Active Volcanoes and Ruins in Guatemala

Its that time…time to leave Mexico for the Guatemalan frontera. We learned a lot about being on the road, saw some amazing sights, met wonderful people, and improved our Spanish in Mexico, but we were really ready for something new. And we definitely found it.

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Sunrise at the top of Acatenango. One of the most beautiful sites I've seen

Border Crossing Fun – Welcome to Guatemala!

I have to admit that heading to Guatemala, specifically the part about crossing the border, freaked me out just a little (ok, a lot…just ask George how fun I was the 24 hours leading up to the crossing). We had heard many stories of “helpers” trying to jump on your car, corrupt officials, and people generally trying to hassle you for money, making an already tedious process more chaotic (not to mention we just came off of roadblock hell in Mexico on the way to the border – our friends Jacqui and Cameron from Follow the Wind summarized it nicely for us). Knowing we wanted to head to northern Guatemala first, we decided on the tiny border crossing of El Ceibo. I was incredibly relieved to find that there were no hawkers or helpers of any kind, and the process was so well laid out online that it was really a piece of cake! I hope they are all this easy…

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Bienvenidos! After 5 months in Mexico, we hit a new country!

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Pics while driving the lush landscape of Guatemala

Tikal National Park

With the border crossing happily behind us, we sought out the nearest ATM and gas station, and headed for one of the places I have been incredibly excited to visit since the start of this trip, Tikal National Park. Tikal is another set of Mayan ruins, but not just ANY ruins. Tikal is in the jungle, with howler monkeys and tucans (and jaguars and poisonous snakes), and boasts the largest excavated site in the Americas.

The scale of the ruins were quite impressive (with only 20% of the ruins actually excavated), and I really did get to see tucans and howler monkeys just like I had hoped! One thing that put a damper on the experience was the sunrise tour we were talked into. We had quite the frustrating experience with hidden fees, tourists who just can’t seem to be quiet for 10 minutes while you watch the sunrise from the top of an ancient temple, and the kicker – no actual sunrise due to fog. But that was all water under the bridge once we ran to the Gran Plaza just before 6am (and just before the park officially opened) to meditate, just the two of us, on top of an ancient ruin. Pretty special experience.

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We didn't see a sunrise, but it was awesome being inside the park before the crowds came

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View from the top of Tikal for sunrise..... There was no sunrise in this fog though

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These howler monkey make quite the racket

The City of Antigua

Knowing we only had two weeks in Guatemala, and about 5 days of that behind us, we had to choose between Antigua and Lake (Lago) Atitlan to do another week of Spanish lessons. We chose the colonial UNESCO world heritage sight of Antigua. Many of the colonial style buildings were built in the early 16th century and have been well preserved. The town was interesting from this perspective, but otherwise Antigua probably isn’t the best representation of Guatemala (its pretty touristy, including prices). It was really nice that we got to stay right in town with Titus. The Tourist Police let overlanders stay for free in the parking lot / old hospital ruins; it’s a little creepy, but hey, it is free (we heard that Guatemalans are very superstitious and wouldn’t want to live on top of old hospital grounds, but I guess tourists don’t mind too much).

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After Tikal, we stayed the week in Antigua, which is a beautiful colonial town to pass time

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There were lots of great outdoor cafes in Antigua with views of the surrounding volcanos

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The funky buses of Guatemala

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In Antigua, we camped at the Tourist Police HQ. It is a demolished old hospital site. A little creepy, but free, safe and right in town!

Hiking Volcan Acatenango – WOW!

Before entering Guatemala I had never heard of Volcan Acatenango. At Tikal this couple we met told us about an amazing 2 day hike they did to the top of this Volcano. We thought, well we love hiking, why not? So while in Antigua we booked the hike with a tour company. They didn’t tell us too much about the hike. Only that they would provide the guide, tent, sleeping mats, sleeping bags, and food, and we just need to bring our water and snacks. Oh, and that it would be really cold at night so bundle up. So off we went in the morning, and met up with our group and hiking mates for the trip.

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In Antigua, we signed up for a two day hike up to the top of Volcano Acatenango. Here we are starting out trek. We have no idea how hard the next 6 hours will be...... or how worth it

I’m not sure why George and I originally disregarded all signs that this hike would be hard, but we did. The dirty group of hikers ending their hike when we began, saying “it was really really REALLY hard, but worth it” didn’t phase us. No one mentioned that the volcano stands at 13,000 feet (of that we would be ascending almost 5,000 feet) and that a lot of the hike up would be in deep volcanic sand. But probably better we didn’t know. It was one of the toughest hikes I’ve ever done, but also hands down the most rewarding.

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After 6 hours, we made it to our camp for the evening!

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Our climbing crew. Great company for the long trek

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Our campsite on top of Acatenango

We camped about 6 hours into the ascent, and when we arrived, I saw something I really never considered witnessing in person at such a close proximity – a small volcanic eruption occurred right when we arrived, and our guide assured us there were more to come. Then the sun set and the view got even better…red hot lava that you just can’t see during the day was spewing out of the volcano next to us!

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Here is Volcano Fuego erupting in the distance

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El Fuego erupted all night in front of us, it was incredible to watch and HEAR

After sort of sleeping that night, we woke to our alarms at 4am to finish the ascent to the top of Acatenango for sunrise. Of the 6 in our hiking group, 4 of us decided to make the freezing, difficult ascent, and arrived just in time for sunrise. It was so incredibly difficult to hike in the deep volcanic sand at that altitude and steepness that I almost cried in joy when I reached the top. That feeling of accomplishing something difficult that you put your mind to is so rewarding that we decided right then and there that we will be doing a lot more multi-day hiking in the future.

