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Have you ever thought about climbing an active volcano?

watching an active volcano

Guatemala is a dream destination for adventurers and a great place for cultural immersion. Situated on the Pacific ring of fire, this country is home for 37 official volcanoes, three of them being in constant activity: Pacaya, Fuego and Santiaguito.

On top of that, along with Bolivia and Peru, Guatemala is one of the last countries in Latin America where you can still see people in their traditional wear, which is an imense opportunity if you are into culture photography, like we are.

There are many things to see here, but since our time was limited, we decided to do only a part of the main itinerary, that being: climbing an active volcano, exploring Antigua and then relaxing on the shore of Atitlan lake.

Usually, people also visit Tikal Mayan Reserve and Semuc Champey, but we decided to skip that and go to El Salvador, instead.

girl in infinity pool
Tzampoc Resort

How to get there

Most of the people fly there and the biggest airport is, of course, in Guatemala City: La Aurora airport. There is another fairly big airport, Mundo Maya International airport in Flores—close to the Tikal ruins. However, most of the airlines are flying there from the Latin America or the States. So, most probably, you`ll need to take a connection.

We flew in with Air France and Copa Airlines, via Panama.

colonial architecture
Antigua streets


It obviously depends on your nationality and you will need to check your own country`s Ministry of Foreign Affairs website for that. But, as of 2024, regular passport holders from 86 countries visiting Guatemala for tourism purposes including Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Bahrain, Barbados and Belgium Do Not require a visa and will be granted permission for short-term stay on arrival. You can see the full list here, but this is not an official source. Use it as a reference, only.

We, as Romanians, did not require any visa. However, we had to fill up an online form, Declaracion Jurada de Viajero, which can be accessed here.

This needs to be filled in for both entry and exit.


We, personally, never felt unsafe at any point while in Guatemala. However, we didn`t walk or drive late at night or in places that are not very populated.

In general, if you follow the general common sense rules, everything should be fine.

People felt really friendly and helpful, as well.

traditional village
Santa Caterina Palopo, Atitlan


Card payments are possible in the main cities and big restaurants. We could use it more than expected. Most of the hotels and most of the places in Antigua accept card payments, for example.

However, in small towns it is better to have some cash.

Money withdrawal can be done in all the ATMs. At least, we didn`t get any issue with that.

However, if you plan on exchanging money, it is better to bring USD rather than EUROS ( like we did ) and make sure the banknotes are in very good condition as they are extremely picky when it comes to money exchange. We could only find a limited number of exchange offices and most of the transactions were made at the local banks, which required a passport as well.

Some of them have a limit on how much money you can exchange per day, around 200 EUROS.

In our opinion, it is better and more simple to just withdraw money instead of exchanging it. Or, at least, bring just enough for the activities that can be paid in USD directly.

couple colors
Colors of Antigua

Getting around

A lot of people advise to travel using the local transport, however, we wanted more flexibility and we went against that and rented a car.

The public transport has the famous "chicken buses" which are basically American school buses that were donated to Guatemala and decorated in the latin - american style. They are very crowded, they do not have any AC and do not have any seatbelts and sometimes you don`t even get a seat. However, they are very cheap and provide a real experience of this country.

If you decide to travel this day, it is best to travel during day light for safety.

Rent a car

As mentioned before, we decided to rent a car despite the advice not to. But we did not regret it, even if the traffic can be a bit chaotic.

Renting a car gives you the extra flexibility that you will need, mostly if you are short on time, like of we were.

We choose to rent a small car ( Toyota Yaris ) from Guatemala Rent a Car. Our overall experience was good, however we are still waiting for the 1000$ deposit back, which should be released after a month ( according to the bank statement ).

We paid around 250$ for 4 days and the 1000$ deposit mentioned before. The bigger the car, the bigger the deposit. There is no full insurance, either. Officially, they require a credit card exclusively for the deposit but we tried with the debit card and it worked. ( possibly that is the reason why it takes longer for the money to return )

city and volcano landscape
View from Cerro de la Cruz, Antigua

Driving in Guatemala

Driving in Guatemala felt a bit challenging but doable. However, we come from Romania, which is not the most civilized country either and this helped a bit.

