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Watch the Most Active Volcano in Central América Erupt

A gruelling ten-hour hike to watch Volcán de Fuego erupt right at its crater with wild camping on the slopes of neighboring Volcán de Acatenango.

By Sh*t Happens - Lost Girl TravelPublished about a month ago 6 min read
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Volcán de Fuego crater as it erupts- (photo credit to Joseph Mitchley)

Volcán de Fuego is the most active volcano in Central America. The clue is the name, translating to the Volcano of Fire. It erupts every 20 minutes! Maybe not a life-ending, apocalyptic, civilisation-ending eruption but low-level eruptions of gas, smoke, and lava constantly rumbling away in the background of Antigua, Guatemala. You can sit on a rooftop bar and admire it puffing away like the caterpillar on a hooka with Alice in Wonderland.

Views of Volcán de Fuego from the Earth Lodge on the edge of Antigua (photo credit to the author)

And if this wasn’t incredible enough, there is the opportunity to watch it erupt right at its crater and wild camp on the slopes of neighboring Volcán de Acatenango. It’s no easy feat, first, you must climb to the summit of Volcán de Acatenango (3,976m — up to 7 hours). Here is Base Camp. You can stop here and enjoy the view or you can hike a further 4-hour round trip, to the top of Volcán de Fuego to the Eruption crater itself. Everyone in our group paid an extra deposit to do this, everyone was confident on the bus.

We’d been dreading and looking forward to this day in equal measures.

Dreading it because we had heard all too many accounts of what a challenging hike it was. Many had said that it was the hardest hike they’d ever done in their lifetime. And those people were in full health, here we were feeling weak and a little pathetic from laying in bed for weeks and still suffering from long-term COVID. The question loomed:

“How the fuck are we going to do this?”

But, it was now or never and I’d be damned if I chose never.

I wasn’t leaving Guatemala without that once-in-a-lifetime experience of watching a volcano erupt up close.

We began our ascent, and my regret was immediate.

It was steep. That first hour was torture. I suppressed tears. I didn’t know how I was going to continue for another 5/6 hours. My mind muttered:

“Oh God, I’ve fucked up, I’ve made a mistake. I can’t do this.”

I couldn’t get enough oxygen in my tiny, post-COVID lungs, and I felt like I couldn’t breathe enough in to power me up this mountain. The exertion exacerbated my cough, and I was hacking and spluttering. Later I found out that people assumed that we were heavy smokers, we were referred to as “the smokers”. I have never touched a cigarette in my life.

Smiling through the pain (Photo credit to the author)

The worst thing about it was that (aside from our fellow stragglers at the back) we had accidentally joined the fittest tour group on the mountain. Men with calf muscles the size of my head and women hiking in sports bras to showcase their abdominals.

Off they charged, past all the other groups who were ahead of us. I watched other groups groaning like regular humans and taking frequent breaks. Not our guys, they seemed to resent breaks. We overheard them complaining about there being too many. It’s pathetic they said, we could do this in two hours. I hated them and wished for nothing more than for them to leave us at the back and do it in the two hours of their dreams. Bye bye! Fuck off! Enjoy! Let me suffer in peace.

Those hours passed in a weird mix of pleasure and pain, forcing tired legs past stunning views, mountain farms, high alpine forests, and surrounding volcanic peaks, my eyes dancing with happiness across it all while my jaw grimaced in pain. Soon we were walking above the clouds. There’s nothing quite so surreal as that.

Views from above the clouds — (photo credit to the author)

Reaching base camp was pure euphoria. We high-fived and yelled and hugged. I no longer hated the front runners. We were all here. Smiles wider than that of the Cheshire Cat. Breathing in deep and taking it all in.

We made it! - (Photo credit to Joseph Mitchley)

Was it worth it? Yes. Yes, yes, yes! It was unlike anything I’d ever seen before. We could hear the roar and the rumble of Fuego. We watched the cloud-like smoke tumble out of the crater high above the very clouds themselves. I couldn’t believe we were here.

