When I was 21 years old I had a lateral meniscus operation on my knee. After years of skiing black diamond mogul runs and taking way too many step aerobic classes, my knees started to give out on me.
The doctor told me that the surgery would be a temporary heal, and by the time I hit my 40’s my knee will go back to the way it was.
But when you’re young you don’t really care, until it’s really time to care.
So around my early 40’s I definitely started to feel it again. Then I fell outside my house directly on my good knee, and since then have joylessly suffered two bad knees. They mainly act up when I’m going uphill, downhill, or stairs. So pretty much ruling out anything fun and active.
But, my motto is that there is always a way. No matter what your situation is…
Living in Guatemala it’s hard not to climb a volcanic peak. We are literally living in the Ring of Fire, and Antigua, the place I’ve called home for over a decade, is right smack in the middle of three volcanoes . One of which is constantly active, Fuego Volcano. You can find many volcano tours in the zone
The most popular peak to climb, which is actually considered one of the easiest ones is Pacaya Volcano. And even at that peak, I had to hire a horse to take me up and down.
Tackling Acatenango Volcano and Fuego Volcano in Antigua, Guatemala
The thing is, Pacaya is considered Mickey Mouse by most people who come to Antigua to climb volcanoes. The peak that most want to tackle is Acatenango Volcano which sits right in front of Fuego Volcano, an active volcano in Guatemala and quite untouchable. Even for the ‘pro’ peak climbers.
For me, both seemed to be totally formidable. And, quite frankly, not even on my radar of ‘possible’.
Until … One day I was talking to an older lady, she was in her 70’s, overweight and she was telling me how she’s climbed and camped on Acatenango Volcano three times.
My mouth dropped. I was confused. How could she possibly hike it all the way up there? It was literally like three Pacaya Volcano peaks in one.
Well, she didn’t.
She horseback rode to the top! I didn’t even realize this was an option. No one ever talked about it, like they do with Pacaya.
After that, my entire perception switched from undoable to HELL YEAH, let’s do it.
So, back to the question – Can you visit a volcano?
However, the real question is – Should people visit a volcano?
It doesn’t matter how you do it, as long as you do it.
You’re probably sitting at home saying to yourself, “well, Marina’s got this travel site, so she’s adventurous, and can allow herself to do this.”
Here’s the reality, I am NOT at all adventurous, as far as trekking, extreme sports, and other things that fall under that wing. On the contrary, I consider myself a luxury, pampered kind of traveler.
But after being locked up and cooped up in the house for over one year during COVID. Not being able to travel internationally, I had something switch inside of me. I needed to, literally and figuratively, expand my horizons.
Is Hard to Climb a Volcano?
No matter your condition, climbing (and camping atop) a volcano is challenging.
Plus, don’t tell anyone, but I hate camping. Nothing about camping sounds good to me. When I hear people talk about it, I feel like they are torturing themselves.
For me, getting to the top was only part of the journey. Acatenango sits right in front of Fuego Volcano, an active peak that on clear nights gives an incredible lava show. The only way to see this is by camping on top.
Horseback riding isn’t really a thing on this peak, but they do use them and the journey to the top was serene, slow, and incredible.
But even with the horse doing all the work, we still had to do the last 500 meters by foot. This is because the path turned into jagged rocks, that would cut you open if you took the wrong step. For a hiker like me, this was a challenge, and I didn’t do any of the actual uphill climbs.
Just past the rocks was our campsite. With Fuego right there in front of us. The thing is, whether here changes in seconds.
When we arrived at the top it was crystal clear, no clouds, but by the time we sat around the campfire, because the temperatures got down to below zero, clouds rolled in and even gave us some rain action.
It was almost unheard of going to the top without a group tour, and my family and I were with another ten people. During the rain, as we huddled under tarps that were put up by the guides, some of the others were saying that this was their third, even fourth time up because last few times it rained on them the whole time and they didn’t get to see Fuego.
Let’s just say, this was NOT what I wanted to hear and almost cried at the thought of having to do this again.
I might have pushed myself, even on horseback, to do something so out of my zone of comfort, but the thought of doing it again was not even a consideration, and we haven’t even laid down in the tent yet.
Have you ever seen an active Volcano spit out lava up close?
I can finally say that I did!
And it was a sight that everyone needs to see. Because there is really no way to describe it properly.
But it happened at 4 AM the following morning.
During the evening the clouds never fully went away, and as we went to sleep in the tents, all you can hear was the rumble of the Fuego teasing us with what it was actually doing.
The way the tour was structured was that the following morning, at 4 AM, the group hikes up to the very top (you can’t do that normally because there is nowhere to camp) and then come back down, have breakfast and we all head down to the bottom.
First of all, 4 am is a criminal hour no matter what the adventure is. Secondly, I knew if I attempted that my knees would be destroyed before the descent (horses don’t take you down).
Even though I wasn’t hiking to the top, I did wake up and got out of the tent at 4. And I was gifted with the most incredible view you can ever picture.
If you think of any Hollywood volcano movie, with lava flowing brightly as it spurts out of the conical top in total perfection.
That was exactly what I saw as I stumbled out of the uncomfortable tent. The reward was breathtaking.
Bad Knees – Not Out of the Woods Yet
I got away with taking a horse to the top. But there was no way around going down.
Listening to everyone (with good knees) talk about hiking Acatenango, no one ever talks about going down. It’s almost a given that it’s easy and no biggie.
Yeah – that is if you are in good shape and your knees aren’t hurting at simply looking at an incline or decline.
I’ll cut to the chase. I have an amazing husband. Patient, tolerant, and always there to hold me when I’m about to nosedive down the hill. I was by far one of the slowest people to go down and about two hours into the hike, I was ready to quit at least 800 times.
I even sat down and cried towards the end. It was pathetic. My husband motivated me to finish strong.
I’m not a hiking person, but I will never regret participating in this experience. And being super grateful that Fuego put on just the perfect show for us so that I wouldn’t ever have to go up it again.
SIDE NOTE: After getting home, it took me over two weeks for the pain of my knees to go away, and for my muscles to recover. The reward of going up the peak and seeing the volcano was worth every moment!
How Much Cost to Climb a Volcano in Guatemala?
Most of the time when we think of adventures, especially something like climbing a volcano peak with guides, food, camping all included the numbers start to add up in our mind.
If you do the normal tour, hiking up with all the above amenities, it’s $65 per person for a two-day adventure.
Because I added the horse, it cost me an extra $50 (worth every single penny).
For a once in a lifetime experience – is this really even worth thinking about?