Tropicana Acatenango Hike: Review, what I wish I knew before the hike and What to expect

This is my honest review on the Tropicana Hostel Acatenango hike as well as all the things I wish I knew before doing the Tropicana Acatenango hike.

This blog aims to cover:

  • What is it?How long does the hike take?How do I book it?Price range?What’s included?What do I need to bring?A step by step guide to the hikeMy honest thoughts on the Tropicana Acatenango hike.What is it?

Acatenango is a dormant volcano that has an epic view of Fuego, an active volcano. The Acatenango hike is a 1.5 day hike, where you walk up to a base camp, camp overnight, then you wake up before sunrise and hike to the top before making your way down.

The hike starts 1 hour from Antigua, Guatemala. Its completed via a guided tour, (I’ve not met anyone doing it themselves but I’m sure some experienced hikers do).

How long does it take?

That depends on you, the time of year, the tour you are on and the amount of people on your tour.

My blog will go into detail about all the stops later, but the hike (for us a group of 21 + 3 guides) takes around 2.5 hours to hike up (without breaks, about 4-5 hours with your breaks). We arrived about 3:30pm. Then you’ll go to bed around 9pm (once all the dinner is eaten) camp overnight and then wake up around 3:45 to hike up to the summit for sunrise.

How do I book it?

Every hostel and travel agent in Antigua has a tour on sale. You won’t struggle to find one!

Which leads me on to…

Price?

Prices range from 200-500Q (£20-50) depending on the tour. Plus 50Q for the entrance fee.

Tropicana charges at the hostel 450Q in person inc entrance. Online, Tropicana advertises the tour at $67USD (which at the time was 518Q) so I recommend NOT booking before you arrive or you pay more online. Yes it’s on the pricier side so make sure you keep reading to find out why…

What’s included?

That depends on your tour and what you’ve paid. But my tour offered:

  • Shuttle transportation from Antigua to the start of the walk and vice versa
  • Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner (all vegetarian and including little extras like marshmallows, wine, hot chocolate, coffee, the best banana bread I’ve ever eaten and a refreshing drink at the end). Yes the will cater to vegans, allergies, gluten free and me (I don’t eat veg)
  • Spanish speaking Guides up and down (who are simply lovely even if you don’t speak Spanish)
  • Tents, sleeping bags all set up for you
  • A bed off the ground (the cheaper tours don’t offer this)

What do I need to bring?

Ok, so every hostel/guide will give you a list but they didn’t stress to us the reasons why and I wish I knew more before I hiked up.

  1. 4 Litres of water. I read this and thought, oh that’s heavy!! I think that’s just a recommended amount. I’ll bring what I think I can drink. WRONG. You are told to bring 4 litres because you drink around 2-3 litres and you give a litre of the water to your guide at the top so he can cook your dinner.
  2. Layers, lots and lots of them. A hat. Gloves. A scarf. I got told to layer up because it’s cold at the top. But it’s not cold at the top, it’s FREEZING (well it was for us in November). You’ll spend a lot of time by a campfire so the scarf covering your mouth and nose is recommended. I also recommend taking off layers whilst you sleep and using something as a pillow and then putting it on in the morning again.
  3. A medium / large bag AND leave room for food provided. They did not tell us to leave room in our bags – the ‘normal’ eaters are asked to carry up their lunches and the rest (Vegans, Veggies etc) carry up all their food.
  4. A Head torch. You’ll be needing that to use the toilet on the volcano after dark (6/7pm) and hiking up the next day in the dark (1.5 hours).
  5. Loo Roll (for the long drop toilets)
  6. Hand sanitiser
  7. Portable charger, replacement battery packs for camera.

Step by step guide to the Tropicana Acatenango Tour

You can book the tour online and chat to a representative via chat if you have questions or concerns. I personally recommend booking by popping into the hostel the day before (unless it’s crazy high season). Why? It’s cheaper to pay in local currency.

Please note: You don’t need to be staying at the hostel to go on the tour. 😉

You meet at 8am at Tropicana hostel.

