Semana Santa in Antigua & Volcano Acatenango

Published: April 5th 2018
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After 3 hours in our shuttle, Laurenz and me arrived around lunch time in Antigua. It was quite cloudy, but looked pretty nice. There were many people everywhere, celebrating the Semana Santa (Easter) and there were processions all the time everywhere. We went directly to our hostels. Laurenz went to « Three Monkeys » and me to « Villa Estelha ». Fortunately, they were just 2 minutes walk from each other. We did our check-in and then I went back to his hostel.

Villa Estelha is a nice hostel, the staff is very friendly and helpful, the rooftop terrace is quite nice and the rooms and bathrooms are clean. It’s just not a very cozy hostel, there are no common spaces on the main floor or the first floor and there was not an atmosphere where you could easily meet other people. People stayed mostly alone and didn’t talk much.

Laurenz’s hostel was very different ; the common area on the main floor was very nice, there were hamacs everywhere and there was a nice bar. I liked his hostel much better than mine. It’s just that mine was cheaper.

We were quite hungry and wanted to get some lunch and we wanted to go shopping for our 2-days hike the next day to the Acatenango volcano. Skander had wanted to join us on this hike, but while cliff jumping he got an ear infection, maybe even hurt his ear-drum, so he couldn’t join us and it was just Laurenz and me. On our way to the center, we met Anja and Skander and they told us they were going to eat fondue with some other Swiss people in the evening, but Laurenz and me didn’t want to eat fondu and so we just made plans for after our hike.

We watched some processions on our way and finally found a nice taco place for lunch. Then we went to a huge supermarket and bought lots of food for our hike : nuts, cereal bars, cookies, bread, cheese and water. We would get food from the guides, but apparently not much, according to people who had already done the hike, and so we wanted to be sure to have enough food.

After walking around the city center for some more time, we found a nice little bar where we had a beer and shared a pizza. Then we went back to his hostel to prepare some sandwichs for the hike and to have another beer, but we went to bed quite early, since our hike would start early and it would be an exhausting day.

Back at my hostel, I had to solve a big problem that I had discovered in the afternoon : somehow I couldn’t open my lock anymore and all my valuables and money were stuck in my locker ! Fortunately the night guard in our hostel was vere helpful and cracked it open for me. I left my valuables afterwards in Anja’s and Skander’s room, since I had no more lock, but I was happy had my stuff back. During the day, Laurenz had paid for me and I would give him the money back.

Actually, Laurenz and I often changed, sometime he paid, sometimes me, and in the end we always ended up at 0. It was quite nice, one playing bank if the other hadn’t enough money with him/her. Usually I didn’t have enough money and he had to advance it for me and I paid his stuff later to give him the money back. ^_^

The next morning, I got up at 7h and the shuttle came to pick me up at 7h45. It was 1h to the agency just a few km away from the beginning of the hike. We hadn’t booked our tour with an agency but with a local guide directly. There is this « agency » of local guides that use the money they get from the tourists to make their community better, get running water in all houses, etc. Even if we paid 50Q more than other people, it’s nice to support local initiatives.

There, we could rent walking sticks (I took one and it was very, very useful!), warm clothes and we got our food there. Then we went by bus to the starting point of our hike, just 5 minutes away.

The Acatenango volcano is 3950m high and our starting point was at 2000m. Fortunately I had my pills against altitude sickness, otherwise I could not have done this hike. This volcano is not active any more, but it’s located just next to 2 volcanos that are still very active : Pacay and Fuego. Fuego is the most active volcano in Central America and erupts every 15 minutes. You can also walk up there, but I guess Acatenango is nicer because you have a better view over the eruptions and it’s less dangerous as well.

The volcano has 3 parts : on the lower level, there is the agricultural part with fields ; in the middle is the humid forest with lots of trees and the top part is called the dry forest with only pine trees. There are some animals on this mountain, but mostly birds and racoons ; no dangerous animals, except for humans ;-)

The hike was very exhausting, most of all (at least for me) the first and last parts, consisting in only lava stones and it’s like hiking in sand ; for every 2 steps you go up, you go 1 down. That’s when the walking sticks came in handy.

It took us 4 hours to hike up with breaks every 15 minutes. There were a few long breaks and even if it was pretty hard, it was doable. I was usually walking somewhere in the middle of our 18 people group, not the fastest, because I had to fight with the altitude, but not the slowest either.

When we started, the sky was blue and it was warm, but it got more and more cloudy and in the afternoon, there was no more sky to be seen and it was pretty cold. So, the last breaks got pretty annoying, because as soon as we stopped hiking, it got cold, but since we were continuing 10 minutes later, we didn’t want to put on more clothes.