There are some things that we noticed and which are good to know:

  • drive carefully and be aware of the others drivers, there tend to be no rules and most of the people overtake on the right side, for example

  • don`t drive too fast because in some places the lane end suddenly, for example two lanes become one

  • generally the roads we encountered were good but there are some deep potholes ocasionally

  • stick to the main roads even tough it takes longer ( or ask the locals of the road condition ); for example we once took a road that ended up in a river and we had to return

  • there is no need for 4x4 on most of the roads

  • there are many villages ( mostly around lake Atitlan ) where the roads are very steep; it would be useful to not be a beginner driver

  • avoid driving at night due to obstacles and unlit vehicles on the road

active volcano and milky way
The view from the camp

Acatenango hike ( with optional Fuego hike )

Hiking an active volcano is absolutely a MUST DO in Guatemala! The experience itself is so incredible and unique but, at the same time, a bit tought.

Now, if you regularly hike or exercise, it shouldn`t be any problem to you. If you are a coach potato 😊, would suggest to prepare a bit in advance.

There are plenty of articles on this theme, but we`ll try to do a long - story short version here.

Best time to do it

We think it is great to do the Acatenango climb all year round but from November to April you are more likely to have clear views and less likely to get wet.

Having a guide is mandatory

Firstly, you need to know that you cannot do the trek on your own. There are many local companies that offer guide and cabin rental, as well as gear rental. We did a quick research on Trip Advisor and we chose Adventure Unlimited Guatemala.

We had our own gear and sleeping bags, so we needed to rent only the cabin. But we preferred the whole cabin for ourselves so we paid a bit extra for that.

You will need trekking gear

Trekking poles are reccommended but everybody is renting them from the starting point of the trek.

Layers are mandatory: wind stopper, first layer, down jacket, hat, gloves, water proof pants, shorts, wind proof pants and mountain shoes/ boots.

A good flashlight per person is mandatory as well. You will come back from Fuego when it is completely dark. Also, climbing Acatenango crater happens when it is still night.

If you have your own light sleeping bags, that will make your life easier. They should have a comfort temperature of 0 degrees Celsius, at least.

Weather changes a lot, during the day it is very warm and during the night it can get below zero easily. Also, it is VERY WINDY, mostly during the evening and night.

Duration and length of the trek

It takes two days to do it. The level difference is about 2200 m ( if you do Fuego as well ) and the length about 25 km.

Usually you leave Antigua the first day in the morning and you drive to the base of the trek, which is about 2300 m. After that, it should take 3-5 hours to get to the camp, which is about 3700 m and faces Fuego. From there, you can either relax in the afternoon or do Fuego hike for the sunset. We obviously did Fuego. 😊

The Fuego hike will take another 2 hrs to go and 2 hours to return but it is quite challenging as you go up and down all the time. But it is totally worth it, as you will get super close to the erupting volcano, abouy 800 m to 1 km.

The following day in the morning, you wake up at 4 and start climbing to Acatenango crater for about 1 hour, in order to see the sunrise.

After that, you start to descend.

Overall, it is a rather difficult trek due to teh level difference in a short distance, as well as the height of Acatenango itself, 3976 m, which adds up to the effort.

However, we`ve seen many people doing it, some more fir than others.

Fuego activity

It is a super active volcano, with small erruptions every 15 min and bigger ones every 30 min. Apparently, it is the most active from 3 am to 6 am. We wish we`d known that before!

Altitude sickness

It obviously depends on the body, some people have it earlier than others. But in general it happens above 10,000 ft, which is roughly 3000 -3500 m, which is the case on this hike.

Diamox or Acetozolamide pills make a big difference, bring some with you, just in case.

Apart from that, expect some headache.

Bring many snacks

We were told to bring snacks but we didn`t take it that serious, as we were told that the guide will provide all meals for us. However, the meals weren`t that consistent as we expected and now we wish we`d had better caloric snacks. Remember, the whole trek is very energy consuming.

couple watching sunrise on a mountain
Watching the sunrise from Acatenango crater was stunning

sunrise over a volcano
This is actually Agua, the volcano seen from Antigua

volcano explosion at sunrise
Fuego errupting in the morning, view from Acatenango

volcano explosion at night
How cool is this?

aerial view of volcano crater
Quite a lot of people out there, huh?


