Pacaya Hike at a Glance
One of our favorite excursions from our Guatemala Trip was this hike up the side of Volcán Pacaya. The feature photo on this post remains one of our all-time-favorites from any trip.
Volcán Pacaya is an active volcano just outside Antigua, Guatemala. Tourists are allowed to hike nearly all the way up to the vents surrounding the caldera and tours run daily when climbing on the volcano is deemed safe. Just four months before we visited, Pacaya experienced a deadly eruption that blanketed the city in ash. As a result, tourism on the volcano was down from about 300 average climbers a day to just under 100, according to our tour guide.
When Kim first suggested this adventure I was definitely skeptical. (Not because I was scared of course! I was thinking about the children on a volcano!) But those concerns were unfounded. The hike is completely safe.
The climbs starts midway up the volcano at the visitor center and is approximately three miles over relatively moderate slopes. An alternative to walking is to pay for a horseback ride that will take you about two-thirds of the way up. Even if you decline the ride, the horses and their handlers will follow you up the mountain just in case you give up. The last 1/3 of the journey goes through very rocky terrain that the horses cannot manage.
The base of the mountain is rich with plant life due to the volcanic soil. Here’s the boys and I getting started on the hike. That’s our tour guide behind me. You just gotta love B’s face in this picture. I think he’s being fierce as we get ready for the climb.
Especially in the earlier parts of the climb the sights are simply magnificent. The black ash carpets the trail and is surrounded by lush greens and browns all around. The contrast between the lush foliage at the base of the volcano and the completely barren top is stark.
About midway up the hike we got a grand view of what we think is Volcán de Fuego, but we honestly can’t remember. If you know which volcano this is, please leave us a comment! (Side note: We use this volcano picture in our Facebook and Pinterest share images for this post. We know it’s not Pacaya, but it’s the best volcano picture we have and we captured it on the Pacaya hike!)
A little further up and the foliage thinned out and opened up to some beautiful vistas of the towns below.
At the transition to the upper part of the volcano, the horses that had been following us could go no further, and the caballeros headed back to the visitor center hoping for more tourists who couldn’t quite hack the hike. We watched them walk away and felt victorious!
As we proceeded further, everything turned desolate. The fog you see evaporating off of this field is due to lava flows under the mountain heating up the surface. Pretty amazing stuff.
I love this next shot. That’s our tour group heading to see the lava. It felt a whole lot more like the outskirts of Mordor than planet earth. If you look closely you can see two dogs in this picture. I had forgotten about the dogs, but when we were writing this article B remembered how cool it was that the dogs followed us up so they could get some marshmallows from the tourists.
When we approached the summit, our tour guides found an active lava flow over which we roasted marshmallows. The picture on the left below is the best pic we could get of the lava with our point-and-shoot camera. The surface of the vent was hot enough that when we finished roasting the marshmallows, the guides threw the sticks on the vent and they burst into flames.
Here’s some pretty proud boys (me included!)
After marshmallows, we called my mom on the phone to let her know her six-year-old grandsons were standing on top of an active volcano!
And then we got a few volcanic selfies with these boys.
Planning Your Own Tour
Most hotels in Guatemala City or Antigua will help you arrange a Pacaya tour. We used Turansa which booked the climb as part of a package deal for us including Antigua, Chichicastenango, Tikal, Yaxha, and the Pacaya climb. No matter who you book through, the tour is going to be the same. In fact, you’ll likely be joining tours from other companies as you hike.
As far as things to do on vacation, this one isn’t very expensive. You’ll essentially pay for a taxi to get to the base camp and a guide to walk with you. Labor rates in Guatemala being less expensive than the U.S, you can expect to pay somewhere around $20 per person for the tour and the tour company will provide the marshmallows! Make sure to keep some money handy to tip your guide.