If you spend anytime in the city of Antigua, Guatemala then you have no doubt seen the cross sitting on the hill that overlooks the city. I was there visiting…
If you spend anytime in the city of Antigua, Guatemala then you have no doubt seen the cross sitting on the hill that overlooks the city. I was there visiting friends and so my friend Blake and I set out to hike from the city center to the top of the hill. This is a great way to get your blood flowing, as it is not too intense but provides a beautiful visita of the UNESCO World Heritage city as well as the massive Volcano Agua behind it.
2 miles round trip from the city center
300 feet of elevation
From the city center we headed towards the base of the hill. This walk is about 3/4ths of a mile and it takes you past one of my favorite ruins in the city as you navigate the cobblestone streets. Pretty much the entire way you will be able to see your destination in sight and it is mostly flat all the way to the trailhead.
When you reach the trailhead you will leave the city and walk through a canopy of trees up a long and windy cement staircase.
This area is uphill but it is not very difficult and does not take long. I saw both old and young people walking the steps when I was there. After about a tenth of a mile the stairs level out to a long concrete walkway which takes you up to the overlook.
When you first see the view you will be blown away by how beautiful it all is. The city below with its massive cathedrals and colors and the gigantic volcano looming behind it.
I couldn’t stop taking pictures as it was so beautiful. Add to that the old rugged cross that is a lot bigger then I anticipated and you have the recipe for an amazing spot.
We sat up here for a while and interacted with other adventurers like ourselves before heading back down and into the busy city below.
If I lived in the are I could easily see this being a place I spent a decent amount of time at as it is just a peaceful way to escape the city and admire the geographical beauty that is Guatemala. Let me know if you have been in the comments and read about my hike up one of the famous volcanos here.
A good friend of mine is down in Guatemala working on setting up a textile company that promotes women working in the culture called Ara Collective. I got the unique opportunity…
A good friend of mine is down in Guatemala working on setting up a textile company that promotes women working in the culture called Ara Collective. I got the unique opportunity to go down and visit her last month, during which she connected me with Maya Traditions to see a demo of some of the hand-dying processes the women use to make the beautiful fabrics. The tour was in the small town of San Juan which is on Lake Atitlan and which is one of the premier places for this technique. You can book the same tour through this website if you are interested in seeing this process as well. It was a fantastic way to get to know the culture and see the amazing skills these women have, here is all the info.
After docking our water taxi at the stop for San Juan La Laguna (yes you have to take a boat to get here) we were greeted by our guide who took us through the streets of shops to get to the women’s house who would be doing the demonstration. The non-profit works with over 14 women, each of which specialize in a different part of the process, when we watched the demonstration they each showed different parts, while our guide translated what they were telling us. The process was as follows, even though I am sure I am probably leaving something out.
In order to get the rich colors that the area is known for the women go out and find plants that produce these colors. The one we saw was a flower that produced a bright yellow color.
After dipping the fabric in this color they move it to a liquid made from banana branches which helps to attach the color to the fabric. Almost immediately it was able to be held and looked at by us and the yellow was very rich. I am told that hand-dying actually produces a color that attaches to the fabric better then normal dying techniques.
Next the fabric is wound around a spinner and put into a ball. This is what they will use to create the scarves and other textiles later.
From there it gets organized into the shape and design it will be when it is weaved. This process is almost like a big puzzle piece that it is strewn around and it seemed pretty amazing that they were able to remember how it all should flow.
Then the fabric is moved to the long system called backstrap weaving that they use to actually put it all together. It is crazy how the fabric is tied to a tree then attached around the back of the woman that is using it.
The women providing the demonstration was extremely fast working through the process and it was amazing to see her work.
This entire demonstration took around 45 minutes and there was time for questions about the process afterwards.
After the demonstration the women brought out some of their pieces that did not make it to the market for one reason or another and you can buy them directly from them women that made them. It is amazing to see such beautiful work go for such a small amount of money in USD but these are great wages for the women that made them.
My wife took home a few pieces and the woman that made them was incredibly happy to see her work picked from the bunch. All in all this is a great way to get a better understanding of the textiles that are produced in Guatemala and the process used to produce the rich colors. I highly recommend setting up a tour if you are spending time on Lake Atitlan and make sure to check out my friends company Ara Collective to purchase pieces like this.
If you are looking for a unique way to interact with the culture in Guatemala then I would recommend you spend some time with the non-profit De La Gente, who works…
If you are looking for a unique way to interact with the culture in Guatemala then I would recommend you spend some time with the non-profit De La Gente, who works with 30 farmers in the area to help them make coffee farming a sustainable business for their families. As a non-profit they work with coffee farming cooperatives to create more economic opportunity for the farmers and help them reach bigger markets. While in Guatemala you can set up a 3 hour tour for around $20 a person (which includes a bag of coffee) by emailing through their site here. This blog post is one of those trips and it is a fantastic way to learn about coffee and to support the local economy.
