Climbing Guatemala’s Most Active Volcano

Posted on November 9, 2009 by

Facing blazing red lava and feeling the burning heat on my skin– let’s just say that at that very moment, the bare earth was at my feet. I was literally walking on a volcano that could erupt any minute.

Volcán Pacaya had spewed ferociously for the first time 23,000 years ago and since then, it has again exploded 23 times over the years. The last time it caused terror was in 1965, when many lives were lost. Despite its potential danger, travelers still come out here to experience the roaring volcano that seemingly comes alive now and then.

Blazing lava

The Climb

climbing on the volcanic ashI’d admit it wasn’t a walk in the clouds. We were obviously jinxed as it rained the entire time we were up on the volcano – the only time it rained throughout our whole month in Guatemala!

The initial trek in the muddy rainforest was relatively straightforward and it was still easy to breathe at that altitude. But as we reached the volcanic ashes, ascending the steeply-inclined sandy terrain was almost like dragging your feet through a desert. Things worsened as the air got thinner and smokier as we got further.

But nothing beat reaching the summit, albeit in the rain, watching the red flaming lava flow right to your feet. What is it about lava that makes us tick?

Feel the Heat

Standing literally meters away from the lava, my nostrils were awake and alive to the smell of everything. I looked through the earth’s crack and I could see the boiling lava bubbling up, virtually eating the earth alive. The soles of my shoes were slowly melting away – luckily mine weren’t the only one.

lava from the crack of the earth

My virgin volcano experience and here I was, standing on the edge of flowing lava.  Most guides bring you right to the lava’s edge, so be prepared to be astonished. We brought some marshmallows to grill up here, thanks to our friends’ tips. Amusing as it may be, climbing heights for a DIY barbeque didn’t seem so bad after all.

right by the lava

Climbing Tour from Antigua

Just an hour away from Antigua, Volcán Pacaya can be climbed as a day trip – it takes 2 hours to climb up to the summit and another 2 down. Weather conditions might vary as well, check with your guide as cloudy weather might affect visibility.

view of the volcano while climbing

Most tour operators in Antigua arrange morning or night trips, of which the night climbs are more popular as the lava effect is amplified in the darkness. Night climbs start at 2pm, and by the time you start descending, darkness would have set in. Bring a torch with you for the way down.

night falls

Multi-day Expeditions

Alternatively, OX Outdoor Excursions and Old Town Outfitters also arrange multi-day camping tours that allow you to stay overnight on the volcano slopes.

For the adrenaline junkies, they can arrange technical hikes to several other volcanoes such as Volcán de Agua and Volcán Acatenango. These volcanoes might not be as active as Volcán Pacaya, but require more technical skills and a higher fitness level.




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About Nellie Huang

Nellie Huang is a professional travel writer and blogger with a special interest in off-grid destinations and adventure travel. Her mission is to visit every country in the world. In her quest, she's climbed an active volcano in Iceland, swam with sealions in the Galapagos, built a school in Tanzania, waddled with penguins in Antarctica, crossed into North Korea and drank beer in Palestine.

24 Responses to “Climbing Guatemala’s Most Active Volcano”

  1. @Got Passport November 14, 2009 5:31 pm #

    I am going to do this.. thanks for the inspiration! AWESOME!

  2. Angela November 16, 2009 3:09 pm #

    Very relaxing outdoor activity… A must ;-)

  3. Andy Jarosz January 10, 2010 4:27 pm #

    Amazing experience, and I loved the pictures. We hiked to the lava flow on Kilauea (HI) and I wish we'd taken marshmallows :-) Thanks for sharing.

  4. All Inclusive January 30, 2010 4:07 am #

    Wow, what a tale! I am definitely jealous, thanks for sharing your thoughts and amazing pics. love your site.

  5. Ariel June 10, 2010 8:48 am #

    I wish! I wish I had the fitness, the skills and the confidence of achieving this type of climb. The adrenalin as everyone has stated, must be pumped being so close to a live volcano. OMG. I am respectful and in awe.

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