Around 8:20am after most people are registered and you’ve left big bags in the hallway (which they put away once the tour coming back returns) and you’ve handed over valuables (passport, cash, etc) to reception to be locked away, it’s time for Breakfast on the roof. You’ll get eggs, pancakes and fruit. It’s good.

9am, you’re loading on buses. Don’t worry if you are separated from friends, you all regroup on arrival.

You drive for about 50 minutes to 1 hour and you know you’re almost there when you suddenly turn left off of the main road.

You arrive and walk up to a large wooden hut with a view point. Whilst waiting the team start handing out food to carry.

At this point there’s a person here selling snacks and renting sticks (10Q) and walking poles (20Q). Your head guide will give a talk at this point, where we learnt he didn’t speak English but luckily we had a couple people on the tour able to translate. You’ll learn to go slow, stay together, and to not touch plants. I do not speak Spanish and although it was annoying to not understand the guide (my own fault, not theirs) you’ll find that the guides are super hard working and will is their best to help you.

10:30 start. The first 45 mins – 1 hours of the walk is up and down, then mainly steep up hill with some steps. This isn’t part of the “official hike”. It’s the walk to the entrance and you’ll pass farmer fields. It’s a pretty walk but it’s tiring. On the way there was x2 5 mins breaks.

11:25 – you’ll reach the ticket office. Here you’ll wait about 15 mins – if you’ve booked with Tropicana you’ve paid the entrance fee. Enjoy the sit down. Your guide will show you a map of what you’re about to do.

Up, up and more up. The walk up has no straight bits or down hills for the next 40 minutes. You walk for x2 20 mins intervals to huts. Take it at your own pace, we had 3 guides so whether you’re fast or slow you’ll have someone with you. Never rushing you.

12:50 – lunch, 1 hour. It’s a vegetarian burrito, a brownie and an apple juice. For me they made a potato and egg salad and tortillas with cheese. I made the mistake of eating too much at lunch, you need your energy to go up but don’t overdo it as I had a touch next couple of hours…

The next hour of the hike is Criss Cross hills surrounded by pines. It’s again, all up hill. You’ll lose your breath more now because of the altitude. You’ll have 2/3 breaks up the next section.

At around 3pm your guide should announce that the easy bit is here – 30mins til the end. I personally still found thus bit slightly difficult as there’s a few scrambles and you’re in a single file.

Then, you’ll see it. Fuego and suddenly it all makes sense why you’re doing this!

For us it was 2.5 hours of walking (which actually isn’t very much) and 2.5 hours of breaks. It’s tiring, really tiring, but not technically difficult. It just requires a lot of endurance going up all the time and keeping up with the group. For me this was my first guided walk and so I struggled with a large group (either tailing someone or having someone right up behind me) and keeping up the general pace of the group (slow and fast). As well as being told when to start and stop, rather than listening to my own body. I was fine for the first half, didn’t break a sweat and could have continued on but it was after food that my body wasn’t happy with the up hill and I struggled.

At the top, don’t forget to grab a tent, 3 to each tent! There’s also a long drop toilet.

Golden hour was the perfect time to capture photos of Fuego.

Once the sun goes down, the cold starts to hit you but the guides light a fire and start cooking dinner in a tiny little hut. You are treated like a king/queen and you start to think… wow these guides have just walked up this volcano and they’ve not had a chance to relax yet and they’re making us food. These guides really are lovely guys who can’t do enough for you.

We had a lovely evening of eating cup noodles then spaghetti, then wine. You’ll also get marshmallows to toast, local hand crafted chocolate and hot chocolate. I was actually really, really impressed with how much we were looked after. They also cool in a little hut was a small stove and head torches – these guides work super hard!!

In the dark, if you’re lucky this will happen.

For us it was quite frequent (every few moments in intervals), for others it was too cloudy to see, for the monitory they were almost evacuated.

The guides finally stop working around 9pm when they’ve been non stop since meeting you at 10am. I’ve never, ever wanted to tip a group of guys more.