After arriving at the plaza in the center San Miguel Escobar (10 minutes from Antigua) we were greeted by one of the actual farmers, as well as a translator and we set out on our 10 minute walk to where the coffee is grown. This beautiful church was where we met.
The Coffee Trees
After a decent walk we arrived in an expanse of coffee trees and our farmer took us through the entire growing process.
The growing process was amazing and I loved hearing about how they protect from leaf rust with organic compounds, plant other trees to provide shade for the coffee plants and what types of beans they harvest.
Our farmer Eduardo even let me take a small piece of fruit from the tree and pop the beans in my mouth. You don’t eat the bean itself but when you suck on it it tastes a lot like honey and it is super unique.
It was amazing to see the small coffee beans that were in the fruit and it makes me wonder if there are other plants around the world with coffee potential that we do not know about yet. The area we were in overlooked the city of Antigua in the distance and was a beautiful place to farm coffee.
After finishing hearing about the plants we walked all the way back to Eduardo’s house to see the rest of the process.
The Coffee Making Process
When we got to his house we got to see his entire family engaging in the art of making coffee. It was a really unique experience, and the process is as follows.
Pulling the Beans from the Fruit
In order to remove the beans from the fruit, Eduardo uses a bicycle that he can pedal attached to a wheel that pulls the beans out of the fruit. It is a time consuming process and it must be done the same day they are harvested.
From there the beans were laid out to dry on the ground in the backyard for a few days.
Selecting the Right Beans
After this the beans were sifted through and all of the ones that were not the right size and shape were removed. This process was done by members of the family and it was time consuming for them to sift through all of the beans.
Making the Coffee
From there we roasted some beans over an open fire to prepare them for the coffee we were making. This is not the way they roast the beans normally for production but it is how the families roast them for their own consumption.
After that we took the roasted beans and ground them with a mortar and pestle which was much more difficult than a hand grinder.
Lastly, the beans were added back into the boiling water to produce the coffee that we drank there.
After producing the coffee we all got to sit around with the family and drink it while discussing the taste. It was fantastic coffee and so fun to be sitting there enjoying it with the farmer who grew the beans then took them through the entire process.
After drinking it you can buy the coffee directly from the farmer if you are interested and I took the opportunity to do so as it was fun to be able to buy coffee right from the one who brought it to fruition.
All in all this is a fantastic way to learn more about the coffee farming process and to interact with locals while on a trip to Guatemala, I couldn’t recommend it more. Check out De La Gente’s website for more tours in the area as well.
Guatemala, the land of the volcanos, has 33 of these massive mountains dotting its landscape. Most can be climbed but a few are active which is too dangerous for a…
Guatemala, the land of the volcanos, has 33 of these massive mountains dotting its landscape. Most can be climbed but a few are active which is too dangerous for a visitor. If you are looking to only do one though and you are in good shape, then you really should hike the second largest volcano and the third largest mountain in Central America, Acatenango. It is an epic single day adventure that allows you to look down from its summit onto an active volcano.
As you can see from the details above this hike is not an easy one. While the mileage itself is relatively short for a hike like this, the amount of elevation you gain and subsequently loss in that short period is massive. To put this in perspective, Mt Whitney gains around 6,000 feet but it has a round trip of 21 miles. So make sure you are prepared physically and mentally to take on a challenge like this before attempting. Many of the guide services offer overnight trips which I would recommend for an “easier” hike.
We chose to go with OX guide service as my friend had heard good things about them. You need to book the hike at least a few days in advance and they will only do it if they have at least 3 people going. There are many other services available as well but none that I have tried. Could you do this mountain without a guide? Sure, you technically could but the trailhead itself is not even marked and while the trail is relatively easy to follow there are almost no signs to tell you if you are going in the right direction. I would recommend not attempting it without a guide but that is your call.
Now we get to the fun part, the actual hike! I broke the sections down into the terrain you will see on the hike. After arriving at 5AM (the hike time is 5AM to 5PM) at the guide service for an hour drive to the trailhead we loaded in immediately and were on our way. This road is very rough and you will be bouncing all over the place most of the way. The trailhead itself is literally on a main road with no signs so our guide merely pulled the van over and we were on our way.
The trail starts heading up a gully that I would assume is a run off to the farms that flank your left and right side. The sand here is loose and if you are struggling during this part, believe me it does not get a lot better. It is dusty and steep but it is at least a good indication of what to expect.
When you exit the gully you will be in the middle of a bunch of corn farms. When we were in this section we got to see the sunrise over the hillside and it was amazing.
You will continue to walk along the farms themself before you reach the start of the next and longer section, the jungle. I would rate the farm section as one of the more difficult sections of the hike just because the rock is so loose, so you will be sliding a decent amount.
