"You can't do that with babies".
I've heard it so many times before. We hear it about traveling new places, backpacking trips, you name it. The thing is, when we really look into it and assess what we want to do and our skills and experience, that's when we can make the educated decision of whether or not WE can do it with OUR babies.
Hiking Acatenango with our 9 months old and 3 year old was no different.
Volcán Acatenango is a 13,000 foot dormant volcano that sits closely to Volcán Fuego--an active volcano that erupts frequently (about every 15 minutes). The view of Fuego from Acatenango is one of the most spectacular things my eyes have ever seen. If you are in Guatemala, this is an absolute must-do, and if you are up for it, skilled, in shape, and have that adventurous spirit...not to mention your kids in tow—it's possible.
Here's Fuego, the view you'll see from Volcán Acatenango
Our Guide Service
We went through Soy Tours. They are the only local guide service that does trips to Acatenango. The other guide services are all based in Antigua. Not only do I like supporting local businesses, but it was really comforting knowing that if anything happened and we needed to get down in an emergency, Gilmer (the owner of Soy Tours) would be right there at the bottom of the mountain rather than an hour and a half drive away in Antigua.
I'll also be honest--they were the only tour operators that would bring us. We asked around to compare pricing and the others based in Antigua didn't even give us the time of day. "You can't do that with kids."
So, yeah, Soy Tours it was.
I'm so happy for that though. I may sound all confident and that I'm ready to scale Everest with an infant on my back, but I was really nervous and scared we were making the wrong decision. That we were putting our wants before our children's safety. But Gilmer at Soy Tours was so reassuring and made us feel at ease.
Soy Tours picked us up from our Airbnb in Antigua.
Sounds chill, but it wasn't. Gilmer called at 7am the day before we were supposed to go and said that we shouldn't wait to do the hike the next day like we planned. He said that today's weather is perfect and we should go today—the van will pick us up in 20 minutes. [Insert frantic GIF here] Side note: we're not clean and organized people. We had clothes and all of the contents of our packs strewn everywhere. We had nothing packed, no food or snacks, no water to bring, nothing. We were the farthest from prepared.
We decided to go for it though—we didn't want to miss a nice weather window.
Jamie ran out to buy some snacks and pastries for breakfast while I threw all our crap in our packs, which couldn't be done with meticulously rolling up all the clothes, so instead I just threw stuff into random plastic bags.The van that had already picked up the rest of our group of cool backpackers in their 20's was waiting 5 minutes before we ran out frazzled, with our packs, multiple plastic bags of stuff, and of course our infant and 3 year old.
The van was silent for what seemed like a good minute while everyone just stared at this hot mess of a family that just hopped in and ruined their epic overnight hike.
"Um, you guys are doing this hike? Have you done anything like this before?" one of them finally said as our son was eating the driest pastry, dropping a waterfall of crumbs all over the van and our hobo plastic bags that held our toothpaste and passports. It may seem like a snide thing to say, but we deserved it.
"Umm, yeah... but we're fine. We look like a hot mess, but we're fine. We just, yeah...oh Zay no, don't throw that. Yeah, we're experienced" I said--obviously completely reassuring them (eye roll).
After a little over an hour in the van, we arrived at the base of Acetanengo where we had some time to organize our backpacks, lock away what we didn't need for the night, and pick out some fine 80's jackets and very used hats and gloves from their closet. Since a lot of their clientele are backpackers that don't have the proper clothing to camp at 13,000ft, they provide warm clothes for everyone.
If you have an infant, you will want to bring a warm jacket and warm clothes for them as their stuff is mostly for adults. You will also want to bring your own base layers, rain jacket, and hiking shoes.
Soy Tours was nice enough to give us a guide to ourselves. That way we could go as slow as we wanted without holding up the rest of the group.
I don't want to brag, but we cruised and got to the base camp 2 hours before everyone else. Look at us show up those 20 somethings!
Climbing up! Thankfully Soy Tours offered a porter (for a cost) so we didn't have to carry our big bag too
The hike is an unrelenting steep hill with no switchbacks for miles until base camp. It typically takes 4-5 hours to get to where you will sleep for the night. Be sure to bring lots of snacks and water as the elevation is quite high. It's also loose terrain for a lot of it so I would make sure you have hiking boots and not hiking sandals. I would also advise that you rent a hiking pole at the bottom. This was kind of a lifesaver,
The Base Camp
We arrived to our basecamp at about 13,000 feet up. It was PHENOMENAL. With unobstructed views of Fuego erupting, it was by far the most beautiful tent view I've ever had.
Our first view of Fuego before we got to basecamp
The tents are already set up for you with sleeping bags. I heard there are sleeping bags of varying warmth, and some people get cold, but between the clothes we had and the sleeping bags, we were very cozy all night long.
The guides make a fire where you can chill and eat snacks and dinner, or you can opt to continue hiking to Fuego where you get really up close and personal with the lava. We decided to just enjoy the views from where we were, give our knees a break, and let the kids be free and not in a carrier for any longer.
Not a bad view for the night (photo compliments of Audrey and Ricardo from @Leschouschous)
With kids, you do have to be really careful at basecamp because there are steep cliffs and drop-offs everywhere, so just keep a good eye on them.
The Night Sleep
Ha, well funny story. After some cocoa and staring at Fuego for hours and hours to get our fill of the beauty, the four of us went off to bed.
Our 8 month old went to sleep almost instantly and truly had the best sleep of her life. She didn't wake up even once the whole night—a first.
Our 3 year old Zay on the other hand...
A few hours into the night, Zay woke up saying he felt sick. As soon as the last syllable left his mouth, he puked. Jamie, with those quick reflexes, somehow caught the puke and was able to throw it out of the tent like a goddamn magician. I was equally impressed by him and frightened that we have a sick 3 year old on the side of a mountain in a foreign country 13,000 feet up and a long hike down. We were hoping it was a one and done deal, so we went back to bed. 10 minutes later, he puked again. Then it happened again.
Zay was up all night sick. We were giving him water, some medicine, and feeling like the absolute worst parents that have ever existed. After a few hours, we decided to wake our guide up to see what he thought and if it would be a good idea to just head down (at 2:30am). His response? "I don't know if it's the altitude. He kept coming back for more hot chocolate at dinner. He drank a lot."
Hmmm. Ok. After that, he didn't have anything left to throw up and went back to sleep and woke up at sunrise completely himself. I don't know what it is about daylight either, but as soon as the sun came up, I was at ease. We made it through the night.
That "everyone is ok" kind of embrace
I do need to mention that as frightening as it was for Zay to be throwing up out of our tent all night long, we also got to watch Fuego erupt all night long too. A weird silver lining.
The next morning we got up, ate some breakfast, marveled at this natural wonder in front of us, and then made our way down. The rest of the group woke up before sunrise and hiked to the top of Acetanengo to watch the sunrise, but after not sleeping all night, we definitely did not have it in us. The pictures look beautiful, but I feel like we didn't miss out too much.
This experience, despite how chaotic it was at the beginning and frightening it was all night long, was one of my favorite things I've ever done. Even Zay says it was worth it and the coolest experience. So if you are experienced hikers, are prepared (ha), and your kids are used to doing this sort of stuff, it's definitely doable with little ones.
I sprinkled it in throughout the post, but I wanted to put together a quick list of things to bring:
Warm clothes (including a jacket) for your infant
Snacks on snacks
Plenty of water
A small med kit
Rent a hiking stick at the base or bring poles
Hiking boots (don't wear hiking sandals)
Sunscreen (it's cold but the elevation will get yeah)