Acatenango is one of the three volcanoes that surround the city of Antigua in Guatemala. Opposite, Fuego every ten minutes gives rise to an incandescent show of ash and lapilli: camping at night on Acatenango allows you to observe this spectacle from a privileged point of view.
We decided to go there, despite the effort to get up there.
Fuego erupting during the night
Camping on an active volcano, observing its eruption all night was one of the big dreams of my life and in Guatemala I finally managed to make it come true.
Even before leaving for ours honeymoon in Mexico I wandered on the web pages to find information on active volcanoes in Guatemala so in Antigua we dedicate the entire first day to looking for an agency to organize the excursion for us.
The search is difficult, especially due to my mental insanity.
The first agency we go to is the OX Expeditions, one of the best known for trekking on volcanoes: talking to the fake blonde American at the reception we learn, in addition to the fact that they have all their groups complete, who for safety are also escorted by armed police, since just the week before a group of hikers were robbed by armed banditos who took everything away from him, including his shoes.
Imagine my panic. At this point I am stubborn to have the police escort at all costs: needless to say that none of the other agencies provide this type of service, so after having shot all day we are satisfied with the agency that seemed to me to be the more reliable: the alternative is to give up (and in hindsight I assure you thank goodness I didn't).
Panorama on Guatemala during the climb
If you take any travel guide that talks about Acatenango, you will read that it is by far one of the most strenuous treks as well as one of the most exciting in all of Guatemala.
The trek lasts two days: the first day you arrive about 100 meters below the top of the volcano, where you pitch your tents and sleep. The second day for the hardest and purest who want to get to the top the alarm clock (if you sleep because in reality at those altitudes it is difficult to fall asleep) rings at half past three.
The climb is really tiring, especially for the weight of the backpack and for the thirst.
After the first hours of walking in a green undergrowth, the vegetation begins to change, it becomes sparser. The clouds envelop everything and only in certain moments, when they open, it is possible to admire the view of the valleys below.
Agua volcano, one of the most beautiful views
After a good seven hours of climbing we arrive at the point where we set up the tents for the night.
The view is spectacular from here: right in front, very close, Fuego (not surprisingly it's called that) about every ten minutes with a deafening roar emits fountains of smoke, ash and incandescent lapilli which then roll and slide along the steep sides scarred by the fire.
But it is when darkness falls that the real magic begins, when thanks to the darkness the lapilli form huge incandescent fountains; this is one of those moments that I carry in my heart, of those that after having lived them I cannot help but keep tight and that I hope will remain vivid in my memory forever.
A moment all together in front of the fire
But with the dark the frost also arrives, the guides light a bonfire for us, we curl up near the fire to chat and eat our sandwitches.
Someone takes out a carton of wine, although we have only known each other for a few hours, the atmosphere is one that is created between old friends, we have formed a beautiful team!
The tiredness of the climb makes itself felt, we say goodbye and retire to the tent quite early: I stay a little longer to photograph, but when I try to sleep I don't close my eyes, I don't know if for the altitude or for the emotion of to be here.
The alarm clock at half past three it's traumatizing, it's cold outside, the heaviest two hours of climbing of our entire life await us.
Of 11 only in 5 we decide to go. In the light of our headlamps we begin to climb, after a few tens of meters the trees disappear completely and we begin a steep climb completely in the ashes.
Have you ever walked in the ashes?
Well, in the ashes you take a step forward and slide a meter back, it's very tiring. The path does not exist, the wall is steep, I take the wrong road, I go back a bit, I am stuck in dizziness. The altitude makes me dizzy, I walk looking down, the cold cuts my face.
But when my mind tells me that I can't take it anymore, that it would be better to stop and go back, when the lungs explode looking for a rarefied air that is not there, all of a sudden I realize that despite everything my legs continue to advance, slowly one step after another.
È here I realized maybe for the first time that often the limits are only in our mind.
On the crater of the Acatenango, frozen and happy
In the end I did it, the last 30 meters are the worst, almost vertical: I arrive at the top, upset, frozen and happy, just in time to see the golden dawn rise over Guatemala.
The gaze sweeps 360 °, you can see the Lago Atitlan, other volcanoes, Guatemala City and over there at the bottom I seem to see even the ocean.
The first rays of the sun warm the frozen fingers, we have time to take the only souvenir photo and we quickly get back on the road: a long descent awaits us to go home.
The dawn that is born on Guatemala, panorama from the top of the Acatenango