This section is insanely beautiful and you will be in it for a decent amount of time. The trail continues to head up here but you do have the benefit of switchbacks, which really does make it a little less intense.
The jungle section has two small huts as well which provide shade and benches you can rest and eat at.
This section is overwhelmingly green and when the sun was shining through it was beautiful It made the long slog through it less difficult.
This is also where I saw the only sign for the volcano I saw all day. It was an awesome sign but this is the reason why I say you should bring a guide.
After a mile you will be exiting the jungle and will move onto the cloud forest.
The Cloud Forest
This section exits the shaded and beautiful jungle and trades it for a more barren landscape with lots of scattered trees and shrubbery but little else.
This section is where you really start to feel the elevation as you are well over 10,000 feet and the climb continues at its almost 40 degree incline.
When you are walking this section you will get the first glimpse of how far you have come and it is pretty mind-blowing.
Also, this section has the last of the little huts with benches and I would recommend taking a break here as it is well shaded and has an amazing view. This is what I would call the half way point.
The terrain continues up via switchbacks and there are even sections to navigate here that require you to climb rugged stairs with rocks you hold onto. The cloud forest does not have much shade so be sure to rest and drink water when you see a section of shade, especially if it is a hot day. I found that the shrubbery you saw during the last portion of this hike was pretty nuts and very unique, here is a photo.
After topping out of the cloud forest you will reach the saddle.
As soon as you exit the cloud forest you will be shocked by how barren the landscape is. It feels like you are on the moon and it is crazy to see the clouds going by you at your eye level.
This section was so beautiful but also daunting at the same time as it is the first time that you will see the summit. We hugged the left path all the way to the base of the saddle and spent 20 minutes resting here before attempting the push up to the summit, which is the hardest part of the trail. The wind really is whipping through here most of the time I am told, it was when I was there so I would highly recommend a wind breaker, I was glad I had mine.
If you are lucky you might even here / see smoke from an explosion on Fuego when you are here. You can’t see the mountain itself but you can see the smoke coming over the summit as it is about 2 miles away.
Once you have caught your breathe at the 12,600 foot elevation proceed up the last section to the summit. I wont lie to you, this section is really hard. The incline is at least 40 degrees and the lava rock terrain is so loose that ever step forward becomes a half step backward. If you have made it this far though you can do it! Just put one foot in front of the other and breathe.
When you reach the top of the sandy section you will need to navigate / scramble on rocks to get to the summit.
Be careful here as the rocks are still loose and the fall would be potentially life threatening.
I don’t like heights so this part was pretty nuts for me but I just kept my head down and kept moving forward.
About 25 feet below the summit the guide showed me a place where the methane gas escapes from the volcano itself (this one is dormant not extinct). It was crazy because you could reach your hand in and feel the warmth.
After that I took my last steps and reached the summit.
At 13,069 feet this summit is no joke. I was incredibly stoaked to make it to the top and right when I got there I saw my first of many gas explosions on Fuego below. I was in awe as the brown smoke blew out of the volcano below us. It was one of those experiences you will never forget. I happened to catch this awesome picture of my friend Blake coming back up as he had made it to the summit before I did.
The summit itself is a pretty large volcanic crater that is completely closed and that you can walk around the entire exterior of.
The high point is in the North West corner (I believe) and it has a few scattered boulders and a small cross.
I would recommend walking around the entirety of the summit so that you can see the view from all angles. When we were there it was like a sea of clouds, but it really did make you think you were on top of the world.
There is another small cross here as well that was an awesome picture with Fuego in the background.
After taking it all in we went to the corner diagonal of the high point and grabbed a seat on the rocks while we ate and watched Fuego explode. Yes, I literally got to sit and eat my lunch while watching an active volcano spew smoke and gas below me, it was a once in a lifetime experience.
Here is a video timelapse of the clouds flowing over with a small gas explosion at the end.
On top of the mountain there was almost no life except for a few bees and a few mini lizards. Our guide picked one up to show us and it was about the size of a quarter. It was so crazy how barren everything was up here.
After soaking it all in we started the descent.
Like you can imagine this part is pretty crazy, especially at the beginning when you are exiting the summit. Be careful and sure-footed with the very loose rocks as you make your way back down.
I would recommend trekking poles as I used them a ton on the way up and the way down. Also, if you have knee or ankle problems consider a brace.
For us it was about four and a half hours up and 2 hours down. This is relatively fast as our guide said it can take people up to 6 hours to get to the summit but everyone hikes their own hike so make sure to take your time and be safe.
If you are looking for a unique experience then you must hike Acatenango it is one of the best summits I have ever been on and it comes with a sense of accomplishment you don’t often get. Even though my body hurts as I am writing this the day after the hike I cannot recommend this amazing experience in Guatemala enough, make sure to add it to your bucket list. Let me know your thoughts in the comments.