Pacaya: Adventures on an active Volcano in Guatemala
January 1, 1970
by Steph McKnight
Have you ever thought of hiking on an active volcano? Listen to the rumbling beat of nature’s unstoppable forces? Are you coming to Guatemala and are looking for excitement, fun, and rewards of an outdoors, body activating, stress-free adventure you can do in a matter of hours while being close to the city? Then Pacaya is the place to go.
Despite its small extension Guatemala has 33 volcanoes, out of which three remain active as part of the Pacific fire belt; these are Pacaya, Santiaguito (Little James), and Fuego (Fire) Volcanoes. Pacaya is currently the least active of the three and one of the most recommended volcanoes to visit because of its easy and safe ascent as well as the beautiful views. Located at 47.5 km south of Guatemala City, it can be visited from the city of Antigua Guatemala or Guatemala City itself, which makes it a great option when you are in town for a few days and want some adventure.
To make the most of this experience, there are few things to have in mind while planning your tour:
Get informed of the current volcanic activity
Don’t forget it is an active volcano and although it has been some time since the last eruption, you must always beware of any unusual activity. You can visit the INSIVUMEH website for further information.
Get a tour guide
In 1963 was declared a National Park, so there are local certified guides that can lead the ascent and let you know more about the volcano, its last major eruptions and amazing hot spots and sightings.
Hydrate and bring some food
The tour might take around 2 to 3 hours, so think of snacks. Some guides might bring along food to share with the tourists, especially if your group has made previous arrangements. You might bring water, sports beverages, proteins bars, nuts, and fruit. Just make sure to NOT LEAVE ANY SORT OF TRASH OR WASTE BEHIND.
No need for dress to impress
There is a path for both the ascent and down, so you just need light clothes and shoes. Depending on the time of the year you come, you might bring a light jacket. If you want to venture into the lava fields, bring shoes with a thick sole because rocks are uneven and have sharp edges.
So now that you have that in mind, it’s all about enjoying the hike.
Now, the adventure begins
It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve been there, it never stops surprising you. Pacaya Volcano does not look like a regular volcano because it is constantly reshaping itself on every eruption and little ongoing sudden spurts of activity and the lucky ones have been able to watch some minor eruptions and lava flows.
Meet the locals
I have always believed that the best way to get to know a place is by getting to know the locals and the people in San Vicente Pacaya are always keen to provide the best experience for tourists whether they are national or international, whether they understand what you are saying or not, they will be there to make the hike as pleasant as they can, which is the Guatemalan or “Chapin” way we know when it comes to visitors.
On your way up
Once you start hiking, you will be surrounded by the great company along the ascent because you don’t only get one tour guide, you get a whole pack of kids and guide dogs to the lead you up, such as “Rocky” the volcano guardian. If you don’t feel like doing the hike up, you can ride a horse. The horses are not only used to the height, but they can carry up to 100 kilos. And they help the environment as well, as you can feed the with banana peels so nothing is wasted.
During the ascent, here are two resting areas where you can catch your breath and fuel while you enjoy amazing views such as the Agua (Water), Acatenango, and Fuego (Fire) volcanoes and the lava fields of past eruptions on the San Vicente Pacaya Valley. whether you want to just rest or want to strike a pose for a ton of likes worth picture for social media, you have the perfect background to impress your friends and followers. Even on a cloudy day, you can still get quite the scenario.
At the Lava Fields
After the second rest stop, you get to a lava field that used to be camping area and after the eruptions on 2010 and 2014. This is where the fun begins as there are recent petrified lava flows and huge rocks and that have created caves and an unusual landscape. Despite the hard, almost destructive effect eruptions have on the volcano surroundings, the minerals rich lava will nourish the land for new life to be created, so you might be able to find beautiful, lone flowers in the middle of the lava fields.
You will also find a unique place called the “Lava Store” where you can find handmade crafts and jewelry made of coconut shells, lava rock, and silver. This store has been relocated many times due to the landscape modifications caused by the eruptions and the owners have hiked the volcano over a thousand times since they first opened the store, which is opened mostly on weekends and holidays. Near the Lava Store, there is a special treat for the visitors. Have you ever tried marshmallows roasted on a lava field hot spot? Is a one of a kind sweet experience that everyone will love.
Right before the hike down, the tour guide will give you enough time to take pictures, buy crafts, walk around the rocky terrain, or just rest and eat with your fellow adventurers. Since the last eruptions, for safety reasons due to the sulfur smoke chimneys, visitors are not allowed to climb past the lava fields. However, if guides consider it is safe, they might let you climb higher towards the main cone.
Almost done. Now would you walk or run down (Yes, I said run)
Now that you’re ready to go back, you ought to make a last effort to climb a small hill and choose between two scenarios. You can either chose to run downhill through the “Sandbox” as locals call it, or walk/run downhill through the forest area. Both paths area equal beautiful, though the sandbox is more exciting as you must run very fast not to fall or get stuck in the sand, which is lava ash. For those who have done trail running before, going down the forest area you will feel like home. For the runners, if you want to adventure furthermore, there is an annual race called the “Lava Challenge” which is a half marathon trail at the volcano surroundings.
You’ve made it!!!
Climbing and hiking volcanoes are amazing. But doing so on an active one, in a gorgeous country like Guatemala where the people make you feel like family, is a must do on your bucket list. In other words, come and conquer Pacaya!!!!