The next leg of my Guatemala trip included a day visit to Chichicastenango for the market and its colorful cemetery before proceeding to Antigua, the beautiful colonial town with its cobblestone lined streets and colorful houses with a backdrop of an active volcano- Fuego, the primary reason I decided to visit Guatemala. There aren’t many active volcanoes you can hike and get to experience natures formidable force up close.
I boarded a water taxi that was hailed by waving to them as they zoomed by from the loading dock of my hotel. My driver picked me up from the Panajachel docks and we drove 2hrs to Chichicastenango but before I entered the market we stopped at a green oasis in the center of town; Hotel Santo Tomas for breakfast. This hotel is so beautiful it deserves a separate post, from the beautiful rooms, exotic garden and talking parrots to the art and food, everything was perfect.
After breakfast we proceeded to the market were I just walked around taking in everything; smells, people, colors. I also stopped to visit two churches then walked on to the Chichicastenango cemetery, a place of repose yet it invoked in me a feeling of hope about death. I’ve always been intrigued by the way the people here view death and the ceremonies surrounding it.
From Chichicastenango , it was a 40 minutes drive to Antigua. Here, you could feel the change in energy, the colonial town had a more urgent and upbeat pulse compared to lake Atitlan. After checking into my hotel :Hotel Palacio De Dona Beatriz, I proceeded to explore the town. I’ll say though: Antigua is more touristy, with visitors coming from abroad and other cities in Guatemala and the tiny streets get crowded on weekends but most especially if the weekends coincide with pay days (15th and 30 of the month).
After exploring and taking some pictures, it was time to get to the business of why I came to Guatemala. There was a pre-hiking meeting where we got to meet everyone who had signed up for the hike, get a presentation on the mountain and go through what was required for the hike the next day. I went with OX Expeditions and I have nothing but good things to say about my experience and our guide – Alphonso was simply the best.
The hike was a two day affair that comprised hours of intense up hill climb, lunch, dinner and breakfast and a night at base camp on Acetemenango followed by an early morning climb to it’s summit for another view of Fuego and sunrise.
We met at the OX office at 6:30 AM, did an equipment check then went to breakfast. We were then transported to the base of the mountain where we started the hike at 10am. Alfonso is a very experienced guide and he allocated stops every 30 minutes which sounded excessive when he briefed us on the hike but once we started climbing all I could think of was the next rest point, 30 minutes seems too far off 😆 . We had lunch mid way and arrived base camp by 5PM but had to depart at 5:30 to scale Acetemenango for a better view of Fuego an additional 3 hr round trip. I was beyond exhausted at this point but the spectacle offered to us by Fuego is an indelectible memory that can never be parallel. When we got to the view point, the volcano which erupts every couples on minutes, with unpredictable strength and is sometimes barely visible with the cloud cover that’s even more unpredictable; on this night put up an outstanding show, the mountain shook and spewed out a gigantic cloud of lava, so big for a minute we all feared the projectiles were going to hit us and we were nothing but sitting ducks on this mountain with no cover(not that anything can shield from lava lol).
We tossed the mountain gods with some wine brought by Alfonso and returned to base camp where we had dinner all huddled around the campfire, boy was it cold! We were all wrapped in 4-5 layers of clothing but the wind somehow found a way to our skin. We all retreated to our tents by 10 pm were we were awoken every so often by explosions from Fuego and before I knew it it was 3 am and a combination of Alphonso, my alarm and the wind woke me up for the next phase: hiking to the summit of Acetemenango, an additional 3 hours round trip. Unfortunately for us, it was a rainy morning and the summit was shroud in fog with zero visibility. The winds were so strong we had to run back down or risk hypothermia. Back at camp we had breakfast then it was time to pack up. we were back at the base by 11am. An that concluded an unforgettable experience .