Views of Volcán de Fuego from Volcán de Acatenango Base Camp — (Photo credit to Joseph Mitchley)

In a moment of madness and exhilaration, Joe exclaimed that we should do Fuego too. It’s what we did this for. We’d regret it if we didn’t. We’ve already done 6 hours, what’s another 3? We can do it. I reluctantly agreed, adding that, yeah, what else are we going to do? Just stay at the base camp by ourselves?

Turns out that everyone else wasn’t doing it. Yes, they’d all signed up but now they’d done the sensible thing and changed their minds. When we regrouped and showed up for the extra hike, it was only us and three guys, really fit guys, the ones with the calves. Oh no…

We started the descent of Acatenango to get to the spot where we would then ascend Fuego. It was steep, and covered in ash and gravel which constantly shifted underfoot, and beneath my trembling thighs, I pictured myself slipping and tumbling down. Up Fuego, my legs were saying no, I practically had to pick them up with my hands.

One thing you don’t expect at the crater of an active volcano is the freezing temperatures (it’s such a high altitude). We whipped on our jackets, gloves, and scarves as the howling wind tripped to whip them away from us. We huddled and shuddered. The cold was unbearable. I couldn’t move my fingers well enough or quick enough to take a picture. Luckily Joe managed to.

Volcán de Fuego crater as it erupts- photo credit to Joseph Mitchley

The noise of the first eruption was tremendous! It vibrated everything and encapsulated my entire body making me tremble like a leaf in a storm.

The lava spewed and plumed up like the tail feathers of a magnificent phoenix in full flame, rising from the ashes, before melting into glowing liquid and running down in scarlet rivulets.

Each one was bigger and more exciting than the next. I felt alive.

We shook in anticipation of each one, feeling so very small in its presence. Tiny humans waiting outside the cave of a dragon waiting for it to appear in fear, blown away by its magnificent and dreadful beauty.

Volcán de Fuego crater as it erupts- photo credit to Joseph Mitchley

Back at base camp, I lay down on the ground, broken; I felt as if my body had been pummeled with a baseball bat. At 4 am we were woken up to be asked if we wanted to do the sunrise hike of Acatenango.

“NO GRACIAS!” we spluttered. At this, the guide laughed out loud.

We enjoyed the sunrise from base camp and I don’t think it could have been more beautiful anywhere else. It was serene. I was perfectly suspended in that moment as we sipped tea and laughed with the others who had decided that this was one hike too many. The vista sprawled out and out from us forever and ever. Here above the clouds, this didn’t feel like a place people should be able to reach.

Sunrise from Base Camp — (photo credit to Joseph Mitchley)

When the others returned, they told us of the steep hike and freezing temperatures and I was so happy that we at least sat this one out.

Going back down, I overheard some of those fit people boasting about how easy the hike was and that they couldn’t believe how many people complained about it. But we just smiled and shrugged our shoulders thinking:

“Well, if it was so easy, then why did you change your mind about Fuego? Why did you ask for a refund and go to bed instead of continuing to hike?”

We felt like the tortoise against the hare; we were slow but we sure as hell won the race and the view at the finish line was a trophy memory worth winning.

Thank you for reading! Hearts and tips are always welcome and your support is very much appreciated.

This story was originally published on Medium

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About the Creator

Sh*t Happens - Lost Girl Travel

Hi! I’m Georgie and I share travel stories of when sh*t happens. I think that sometimes the worst things that happen to you traveling, are often the funniest

Follow me on Instagram! https://www.instagram.com/sh.t_happens_lost_girl_travel/

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Comments (4)

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  • Canuck Scriber L.Lachapelle Authorabout a month ago

    Well done! Sounds incredible!

  • Amazing story and some great images

  • Scott Christensonabout a month ago

    Wow congrats on making it! And great writing too: These first hand accounts are why i began reading vocal and medium to begin with. I climbed a semi active volcano in Japan (my asama) but then we got scared and turned around as its ine of the dangerous types that erupts violently every ten years or so.

  • Babs Iversonabout a month ago

    Awesome!!! Enjoyed traveling along vicariously!!! 💕❤️❤️ Loved your line, "puffing away like the caterpillar on a hooka with Alice in Wonderland."

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