Worth noting, no one changed in to PJs or had a change of clothes. I’m pretty certain everyone was wearing every since layer they carried up and took off a couple layers before settling into their sleeping bag around 9pm.

3:45am – Time to wake up

Your guides wake you up at this time and bless them, they’ve already lit a fire for you to huddle around.

Just after 4pm it’s time to go. 1 girl stayed behind at the point and after speaking to a few people on other tours, it’s not unheard of the skip the uphill morning hike.

Personally this was the hardest part. I did not have a torch. I brought my phone thinking the flashlight would be enough but you need both hands to scramble up the hill. It’s tough, especially this early, only moonlight and without a coffee. But you just need to keep going because you’re together with the group and after a night of bonding everyone helps each other! I had a nice girl from Finland who each time she climbed would shine the light back towards me.

As you go up, you’ll remove layers then 5 mins before the top your guide will tell you the layer up again. It’s about to get really cold as you’re exposed at the top.

When you reach the top it’s just magical. Even your guide hugs you. I was so happy it was over.

At this point everyone is taking photos and if you’re not in gloves, you’ll wish you were. Then it’s time to head down and you’ll see the walk way and think did I just climb that in the dark!?

Once you’re back at base camp, coffee is served and the best banana bread ever. You’ll also need to hand in your pot of porridge (found in your lunch bag) and they’ll add hot water. Once again, you’ll think these guides are the most wonderful men ever!!

The walk down

It’s easier because you’re not out of breath, but be kind to your knees. Takes about 2.5 -3 hours including breaks. You’ll be back at the bus by around 10am for your drink.

Once the tour was done we said goodbye and thanked our guides. Some people tipped, some didn’t. Honestly I hope these guys are paid a good wage but it’s unlikely. According to the Irish owner of Tropicana they go up the mountain “as many times a week as they want to”. I was hoping his answer would be something a bit more geared towards the well being of the guys.

Back at Tropicana:

Once you’re back at the hostel, it’s carnage. Why? It’s a party hostel and it’s 11am. All the guests staying there are up, the tour group is back and you will just want a shower and a bed. Tropicana offer showers back at their hostel on the ad, but honestly it’s not mentioned by the staff once you’re back and if you’re not staying there you’ll want to get your stuff and check in to your hostel.

Personally, Tropicana hostel (as a place to stay) is not my cup of tea. It’s the party hostel and the rooms were quite dark and my friends didn’t enjoy their stay. But let’s be honest, i am not their target market (and that’s ok) – this place has a pool, social vibe and a nice rooftop for breakfast/lunch and dinner. Personally I felt Antigua has so many beautiful hostels that you’ll be spoilt for choice! I stated in Maya Papaya and Somos (both were amazing!!!) But if you’re up for a party, you’ll get 20% discount and a free shot and beer if you’re staying there and doing the Acatenango tour.

Would I recommend this hostel Tropicana’s Acatenango tour?

Yes I would recommend the Tropicana tour. Why? I definitely got my money’s worth and I felt like it was organised smoothly. The food and treats made it feel a bit more special at times I was feeling stressed and defeated and I loved having a big group as I met some really lovely people. However I’d also recommend doing ANY tour up Acatenango for the experience. After chatting to other backpackers about their tour it sounds lounge they’re all similar, but just ask what’s included to see if it suits what you want out of a tour. I personally loved all the little treats of my tour, but I did pay more than most!

Tropicana’s on the pricey side but once you’re up on that volcano you’ll be thankful for the hot drinks, the bed off the ground and view point. You’re not camping with any other group and when I compared our volcano view to other tours, ours was the best.

My friend Jackson paid 200Q ( half of what I paid, plus 50Q on arrival) and had breakfast at his guides family home – there are fewer perks like snacks and a bed but it’s a big $ saving! Also this tour is owned by a local (Tropicana is not owned by a local company/owner). If you want to do this cheaper tour, details are here (he haggled to get it to 200Q)…

I hope you get a chance to do this hike, it’s an an amazing achievement and a killer view as your reward.

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