So, we were very happy when we arrived the base camp at 3:30 PM, could change into dry clothes and warm ourselves and our wet clothes on the fire. Our tents and sleeping bags were already ready, so we had nothing to do, except for talking.

We had a very nice group with people from Germany, the Netherlands, England, Canada, Sweden and France and everyone got along very well. I like Kathryn from Vancouver, Pauline from France (her parents are from Belgium), Rachel and Will from England and Max, Jennifer and Rebecca from Sweden best. We got along very well and we had a nice time up at the mountain.

Fortunately, around 5:30PM the clouds started clearing away and we got to see the sunset behind Fuego and we spent all evening watching Fuego erupt. There also was an orange full moon next to Pacay and so we were very fortunate and we enjoyed our evening a lot. Just for this, the hike was absolutely worth it!

In the night, it was pretty cold, but I had warm clothes with me and so I was not really cold, it was pretty ok. Others, though, were very cold. That’s when I was happy I did bring my ski-underwear and my warm jacket from Belgium, even if it makes my luggage a bit more heavy.

The next morning, we got up at 4AM and at 4:45 we started hiking up the last 350m to the top of Acatenango. Unfortunately, we had started at least half an hour too late and we saw the nice orange colours of the sunrise only on our way up. When we arrived up the mountain was just the moment when the sun rose and we would have like to have arrived half an hour earlier to be able to enjoy it more and to still see Fuego erupt. When we got there, Fuego had only smoke left, or, at least, with the sun, we couldn’t see the lava anymore...

It was freezing cold up there and so we stayed only 10 or 15 minutes and then walked back to our base camp. After a short break for breakfast, we hiked all the 1600m down to our starting point where the shuttle was already waiting for us. At midday, we were back in Antigua, very exhausted, smelling like sweat and fire and very hungry.

I check in my hostel (again) and booked my shuttle to Copán for the next day. Then I had a very nice and long shower and I had to wash my hair 3 times to get the smell of fire out ! ^_^ Then I took my clothes and went to Laurenz’s hostel to drop it off for laundry. Fortunately, they told me they could get it done until 5:30PM the same day, which was perfect since the next morning I was leaving at 4AM to Copán. Usually the laundry place closes at 5PM, but they stayed open a bit longer for me so that I could get my laundry before leaving. Sooo nice! :-)

We were starving, so we went to Zoola hostel to eat some falafel. Actually, it had been a huge misunderstanding that there we could eat falafel. Laurenz had told me about the good falafel he had eaten at the Israelian restaurants in Lanquín and I had understood it was in Antigua and when I asked him where in Antigua it was, he thought I asked about an Israelian place, so he told me that the Zoola hostel is owned by people from Israel, but somehow we both ended up the other had told him/her that you can eat falafel at Zoola hostel.

It was a misunderstanding, but fortunately it was true, they had a restaurant and they had falafel. ^_^ So we ate some falafel and had a beer, but since we were really tired, exhausted and hadn’t eaten much before, the beer knocked up down and we were already pretty tipsy after the first one. It was funny though, we were talking about so much funny nonsense and laughing all the time ! :-D

Then we met Tina outside of the hostel and went with her to a taco place, because Laurenz absolutely wanted a taco after the falafel. In the end, of course, he took chocolate cake with icecream and not a falafel, but even better for me, since our silent agreement is to share everything. :-D Tina had real lunch, some quesadilla or taco. Then we went to a ferretería so I could buy a new lock and Laurenz could buy 2 machetes, 1 for himself, 1 as a present for a friend. They are actually considered as agricultural instruments and so it’s allowed to cross borders with them. And they are very cheap as well, so nice present. :-)

We went to visit the center and take some pictures, but we were so exhausted that we went back to our hostels to have a nap. That was the best thing we could have done, I was completely exhausted and I guess Laurenz was as well.

In the evening, we went with Anja, Skander, Tina and Cedric, another Swiss guy, for dinner to a nice restaurant and enjoyed our last night together. :-)

I was sad to say goodbye to Laurenz when we went back to our hostels, because we had had a very good time together and we got along really well. He also wanted to stay, but he had to go back to Germany and sign his new work contract in Switzerland... Well, maybe another time! :-D

I also said goodbye to Tina, but we’ll stay in touch and to Anja and Skander, but I’ll see them again next week in Costa Rica or Nicaragua, depending on our plans. :-)

Antigua was a cute little city and I would have like to stay a few more days there. People were nice and there was much to do there. I can definitely recommend you to go there and spent at least 4 days there, better a week if you like to hike.

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