I visited Guatemala and climbed up its most active volcano. Read more about hiking Pacaya and which tours can you take in your next visit
Hiking Pacaya is interesting. The route is short and simple but a little bit steep. Nevertheless, the rewards for this two-hour ascent are spectacular, as travelers can get views of lava flows and volcanic gas eruptions in the middle of a lunar-like landscape. Tours to Pacaya run every days and this is the perfect short adventure you can take if you are visiting Antigua Guatemala or Guatemala City for a couple of days.
Getting ready to hike an active volcano
There is a unique fascination when you think about hiking up a volcano. It simply sounds adventurous and to me, it made me come back to my childhood dreams of becoming an explorer traveling the world. Guatemala was the place where these dreams turned into reality. Here, I was not only able to explore abandoned Mayan temples in the middle of the jungle in Tikal and Yaxha, but also did a tour in Pacaya and was able to observe lava from just meters away.
Guatemala has officially 37 volcanoes—three of which that are still active (Fuego, Pacaya and Santiaguito). Pacaya, the nearest volcano to Guatemala City, is the country´s most active and its frequent eruptions are often visible from the city.
With an elevation of 2552 meters and clean route, Pacaya is also one of the easiest volcanoes to hike. Still, an easy hike on a volcano that doesn´t necessarily mean it´s an easy trek. The elevation difference is almost 2000 meters and tour guides tend to walk relatively fast and with only a few breaks.
Read more: Exploring the volcano route of Nicaragua
Tours to Pacaya and its active crater
My journey started around 5 in the morning, but most tour operators would either depart way earlier to catch the sunrise or later in the afternoon for the sunset. Pacaya is as well the most accessible volcano from the cities Antigua and Guatemala City, making it one of the most popular for travelers visiting this country.
Hiking up Pacaya is extremely safe. Tour operators are not allowed to reach with tourists the crater of Pacaya and the tracks are well-marked all the time. Going up on a horseback is also an option for those who really want to reach the main viewpoint of Pacaya but got tired at the beginning.
Along the way, I was able to see the Guatemalan green countryside, several hills around Pacaya and in some few viewpoints catch a direct view of Agua and Fuego volcanoes. However, once I reached the base of Pacaya, it all turned into a black lunar-like landscape.
Here, rest of volcanic stones, ash and dry lava changed the whole scene and made the route a little bit more difficult to walk. From one moment to another it became absolutely clear that we were climbing an active volcano. Sounds from volcanic activity started to become more common and several fumaroles were already visible from some kilometers away.
Once at the final viewpoint of Pacaya, it was common to see some plinian activity (gas fumaroles). The tour guide indicated that if I decided to spend the night in Pacaya or hike up after sunset, I would be able to see the glow of the crater from that point.
Read more: Visiting the Mayan ruins of Yaxha and Tikal
Learning about the volcanic activity of the region
My journey didn´t stop there, as me and my team were granted a special permit to hike up all the way to the summit. This was the most difficult part of the trek, as we were basically walking uphill on volcanic sand and rocks. Once I reached the 2500 meters, the view of the Pacaya crater made every step worth. I was able to hear the constantly roar of the volcano, while being in the edge of the main inactive crater. At the same time, several lava flows were just some meters away and I was upfront one of the most beautiful natural phenomena anyone can experience.
Surrounded by the neighboring volcanoes and sitting right at the edge of an active crater let me believe for a moment, that I was exploring something new for the first time. There were no vehicles, city life or crowds, just me and a closed group of new friends standing right in the middle of raw nature.
Tips to get ready for a tour to Pacaya
- Take enough water for the walk. Although it is only a 45 minute hike, the route is hard and steep
- Although the morning tour offer beautiful views of the surrounding landscapes, the evening tour let you see the volcano glowing from far away
- Drone use is not allowed in Pacaya. In order to photograph the photos of this article I had to apply for a special permit from the government. Inform yourself before taking a drone to Pacaya.
- There are several tour companies departing at different times of the day. Instead of planning your tour based on time, ask how many people are joining. Sometimes you get lucky and your tour only has 3 or 2 more people joining.