If you want to get up close and personal with three iconic volcanoes in Guatemala and are up for a challenge, The Central Highlands Trilogy (Trilogia in Spanish) may just be your thing! It’s the toughest hiking challenge in Guatemala! It consists of a 42 km long hike that takes you to three of the most iconic volcanoes in the entire country – including one active one – Fuego Volcano, which is sure to entertain you with its lava eruptions and smoke!
By the time you have finished hiking Agua (Water), Fuego (Fire) and Acatenango Volcanoes, you will have hiked 42 km, in less than 36 hours! The highest point being Acatenango’s summit at 3,976 meters above sea level. It’s the 3rd highest summit in Central America.
Highlights of Hiking the Central Highlands Trilogy Volcanoes
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My favourite part of hiking Agua , Fuego and Acatenango Volcanoes was being able to look back and see where you started. It truly makes you feel great about yourself.
This is such a demanding activity, both mentally and physically that by the time you are done you feel invincible. It might sound dramatic but to me, this activity marked a before and an after in my life. Now I know how efficient, strong and amazing the human body can be. – Lourdes
Map of the Trilogy
Terrain of Trilogia
The path is a combination of steep trails that take you up and down the three volcanoes. Since this is physically challenging, most of the time you won’t be going through the tourist routes that are popular with so many travellers to Guatemala. The guides take you through the tougher routes. Not a lot of people know them.
How to Plan for Your Trilogy Adventure
One of the first things that you are told when you book the tour is that Agua Volcano is the warm up. The hike up to the crater through the tourist route isn’t very demanding. However, once you start descending on the other side, you’ll discover that this route is much longer, steeper, and quite technical as well. Once you’ve descended Agua Volcano, you finish in the town of Alotenango. Here you are given the chance to abandon the rest of the hike if you are feeling tired because the tough part is about to start!
I did this tour with Sin Rumbo. They offer this tour to the public only two times each year, one during the rainy months (the one I did) and one during the dry months. However you can also book this adventure as a private tour and schedule it for any time of the year for just $249 USD per person. They provide the guides, transportation and security. You can also arrange for them to take care of your food if you purchase the premium package. Because of the difficulty of the routes and the fact that they are not well marked I would not recommend attempting this on your own. There aren’t a lot of people in Guatemala with the knowledge to avoid getting lost in them.
How to Pack for the Trilogy Trek
The next thing you should think of is your equipment. You will need two backpacks, a day pack for Agua Volcano and a larger one that should be at least 60L for Fuego and Acatenango Volcanoes. It must have enough space in it for your tent, sleeping back, food and clothes. You get 3 or 4 hours to sleep so a 3 season tent is a must due to the unpredictable weather. Take this into consideration and talk to Sin Rumbo about this at least two days before your tour. If you don’t have the proper equipment they can provide it for you for an additional fee, but need to know in advance.
You also have to consider clothing. A lot of people think that since Guatemala is a tropical country that you don’t need gear for cold weather, but you do. No matter which season you decide to do this epic volcano hike, you are always at risk of rain, temperatures falling below 0 C°, or a combination of both.
1. For Your Day Pack – Include a second layer, a down jacket of at least 650 down, a waterproof soft shell, gloves, neck warmer (or buff), hat, breakfast, two litters of water and two rations of snacks.
2. For your Expedition Backpack – 3-season sleeping bag, tent, second layer, down jacket, an extra set of hiking clothes (shirt and pants), waterproof soft shell, gloves, buff, hat, 2 dinners, 1 breakfast and 1 lunch, plus three snacks and three litres of water.
3. I also recommend taking a 3rd bag with you. You will leave this one on the bus. It should have a fresh set of clothes, wet wipes and shoes that you can change into when you are done. That way you’ll have clean clothes for the ride back to your hotel which will allow you to sleep more comfortably.
See the complete Trilogy Packing List here.
Physical Fitness Requirement
Finally, as you might be able to tell this is a difficult trip only intended for those who are physically fit. You need to have a strong body, but most of all a strong mind. You will reach a point where your whole body aches and you still have hours of hiking up steep trails. At that point it will be your mind and will power that takes you to the end. Note: It’s also possible to hike each of those volcanos individually with Sin Rumbo to make it easier.
The Volcano Trilogy Hiking Itinerary
Arrival Day: Meeting and Getting to the Starting Point
Walking Distance: 0
Walking Route Description: N/A
Highlights: We met up with the guides in the afternoon at Guatemala City. They gave us a detailed description of the itinerary and all of the safety instructions. They also gave us instructions on how to pack our backpacks to avoid discomfort or lesions.
We then hopped on the bus and started the ride towards Santa María de Jesus Town. The ride took 1.5 hours. We got to the town at midnight. They do this so you can see the sunrise on the way up. It is also important that you get to the next town, after descent, at a certain hour so it is still safe to continue with Fuego Volcano.
Wildlife Sightings: N/A
Weather: This was a warm night and the sky was completely clear.
# of Other Hikers Seen: N/A
Day 1: Agua and Fuego Volcanoes
Walking Distance: 27km.
Walking Route Description: At 12:10am after additional instructions and safety reminders we started the hike. The first 30 minutes aren’t the best. You go through a small town and plantations that aren’t the cleanest. But one you get past that, you enter the forest and it all changes.
We walked all night with a couple of chances to rest and have some water. The only light we had was the one of our headlamps and the moon. The forest is really pretty, but it’s also humid, quite closed in and even a bit creepy. You don’t get any decent views of the nearby towns until 3 hours into the hike. You then get to a pine forest that opens up for views of surrounding towns and Antigua Guatemala.
