Volcano Pacaya is rated as Guatemala’s and even Central America’s most active volcano. Situated south of Guatemala-City and with a total elevation of 2.552 meters it is easily accessible by a day-tour from Guatemala-City or the town of Antigua.
We booked a sunset-tour for 60 Quetzales (about 8 US$) each and were accompanied by a couple of friends from Australia. With the highest expectations of climbing up to the crater and seeing the red lava flows we boarded a bus outside a hostel in Antigua for a 45-minutes ride to the volcano.
Volcano Pacaya – One of three active volcanos in Guatemala
The Central American Volcanic Arc is a chain of volcanos along the Pacific Coast of Central America. Pacaya is a part of that arc and together with volcano Fuego and volcano Santiaguito one of the three active volcanos of Guatemala. In total Wikipedia provides a list of 29 volcanos all over Guatemala including the highest point in Central America volcano Tajumulco at an elevation of 4220 meters.
23.000 years ago a large eruption formed a big volcanic caldera which includes Lago Amatitlan. Since then smaller vents have appeared and show volcanic activities. Pacaya is basically the largest of these post-caldera volcanos and erupted more than 23-times since the Spanish conquest.
Volcano Pacaya has erupted a few times during the last ten years with ash and debris being spit up to 1500 meters high and ash falling on the nearby towns of Guatemala-City and Antigua.
Since the 2nd of January 2013 the volcano has started erupting again.
Climbing towards the summit of volcano Pacaya
We jumped off the bus at the carpark at an elevation of about 1900 meters. “Puh, 600 meters to the top!” that’s what I thought. We met our guide and paid the entrance fee. 50 Quetzales each will get you into the Pacaya volcano National Park. At the entrance some kids offer wooden hiking sticks for 5 Quetzales. They are for rent and you have to give them back after the tour.
The climb up the volcano is quite steep but the tour group stops every now and then to catch a breath and to wait for the slower people. As far as I am concerned we could have stopped more often 😉
The local “Taxi naturale”
Some locals with horses were offering their service at the entrance and they even followed our group for a while hoping that someone gets tired. The horses looked quite skinny and I was glad noone of our group took the option of riding.
Halfway up we stopped at a viewpoint from where we could see the nearby volcanos Agua, Acatenango and Fuego on a clear day but we weren’t too lucky with the view. Some clouds were hanging low.
Enjoying the view of an active volcano
After a climb of a bit more that 300 vertical meters and loosing some sweat we reached a plateau from where we had a great view towards Pacaya. Time for some photos! Looking at the volcano you could actually see the latest lava stream forming a black river down the mountain side.
Unfortunately this plateau was basically the highest point the tour would go to and it was a low point for us. We expected to go all the way to the top and get to see the crater. Our guide explained that since the last major eruption in 2014 the public tour doesn’t go to the summit anymore. Our dissappointment even grew bigger when we saw some people in the distance climbing towards the top.
But anyway, hey, we were standing only a short distance from an active volcano! What an awesome experience! Clouds of steam went into the air and looking very close we could occasionally see some red lava glowing above the volcano.
The tour-gag: roasting marshmallows!
From the plateau our tour-guide led us down on a lava field. He provided some sticks and marshmallows and guided us to a hole in the lava where the volcanic heat was sufficient to toast some marshmallows.
The procedure itself is very touristy and the place scattered with old sticks or half melted marshmallows from tours before. Not so nice. The place was also occupied by some dogs that occasionally received food from tourists. Knowing better, even I couldn’t resist the brown eyes staring at me…
From the lava field we climbed up in a circle back to the plateau from where we watched the sun slowly disappearing behind the clouds.
The downsides of taking a guided tour
Apart from not going to the summit the tour we booked was advertised as the “sunset-tour”. Our understanding of that was that we would watch the sunset from the volcano or at least watch the volcano while the sun is setting. Unfortunately we left the viewpoint before the sun was setting to get halfway down the mountain with a little bit of daylight left. By doing that we missed out on seeing the volcano spitting lava in the dark and still had to walk down half of the mountain in darkness.
The trail we hiked up to the viewpoint was – apart from being a little steep and sandy – fairly easy and so I think a guided tour is not essential. We could have easily hiked up all the way by ourselves.
As we still want to hike up to the crater and see the lava we might have to get back to Pacaya in the next couple of weeks…
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