This is such a cool city, vibrant and full of colorful colonial buildings. Although it is a bit touristic for some people, it is a breath of civilization before and after the climb to Acatenango. It has many coffee shops and restaurants, for all sorts of tastes.

Here are some of them:

We loved Alegria - a cosy specialty coffee shop. If you want to indulge in local flavour, here is a nice traditional restaurant, popular among locals. It is called Rincon Antigueno. Don`t expect it to be fancy, though.

Also, we met a Romanian guy, Cristian, that is living in Antigua and who reccommended us this place which has wine and cheese, called Suelo.

This guy recently opened a vintage and art space, which is interesting to see. It is called Taraba and features a vintage store where Cristian and his guatemalan wife are bringing back to life all sorts of clothing but also a space where new artists can expose their art ( from clothing to accessories and all sorts of artistic objects ). Both Cristian and his wife are super nice and it is really worth paying them a visit for a better glimpse into the local culture.

city streets and volcano
The famous view of Santa Catalina Arch and Agua volcano

Atitlan Lake

This is such a nice and peaceful place, full of traditional villages and plenty of outdoor activities. It obviously takes a lot of time to do everything ( cultural visits, boat rides, trekking and sight seeing ) and if you are short on time, we suggest to pick up an area and stick around that.

Although we are not necessarily into fancy stuff, we had in mind for a long time a boutique resort so we decided, mostly after the trek, to spoil ourselves a bit over there. The resort is called Tzampoc Resort and it is absolutely gorgeous, being small enough in order to be cosy and having epic views of the surroundings. It is located in a tiny village called Santa Caterina Palopo, which very traditional and colorful.

We had a small trip to Panajachel, as well, the biggest town in the area.

Other places that we had in mind but didn`t get the chance to see were Mayan Face Mirador and Pico del Loro. Bear in mind that usually you need a guide to come with you.

What we absolutely loved there was the warmth of the local people, which all wear traditional clothes and the whole setting looks like a movie set.

The landscape is truly unique.The lake, formed approximately 84,000 years ago as a result of a volcanic eruption, is 1,500 meters above sea level, with a length of 18 kilometers, and a depth of up to 341 meters, making it the deepest lake in Central America. It is surrounded by volcanoes, which make the scenery even more epic.

Getting there - you can either take public transport, private transport ( arranged by a hotel or an agency ) or drive. If you decide on driving yourself, like we did, we suggest sticking to the main road, which goes via Parramos, Zaragoza, Santa Apolonia, Los Encuentros and Solola.

Avoid Patzun road.

We were initially directed via Patzun, as it was shorter, but we found ourselves on a road which ended up in a river. Now, the river was not deep and the locals seemed to use it but I wouldn`t try that with a rented Toyota Yaris.

girl in a pool
Tzampoc pool view

pool aerial view
Overview of the resort

lake and mountains
The shore of the lake close to Santa Caterina Palopo

Next, we invite you to enjoy our photo gallery shot on Sony A7III and DJI Mavic 3 Classic. We mostly used 35 mm, 85 mm and 135 mm lenses.

Hope you`ll be inspired!

colonial city
San Jose Catedral ( left ) , Antigua

women working
Tortilla making

woman playing with hair
Local woman with a local dress, Panajachel, Atitlan

people walking
Inspired by Atitlan

volcano crater
Acatenango crater and us

guatemalan portrait
Old generation vs new generation

colorful houses
Santa Caterina Palopo

pool and palms
A pool day at Tzampoc

lake shore
Panajachel. Atitlan

girl and volcano at sunset
Climbing Fuego with a nice view of Agua volcano in the background

people trekking on a volcano
This was about 1 km from Fuego crater

man taking picture of a volcano
Getting some sunset shots

man taking picture at sunset
Some more sunset shots. The wind was crazy there, though.

volcano explosion
Full blast on Fuego

central american girl
And one last Guatemalan portrait

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