We managed to reach the border of the crater right on time for sunrise at around 6:15am. After taking a couple of minutes to enjoy the sunrise and to take photos, we kept going. We had to do some pretty basic rock climbing to finally reach the highest point of the volcano here we had a breakfast and a quick nap.
At 8am we started the extremely long descent through a different route. This is a technical and steep route that takes you through a tropical forest. Almost no one takes this route so the trail isn’t well marked. As a result, you get to see the forest in its purest state. After 6 hours we finally reached the town of Alotenango. Here we had lunch, dropped our day packs and picked up the larger ones.
This is also where the hikers who were feeling too tired get to abandon the remaining two volcanos – Fuego and Acatenango. 4 out of 20 members of our group decided they wouldn’t continue.
At 3pm we started the hike up Fuego Volcano. Just as before, the first part took us through a dirt road that took us along coffee plantations. Two hours into the hike we reached the point where the actual trail starts. That was also the moment when the sun went down and rain started pouring. We hiked for another four hours under the rain until we finally reached the camp area at around 10pm. Within an hour I set up my tent, put on dry clothes and had dinner. I was so tired and cold that I fell asleep instantly!
Highlights: Getting to the crater of Agua Volcano felt great. However, now that I have taken some time to process everything that I felt during the tour. The night walk up to the camp near Fuego Volcanco with the rain and the endless forest that made me wish I had stayed home, was definitely the most challenging yet best part. Yes, it was tough but it really showed me how strong my body and mind can be.
Wildlife Sightings: Tons of birds. I am no bird expert but we got to see a few colorful ones. The area is known for hosting four species of hummingbirds, robins, sparrows and motmots.
Weather: The day started out sunny with a completely clear sky, but at around 5pm it all started to change. It got cloudy and cold. At 7pm it started to rain.
# of Other Hikers Seen: We didn’t see anyone else during the hike.
Day 2: Summit of Fuego and Acatenango Volcanos
Walking Distance: 15km.
Walking Route Description: At 4:30am I started hearing the lovely voices of the guides (OK not so lovely at this hour). They were asking us to get up and pack up all of our stuff. We started the hike again at around 5:30am. It was still steep but it felt a lot better to walk in daylight, without rain and being able to see the surroundings. At this point we had reached a sort of deserted area with small plants that had thorns, the tiniest yellow and red flowers and almost no trees.
At around 8am we stopped and had breakfast. We were close to the summit so we were able to enjoy the eruptions from Fuego Volcano. I was extremely tired but exited to be so close to the second summit and feeling the ground roar only seconds before each explosion was amazing. We also had views of Agua Volcano which is dormant. The feeling you get when you look back and see how far you’ve come from where you started walking a day earlier is awesome. It looks so far away!
After only 30 more minutes we reached the summit of Fuego Volcano. We were literally standing 200 meters away from the explosions! At first it is a bit scary but you get used to the ground shaking under your feet and sand flying everywhere. We had plenty of time to enjoy the views and explosions. Then, it was time to start the descent towards the point where Fuego meets Acatenango. That only takes one hour.
At that point you feel like you are almost done. But there is still a challenging part ahead. Luckily we got some time to rest, eat and I even had a short nap. You can also abandon at this point and start the descent towards La Soledad town where you transport will be waiting for you.
Finally at around noon we stated the final 3 hour walk up to the crater to Acatenango Volcanco. The first two hours are through a steep pine forest. The last one is just black sand. This was by far the toughest part! Here you give one step up and the volcano takes you down two. There were parts where I was so deep in sand that I wasn’t able to see my knee. During this part you also have fuego volcano constantly erupting literally on your back. This was so hard that I cried when I finally got to the crater of Acatenngo. After that, the descent is quick and not complicated through the tourist route where we met other hikers.
Highlights: You cannot imagine the satisfaction that I felt when I finally reached the 3rd summit. The Central Highlands Trilogy took us 34 hours! I felt a huge sense of peace as we walked down Acatenango, towards the bus.This was an amazing experience!
Wildlife Sightings: To be honest i was so tired that didn’t I pay much attention.
Weather: We enjoyed a clear sky. It was perfect for views but not so much for hiking in the top of the volcanoes where there are few to no trees. There is nothing to protect you from a combination of heat due to the sun and cold wind.
# of Other Hikers Seen: We saw another couple of small groups that were camping when we finally reached Acatenango’s crater and on the way down.
NOTE: The itinerary and times are described here were because we did it in less than 36 hours – a real challenge. But you can also take it slower. If you don’t have time (or energy) for the Trilogy, each of these volcanoes can also be done individually. If you only had time to do one, I would pick Acatenango Volcano. It is gorgeous and you get to camp in an area with views towards Fuego Volcano where you can see its eruptions!
I have been to a lot of volcanos in Guatemala, in fact I had already visited these three volcanos individually and really enjoyed them. But I had never enjoyed a trip as much as I enjoyed the Trilogy. I would highly recommend it for those adventurers who love challenging themselves. In the words of one of the guides “of course you need a strong physical condition but even the strongest bodies will fail if it is not accompanied by a strong mind”.
Lourdes is a soon to be lawyer from Guatemala with the mission to explore each corner of the country. Her favourite activity is hiking along with exploring all mountains, forests, caves, volcanoes and all that the region has to offer. Her goal is to reach as many summits around the world as she can. You can also find her on facebook, twitter and instagram.
Disclosure: Many thanks to Sin Rumbo for making Lourdes’ trek available. As always, all opinions expressed are her own.