2,552 meters above the sea level, 2 hours of easy hiking over ashes is all it takes to admire the power of nature: lava overflowing from the crater of the volcano running down through its slopes.
If you are looking for a bit of adventure and want it easy, you should take a tour of Pacaya Volcano. The volcano is located in Escuintla, 50 km from the capital city of Guatemala, approximately a 2-hour transfer and approximately the same distance from Antigua Guatemala. You can schedule to arrive at the volcano either 8 – 9 am or at 1- 2 pm.
No 4WD vehicle is needed to reach the entrance of Pacaya Volcano National Park.
At the entrance of the park, you find the local community welcoming and offering their services as local guides, renting their horses and walking poles. Locals of all ages, from children to seniors are ready every day from 7 am to 4 pm to help you out on this adventure.
Be gentle with them and if you want, you may have a small chat to live the local culture. Then, go directly to the Information Center and get acquainted with the trails, distances, time and what to expect once on your way up. Due to security measures, you can not hike the volcano without a certified guide.
The hike starts. Try to keep the pace of your guide. The first part is a series of stoned stairs. Your body is in the first phase of getting used to the altitude, rhythm, and hike. Do not worry if after 15 minutes you feel already extremely tired, it is just your body realizing you are out of your comfort zone! Breath in and out deeply, do not drink water yet, and do not stop yet! Remember, an expert hikes the volcano in 35 minutes, regular visitors may take from 1 to 1.5 hours or more.
Pay attention to your guide, he will start explaining some facts about the volcano, the local flora, and fauna, you do not want to miss it. There will be some stops as viewpoints, signs with natural reviews, or you may want to stop over to rest or buy some fruits and beverages from locals on the trails.
Feel the ash under your feet, feel the wind, see nature, let the environment embrace you.
Once you reach a high point, after 45 minutes, you will see from a distance, the summit. Keep walking until you reach the second high point. From here, if there is enough volcanic activity, you may be able to see lava coming down over the slopes.
As you get closer to the crater, the surrounding changes and you start walking over volcanic rocks. At this point, you may get closer to lava rivers on the slopes, see former lava rivers and the tunnels formed by lava, many years ago. Do not forget to follow your guide´s indications so you do not put yourself nor your group at risk.
Take a moment to get a 360 glimpse around you, you are in the middle of what once was a gigantic volcano, one of its eruptions, 1,100 years ago, created 3 craters instead of its one enormous crater.
After living the lava volcano experience, go on trough the path until you reach the “Marshmallows Site”. Roast some marshmallows over the heat coming out from rocks. After it, you can visit the “Lava Store”, where locals sell hand-made lava souvenirs.
Ready to go on? A 50-meter slippery slope hike awaits. This is a good spot to take another set of pictures of the summit and surroundings.
The descent starts. Be careful where you step, loose soil, roots, tree branches, and narrow trails make up your way down very entertaining. You may feel your legs trembling too much. It is a normal reaction of your body saying its muscles are too tired. Take your time walking down, after all, you made it! You hiked an active volcano!
Once you are back at the Information Center of the park, you can change your clothing, wash your face from dirt and ash, drink water and another bite of your snacks.
13 kilometers from the volcano is located a hotel & spa hot springs. It takes one hour in the vehicle to arrive. You can take your lunch there and stay in the afternoon to get a complete body-mind relaxation time. They offer several packages and circuits to either just get into a hot springs pool or a body relaxation package combing thermal waters and body massage.
Due to the location, the dirt road, and the lava adventure, Pacaya Volcano is better enjoyed when visiting as part of a tour. You can buy a day tour from local tour operators or online travel websites. Just make sure they are certified legal travel companies.