Hiking on the live volcano of Pacaya is easily achieved as part of group from the Guatemalan town of Antigua. A trip to Pacaya opens the prospect of seeing running lava or at very least roasting marshmallows on the heat of a live volcano.
Situation and history
Pacaya is a particularly active volcano on the Central American isthmus. The volcano has gained notoriety due to its frequent eruptions and lava flows.
From the trail toll both there is a steady 2.5km ascent on volcanic sands to the solidified lava flows. It is a further 500m across rock to the hot vents. This trail does not attempt to reach the summit and rim of the live volcano.
Planning your trip
The walk takes a couple of hours return including time to admire the volcano. Cloud can be an issue in the afternoons.
Starting elevation: 2,830m
Summit elevation: 3,190m (top of trail)
Total ascent: 360m
Trail distance: 6km return
Average gradient: Medium
Lose volcanic sand for the majority of the trail and very sharp volcanic rock on the upper section.
No special gear is required. Study footwear will make walking on the razor sharp lava flows more comfortable.
Access to and from the hike
Mini vans run from Antigua in mornings and afternoons.
Navigation & Facilities
The trail is fairly obvious and easy to navigate despite the lack of signage. Due to the dangers of walking on an active volcano a guide is worthwhile and typically included in a package from Antigua.
There are public toilets and horses available for hire at the carpark.
The volcano is dangerous with most obvious risks being lava flows and debris from eruptions.
Flora and fauna
There is some scraggly scrub alongside the trail but otherwise the volcano is relatively barren.
A friend had explained that you could climb the volcano, see lava and, more importantly, toast marshmallows in the heat.
After a quick trip to the supermarket (Antigua sells a lot of marshmallows to volcano climbing tourists) we set off in a crowded mini-van. We drove up its flank through thickening cloud and picked up a guide shortly before the carpark. One of our party hired a horse for the climb which looked like cheating; at least the horse looked well fed.
We spent the earlier part of the climb looking out for sticks with which to roast marshmallows safely. Much of the ascent was on loose packed ash and screen whilst peering through mist in the hope of spotting lava. None revealed itself. Leaving the scree slopes behind we negotiated some recently hardened lava flows before arriving at a series of small vents. No glowing lava was to be seen but the vents provided enough heat to roast marshmallows and sausages. The remainder sticks were thrust into the vents where they promptly ignited.
Fun was had by all and we returned to Antigua as darkness enveloped the countryside.