3 Things You Need To Know Before Hiking In Guatemala

Tajumulco volcano hike in guatemala hiker on top of mountain

3 Things You Need To Know Before Hiking In Guatemala

The country of Guatemala isn’t always on the list of popular hiking destinations, but this little Central American gem is a peak-baggers paradise. From sleeping above the clouds to watching an active volcano erupt, it’s full of once-in-a-lifetime experiences. 

group hike in guatemala acatenango volcano
A moment of gratitude for every human in this photo. Simply the best.

Guatemala: Not just for coffee and chocolate fanatics. Definitely don’t miss those two things on your visit, but this country’s vast volcanic landscape makes it a perfect destination for hikers who also want to be able to immerse themselves in a little culture in-between trail miles. I did this trip with Much Better Adventures, who contracts with a local tour company to provide guides, gear, and transportation. As much as I love extensive trip planning, sometimes it’s nice to let someone else do the leg work (especially when you’ll be doing the actual leg work hiking 50ish miles in week). There are plenty of other resources to help you rent a car or look in to other modes of transportation. This post is specifically about the 3 important tips for hiking in Guatemala that I wish I knew before going.

5 Volcano Challenge:

Pacaya Volcano

Acatenango Volcano

Volcán Chicabal 

Tajumulco Volcano (the highest point in Central America at 13,789 feet)

San Pedro Volcano

1. Gaiters are a must

For your feet, and your face. I knew we’d be hiking volcanoes, but I didn’t think about the fact that that means volcanic dust. If you’re not the lead hiker in your group, you’ll have clouds of dust in your face for a good portion of the hike – especially Acatenango. You’ll also have dust being kicked up by those coming down the trail as you’re going up. It’s already a decently challenging hike at high elevation, and this made it even harder to breath. I ended up covering my face with my sleeve half the time because I didn’t think ahead to pack a gaiter

While the dust is being kicked up in to your face, it’s also ending up in your shoes. Dirty feet aside, nothing makes a hike more challenging than adding a couple pounds of ash to your shoes. Do yourself a favor and pack some lightweight gaiters

Hiking in guatemala face shield

2. Bring a water filtration device

Sadly every single person in our group got sick by the last day. If you have a weak or sensitive stomach, be extra cautious with water (included ice in cocktails, uncooked vegetables, brushing your teeth, etc.) Nothing beats the Grayl. We have the GeoPress version but I wish we had purchased the UltraPress as it’s smaller. The GeoPress doesn’t fit easily in to a side backpack compartment. 

3. You can hire a private guide

As of the time of this post (2024), Guatemala doesn’t have the best reputation when it comes to safety. If you’re nervous about hiking alone, or in a group of female travelers, you can check out one of the many sites to book a private guide. This is also a great option if you want to learn more about the local culture, or brush up on your Spanish. If you want to test your foreign language skills prior to the trip, I can’t recommend italki enough. You can learn in a group setting or 1-on-1 with a private tutor.   

3 More Bonus Tips!

4. Pack for the elements

The weather here is unpredictable and can change several times in an hour. This is a picture from our first hike: The Pacaya Volcano. Thankfully we knew in advance to bring a rain coat, but we had a hard time finding a spot to sit down and have lunch since it had gotten so windy.   

→ Mentally prepare yourself for the possibility of 0 visibility on some of these summits. 

And then there was Tajumulco. We started this hike mid afternoon in early February and it was hot. And the hike is no joke with an elevation gain of 3,940 feet in less than 4 miles. But by the time we reached the summit, we had to put all our layers back on. 

Guatemala pacaya volcano hike
*not* views for days

5. Bring the good camera

I really struggled with whether or not to bring our ‘good’ camera on this trip. After reading up on Guatemala I was worried about safety and ultimately decided to leave it behind. I regretted it almost immediately. I think if I was traveling solo it would have been more of a concern. But since I was in a group of 12 people and 3 local guides it would have been totally fine. 

→This photo was taken by another gal in our group. None of my old iPhone pictures came out nearly as clear. Watching a live volcano erupting all night was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and I was bummed I didn’t have a better way to commemorate the magic of that night. 

Acatenango volcano erupting in Guatemala
Acatenango Erupting

6. Don't Miss the Hot Springs

What is your favorite post-hike recovery activity? If it includes soaking in a thermal spa, Guatemala has you covered. The easiest way to get there is to book a tour, unless you have your own transportation. 

I also loved this stop because it allowed us to just sit and take in the natural beauty of the area. Sometimes those moments are missed when you’re mid-hike, struggling to breathe, and cursing yourself for signing up for something so challenging. 

las fuentes georginas guatemala
Fuentes Georginas
street in san juan guatemala

Streets of San Pedro

san pedro volcano lake atitlan guatemala

Sacred Chicabal

guatemala woman with basket on her head

Impressive Traditions

guatemala acatenango hike live volcano

One last note...

These hikes (especially Acatenango and Tajumulco) aren’t for the feint of heart. I’ve hiked my fair share of 13er and 14er peaks in Colorado, but these felt way more intense. Always (always always) bring more water than you think you need. And don’t forget your summit snacks! If you have any other questions I can answer, please feel free to reach out. See you on the trails. ♥

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