Volcán Pacaya

I bookended my month in Central America with two trips up Volcán Pacaya, near Guatemala City and Antigua. Understandably it’s a popular half day trip, exploring an accessible and relatively safe active volcano.

Tours leave from Antigua at 6am and 2pm and take approximately six hours, half spent driving there and back, half at the volcano. It varies depending on the time of year but in Dec / Jan the morning tours generally offer clearer views and less traffic, while the afternoon tours offer sunset and clearer views of lava against the darkening sky plus more sleep… Both times I did the afternoon tour, but had quite difference experiences.

Pretty much all the tours end up on the same bus so just go for the cheapest one you can find, which for me was Q65 ($8) through a travel agency close to the main square. Most hotels / hostels will charge you nearly double. This just covers transport, there’s a further Q50 ($6.50) charge to enter the volcano reserve with a mandatory guide.

The walk itself is pretty steep in places and uneven underfoot so wear decent shoes, though one hippie on my second trip did the whole thing in bare feet, walking over rough volcanic ground and standing a metre from red hot rocks! Take a torch / charged phone if on the afternoon tour as it is dark on the walk back, plenty of water, and a jacket for after sunset.

My first trip involved walking through thick cloud for the first half so I didn’t see much…

But thankfully it cleared to reveal Pacaya with red hot lava flowing down the side.

We headed down to a crater for a spot of mash mellow toasting over hot rocks before heading up to a ridge for the best views of the trip.

Second time round the weather was much better, with clear (if hazy) views. I was transfixed by the sight of Antigua’s three volcanoes – the very active Volcán de Fuego, it’s neighbour Volcán Acatenango, and larger but dormant Volcán Aqua.

First sight second time round of Pacaya was much clearer thankfully, with steam pouring out of the volcano summit.

This time we headed further up the volcano to areas of red hot rocks, being poked by people with sticks, and used to roast marshmallows.

The lava was considerably more serious higher up the volcano, increasingly dramatic against the darkening sky.

Antigua’s volcanoes were quite spectacular as the sunset.

The setting sun over the rim of Pacaya was quite magical.

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