Antigua’s setting is spectacular, flanked on its southern extreme by the towering 3,750-meter (12,325-foot) Agua Volcano. The colossal 4,235-meter (13,044-foot) Acatenango and active Fuego Volcanoes lie to the west. The surrounding hillsides provide wonderful views of the valley and the volcanoes, and are excellent terrain hiking and mountain biking.
Antigua’s mountain terrain and the variety of trails traversing it make mountain biking a popular recreational activity. Old Town Outfitters (5a Avenida Sur #12, tel. 7832-4171, 9am-6pm daily) is a highly recommended outfitter offering rides for all skill levels. Half-day options include easy rides in the Almolonga Valley or in and around coffee plantations to edge-of-your-seat single-track rides careening down volcanic slopes or along narrow mountain ridges with fantastic views. Its equipment is top-notch and well cared for. Guatemala Venture (1a Avenida Sur #15, end of 6a Calle Oriente, firstname.lastname@example.org, tel. 7832-6379, 9am-6pm daily) is another recommended outfitter for tackling the rugged terrain around Antigua by mountain bike. It also rents out mountain bikes for $8 a day. Both companies also offer a lot of other recreational options in addition to mountain biking, as you’ll see by the frequency with which they are mentioned here.
The Spires of Fire trip is a five-day adventure climbing Guatemala’s three active volcanoes.O.X. Outdoor Excursions (7a Calle Poniente #17, tel. 7832-0468) has cornered the market on “cool” with the addition of mountain biking to its arsenal of adventurous offerings. Trip options range from cycling around Antigua’s neighboring villages to adrenaline-inducing single-track careens down volcanic slopes. They also rent mountain bikes for $22 a day.
There is no shortage of rugged hiking trails for enjoying the spectacular mountain scenery and peaceful mountain villages found near Antigua. The same recommended mountain biking outfitters can point you to the best hiking trails. A guide is highly recommended, as robberies of solo hikers along remote mountain footpaths is sometimes an issue in rural Guatemala. The bulk of the hiking done around Antigua involves one of the volcanoes towering ominously over its streets.
At 3,750 meters (12,325 feet) Agua Volcano is one of Antigua’s most visible volcanoes with its near-perfect crater that looms just south of Antigua. Unfortunately, its slopes have been plagued by safety issues for years. All of the local outfitters, tired from numerous instances of robberies, have ceased hikes up the volcano.
Just shy of 4,000 meters (13,044 feet), Acatenango Volcano is a safer and somewhat more interesting climb. It’s an intense six-hour ascent through agricultural fields and cloud forests on sandy gravel. Most of the outfitters camp at a spot 500 meters from the summit. From there it’s a grueling final push to the summit on the steepest part of the volcano (and the sandiest). It’s worth the effort, however, as your reward is a spectacular view of active Fuego Volcano right next to it. You won’t find better views of Fuego and the experience is quite unique, as no other volcano in Central America is quite like this. Old Town Outfitters (5a Avenida Sur #12, tel. 7832-4171, 9am-6pm daily) offers a one-day or overnight trip to the volcano starting in the village of La Soledad, from where it’s a 5-6-hour hike through cornfields and pine forests to the crater. A newer option is that of taking a 4×4 through private lands en route to a spot just two hours’ hike from the summit. Guatemala Venture (tel. 7832-6264) also does this trip.
By far the most popular volcano trip is to active Pacaya Volcano, near Lake Amatitlán and closer to Guatemala City. There’s no shortage of outfitters offering this trip, which generally leaves in the afternoon and costs $7-30 per person. Recommended companies include Old Town Outfitters (5a Avenida Sur #12, tel. 7832-4171, 9am-6pm daily), which leaves earlier than most other companies to avoid the crowds. Adrenalina Tours (3a Calle Poniente #2D, tel. 7882-4147 or 5308-1489) leaves daily at 6am and 2pm. The trip costs $10 and includes round-trip transportation and local Spanish-speaking guide. The more expensive VIP trip costs $75 and leaves whenever you want it to. The VIP tour includes bilingual and local guides, transportation, park admission, and breakfast.
Personally recommended for all of the above trips is O.X. Outdoor Excursions (7a Calle Poniente #17, tel. 7832-0468), offering well-guided trips to the Antigua area volcanoes. The Spires of Fire trip is a five-day adventure climbing Guatemala’s three active volcanoes (Fuego, Pacaya, and Santiaguito); it costs $599. They also do a very challenging “Double Whammy” involving the ascent of Acatenango Volcano with a side trip to Fuego Volcano on the same day before arriving (exhausted) to Vista Camp for bed and the summit of Acatenango the next morning.
Excerpted from the Fifth Edition of Moon Guatemala.