hike, just in case you consider to take option two – the hostel looks really good for me. On the drive back we heard and sang all the time Coldplay songs and Don Carlos told me more about his support and foundation and their bike rides in Czech Republic and Spain and the upcoming one in Costa Rica and invited me to stay for a night in his private Botanical Garden. We finished the day with a really good meal in a Chinese restaurant! Apart from the Tajumulco hike it was a very inspiring day, showing what one person can do and I wish the girls all the best! So I hope apart from the hike and the Tajumulco you’re meeting some fantastic people too!


Strava: 14,3 km, 4.5 hours moving time, 5,5 hours elapsed time, 1,200 m elevation


Strava Link Tajumulco






Thronging together with the El Fuego and the Agua volcano over the beautiful old town of Antigua, and with a fantastic view on the eruptions of El Fuego and easy accessible, it’s probably Guatemala’s most famous volcano/hike and there are a lot of tour companies in Antigua offering two day overnight trips from 200 Q up to an average of ~ 450 Q or more including a guide, food, a tent and equipment.


However, I still had all my stuff for a cold camping night with me and couldn’t wait to explore and do this tour, which was on the 4th of January kind of my delayed New Years adventure. Looking in the internet (search: Acatenango solo/DIY), there are some discussions about:
1. get robbed,
2. get lost,
3. Die, and
4. not supporting the local economy.



My thoughts about it:
1. I felt safe during all the trip but there are people working with machetes, who could rob you easily, if they want. I offered the first guy (with machete) I met some cookies and after that everyone I met afterwards was friendly even if I was totally alone. If you start early with all the other groups around 9 to 11 am and just follow them, I wouldn’t have any concerns. I would for every hike recommend to leave your passport and credit card in the hostel, you don’t need them anyways. I split my money up and put it in different pockets and had like 100 Q in my wallet.


2. The trails inclusive all houses, campgrounds etc. are on MAPS ME (Offline Map App), but I need to mention that I had perfect conditions. The last part, especially in the dark is tricky, so definitely take a good headlamp with you and try to follow a group. We got a little bit lost on our way down on the first part from the peak to the camp.


3. People died and there are memorial cruces on the way. Check the weather forecast and if tours are going. Take warm clothes and food with you. Make safe decisions and try to find a partner/group to join or stay close to them.


4. There are still a lot of other people going and in the end it’s your decision why you want to do it solo. In my case, I wanted to do it fast, starting at my time and making my own experience. I met some friendly locals on the bus, I bought food and cola in a local panderia and directly in a small tienda in La Soledad. You’re paying the 50 Q registration fee for the park – that’s local support too, in my opinion.



My trip report:



I started to late!

I realized that, when I checked out at my hostel at 11 am. Saying that I’m going to climb the Acatenango, the housekeeper asked me with which company, because all the companies normally start earlier. Telling him, that I’m trying it solo, he said I’m too late because I would need at least 5 hours and the additional time for the bus ride. With a lot of warm clothes, three liter water, Nutella and a lot of bread, I went to the main bus terminal. Asking for a bus to La Soledad, everyone replied that the next bus starts next morning at 7 am, so I had to take the complicated way over Chimaltenango. The stop in Chimaltenango and waiting in the bus to Yepocapa took me an hour, so the bus tour took in total around 3,5 hours from 12 pm to 3.30 pm before I finally arrived in La Soledad. People in the bus couldn’t believe that I still want to start – “muy tarde, necesitas 5 horas, etc.”.
In La Soledad I bought some cookies and two cans of Cola in a local tienda, before I started to hike around 3.40 pm at an elevation of around 2,400 m.
Completely alone and late I already regret my mistakes and lateness and split of my money in different pockets of my shorts. Offering the first farmers with machetes coming down from farm work a chocolate chip cookie and having a short talk, calmed me down. All the farmers and people coming down have been super friendly to me but they could easily robbed me – just lucky that internet rumors are not always right. A good thing of starting so late is definitely less tourists, I just met a few coming down, it’s not too hot anymore and you have a nice sunset hike. I hiked pretty fast and the registration office which I reached after around 30 min was already closed, so I couldn’t pay the 50 Q entry fee. There are some nice Info boards on the way and the way in total is really nice to go. I used the Maps Me app and all the trails, camps etc. are accurate. There are two possibilities to camp and see the Fuego volcano eruptions. Going left at the first fork means to camp with most of the guided groups. Referring to others, this way is a little bit easier but the view from the other camp is a little bit nicer.
Also to walk a little bit longer in the sunset, I decided to keep right and it was fantastic with beautiful views to all the volcanos at the horizon: Atitlan, Santa Maria, and even Tajumulco were visible over the clouds and in the sunset.
The last 30 min were dark and I used my headlamp. The way was easy to find and to go. At the basecamp (elevation 3,666 m) there were two company groups and one private group of Guatemaltecos from Guatemala city. Unfortunately, one of the guides passed me up and lead me to a campsite, telling me that’s the company private campsite and I have to pay 50 Q. I think it is a lie and tourist trap but I was to tired to argue and paid 40 Q like another solo hiker, who settled already there and had paid it too.


Cody from Ventura, California was a nice partner to talk with. I offered him a Nutella bread and we decided to team up to start the hike to the top next morning. After a hot chocolate at the fire with the Guatemala group I went finally to bed. El Fuego was already erupting and spying lava and making the best natural firework I could ask for. The night was cold and short and I was happy to wake up and start early at 4.20 am. Cody and I followed one of the guided groups of around 15 persons big for a while before we passed them, because they were too slow. After around 40 min, 2 km and 264 m of elevation we reached the top. We found a nice spot on a rock with great view on the Agua volcano and Antigua. Cody wanted to celebrate it by smoking some weed out of an apple pipe but the wind was to strong and the lighter wasn’t working. I guess, it was really funny for all the other hikers seeing us hiding behind a rock and try to start the “pipe” like Gollum instead of enjoying and capturing the sunrise. In the end we decided to celebrate our real New Year sunrise moment on the 5th of January again with some Nutella. In my opinion, it’s how a New Year should start - with a fantastic sunrise! I few people ran a round of around 400 m on the volcano top , maybe a tradition, so we did it too. During the sunrise there were more than 100 people on the top but they disappeared pretty fast. Another reason to do it alone, to have time to enjoy this view a little bit longer. On the way down we got lost a little bit and it’s really easy to imagine how bad it can be in bad conditions and cold rain. We did a short coffee stop at our base camp and build down the camps before we continued to go down.
Even if we went pretty fast, it took us more than 3 hours, from 9 am to 12 am to go down. Meeting the caravan of people coming up, made me appreciate my solo sunset hike the last day even more.
Luckily, Cody was travelling by motorbike down from California, so I somehow found a place on it, even it was really tight with two big bag packs. Taking a short cut it took us less than an hour to make it back to Antigua – inclusive a short dinner break compared to the 4 hour bus ride the day before.
The most dangerous moment was the Good bye from Cody at the hostel, during which his motorbike felt down and hit both of us, so we both felt down too and I nearly hit a house corner – like in the Million Dollar Baby movie. Did I mention that Cody works as a stuntman. However, it was a great New Year adventure or is a great sunrise hike – Do it solo or with a guided tour but DO IT!



La Soledad to the Base Camp: 7,46 km, 2:57 h Moving time, 3:37 h Elapsed time, 1,429 m Elevation




Basecamp to peak: 1,95 km, 40 min, 264 m elevation




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