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Guatemala Highlights: Active Volcanoes and colonial Antigua

The idea of experiencing New Year’s Eve fireworks in a completely different way – namely on a volcano that regularly has lava eruptions – is very appealing to us 😉. So we drive from Lake Atitlan again on smallest tracks to one of the highest volcanoes in Central America – the Acatenango with 4,000 meters – where we park Shujaa on the dusty soccer field of a small mountain village and set up our personal base camp. The wind is picking up at our pitch and a lot of dust is coming through the open windows, which on closer inspection turns out to be volcanic ash. There’s also rumbling in the background… a first taste of what is awaiting us in the next two days! The plan is to climb the inactive volcano Acatenango in order to have a direct view of its active and lava-spewing twin brother El Fuego next to it.

The next morning, we set off fully packed with a tent, sleeping mat, sleeping bag (as non-campers, we never used this equipment on our world trip so far as we usually always prefer to spend the night in comfortable Shujaa again) and four liters of water per person (there is no possibility at the volcano to refill water), food and warm clothes. Of course, the large camera with tele-lens and tripod shouldn’t be missing either – for hopefully perfect photos at night! Of course, all of this weighs: an estimated 12 -14 kg per person. We have clearly informed ourselves and know: it is steep, very steep! Fortunately, we manage to largely avoid the numerous other mountaineers by choosing the so-called “west route”, where only a few tour operators have set up permanent camps. But we still see the tons of rubbish along the route! It’s really sad. Although we of course take every bit of our trash back with us, as a visitor you still feel a bit complicit.

As always, it is fascinating to gradually ascend through the different forms of vegetation and notice the changes. The weather is also very good. 1,400 meters in altitude and 7.5 km are not a particular challenge for us in general, but at some point, the steepness of the route and the weight of our luggage are compounded by the increasingly thin air and Karin in particular really has to fight.

But finally, we arrive at our tent platform just before sunset, where we not only have a perfect view of El Fuego but can also just about set up our tent – unfortunately surrounded by rubbish like everywhere else on this volcano! Karin is a little hectic because in addition to the tent the camera and tripod also have to be set up and adjusted to the light conditions. At some point this is also done and as a reward for the extreme efforts we allow ourselves a sip of hard liquor that we brought with us in a small flask to warm up. But the experiences and pictures that follow are without a doubt worth all the hardships of the climb.

We hardly sleep at night: the altitude, El Fuego spitting loudly every 20 minutes, sleeping in the tent, etc. At midnight we are also woken up by the New Year’s fireworks. The view of the valley far below us with all the small villages, is fantastic. Every village shoot loads of fireworks into the air and we watch the show from our campsite on top of the mountain like in a mini-doll world. The next morning we climb another 300 meters altitude to the summit of Acatenangos to see the sunrise from there and then another 1,700 meters downhill back to our base camp: we are very fast for the first 70% of the way, but then – due to the heavy weight of the backpack – especially Karin’s thighs are so soft that we can only cover the last few meters to Shujaa at a snail’s pace.

We drive down to the nearby picture-book colonial city of Antigua, where regeneration and, above all, cleaning is the order of the day… it’s nice to be able to shower off the volcanic dust and brush your teeth properly and the tent, hiking boots etc. also need to be thoroughly cleaned of a thick coat of ash dust layer. In the evening we are sufficiently relaxed again that we can go on our first exploration tour of Antigua and have a nice dinner. We really like Antigua – the former capital of Guatemala, nestled between numerous volcanoes: we have rarely seen such a well-preserved, harmonious colonial old town in Central America. Old churches and convents everywhere you look, cobblestone streets, carefully renovated houses… and of course, with such a harmonious ambience, nice boutique hotels and corresponding restaurants as well as shops for tourists. A great city!

Unfortunately, on our second evening in Antigua we catch a nasty gastrointestinal infection while visiting a pizzeria, which not only gave us an unpleasant night but also a few miserable days afterwards. With the last of our strength, we go shopping the next day and then retreat to the beautiful nature of the lonely Finca Escondida for several days. Not only can we slowly regenerate there, but we also have a gigantic view of five volcanoes: El Fuego, Acatenango, Agua, Pacaya and Cerro Grande. There are also cows and horses as well as lovingly landscaped hiking trails and viewing platforms. Perfect for relaxing for a few days after the intense last few days. And a great end to Guatemala – a country that has surprised us very positively with its diversity of landscapes and the warmth of its people.

One comment

  1. […] 400 meters in altitude in just over an hour is no comparison to our very strenuous climb of the Acatenango volcano some time ago. At the top, we have a great view of the Pacific and the surrounding […]

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