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At 4:30am as we started our early morning ascent to the top

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It was cold, windy and harsh, but the view was incredible

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Hiking along the rim of the volcano's crater

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Sunrise eruptions

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One of the nicest sunrises I've seen

So what did we think of Guatemala? Guatemala is so lush and green. In my opinion the people in Guatemala are generally VERY friendly (or maybe they just smile more?) and the bathrooms in Guatemala seemed to be a step up for us (hold on, you can have toilet paper AND soap in the bathroom? luxury). But honestly, I don’t think we spent enough time in Guatemala to warrant drawing any kind of grand conclusions. However, we did have a great time, met more awesome people, and had some wonderful adventures in Guatemala that I will always remember. But for now, it’s on to El Salvador…

More pics of our time in Guatemala:

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Bienvenidos! After 5 months in Mexico, we hit a new country!

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Jenine looking happy and prepared to cross our first central american border in to Guatemala

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Our campsite at Tikal - free camping and first access to the park in the morning

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View from the top of Tikal for sunrise..... There was no sunrise in this fog though

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We didn't see a sunrise, but it was awesome being inside the park before the crowds came

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Walking around these stunning ruins at 6am

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Tikal in the morning

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Jenine saw a Toucan!

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These howler monkey make quite the racket

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Us at Tikal

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The howlers in Tickal!

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The place we camped at near Tikal had this awesome swimming pound

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Pics while driving the lush landscape of Guatemala

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We camped next to this abandoned tree house

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The funky buses of Guatemala

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After Tikal, we stayed the week in Antigua, which is a beautiful colonial town to pass time

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There were lots of great outdoor cafes in Antigua with views of the surrounding volcanos

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In Antigua, we camped at the Tourist Police HQ. It is a demolished old hospital site. A little creepy, but free, safe and right in town!

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Antigua was a wonderful city to wander

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Lots of beautiful small parks and courtyards in Antigua. Jenine had fun exploring and taking pics

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Jenine and I each did 15 more hours of spanish 1:1 instruction. Here is me with my teacher Jorge

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The main plaza in Antigua

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All the buses in Guatemala were decorated party bus style. Apparently, Guatemala buys old school buses from the USA

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In Antigua, we signed up for a two day hike up to the top of Volcano Acatenango. Here we are starting out trek. We have no idea how hard the next 7 hours will be...... or how worth it

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After 7 hours, we made it to our camp for the evening!

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Our climbing crew. Great company for the long trek

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It was freezing near the top, but this big bonfire kept us warm

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One of the most reward hikes. Very cool to camp on top of an inactive volcano in front of an erupting one!

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It was a challenging hike, but the scenery was stunning. Jenine getting lost in the shrubs

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El Fuego erupted all night in front of us, it was incredible to watch and HEAR

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Volcano El Fuego erupting at night

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Jenine is making her way through the forest on the way up to Acatenango Volcano

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Here is Volcano Fuego erupting in the distance

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Volcano Fuego (active) on the right and Volcán De Aqua on the left (inactive). We were standing on Volcano Acatenango (inactive)

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Our campsite on top of Acatenango

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At 4:30am as we started our early morning ascent to the top

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Sunrise at the top of Acatenango. One of the most beautiful sites I've seen

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The early dawn crew, happy to be at the top

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It was cold, windy and harsh, but the view was incredible

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dawn hiking crew

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Jenine toughed it out, and it was worth it!

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Sunrise Acatenango

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Sunrise eruptions

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Hiking along the rim of the volcano's crater

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It was like a different planet on top

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One of the nicest sunrises I've seen

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rocking on top

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Jenine pushing through - 5am, freezing

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The trail back to camp, you can just run down the mountain. Going up, was much more challenging

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Our camp for the night

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The crew post hike

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Our fearless leader

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Post hike

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Finally making it out of the Jungle

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One of the most memorable hikes of the trip so far

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The hike down

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9 comments on “Active Volcanoes and Ruins in Guatemala
  1. Sanjay says:

    Those pictures from your hike are absolutely amazing. Beautiful.

  2. Keep It up guys. Still so jealous. You still have so much more insane stuff to see

  3. Günter says:

    Very very beautiful pictures and congratulations to climbing the volcano. Who did you use for guide service?

    • Jenine says:

      We used GT Adventures. They werent bad but it also wasnt the best in terms of gear they provided and preparing you for the hike. Maybe shop around a bit

  4. Brian says:

    Great post!!!

  5. TimmR says:

    Wow! This is probably the post with the most incredible pictures which says a lot! You two are on such an incredible journey…save me your itinerary. We all miss you a ton in SF.

  6. Luke says:

    W-O-W! The photos from that hike are unreal. Hope you two are doing well, keep the posts coming!

  7. paula says:

    amazing photos of the hike, you guys. Just beautiful. And 13,000 ft is huge! Can’t wait to get to Guatemala ourselves. Leave tomorrow to head back to the rig. Hope to see you guys in SA!!

    • Jenine says:

      The volcano is a must see! It must be surreal to be “home” and now heading back to the rig. Hope to see you on the road!