Antigua Guatemala is a gorgeous town, filled with beautiful buildings and indigenous culture, and surrounded by volcanoes. Agua Volcano towers about the town, Fuego Volcano spews smoke and lava, Acatenango is a tough hike with glorious views of Fuego, and Pacaya Volcano is still live but a gentler hike. I was in two minds about whether to hike the Acatenango volcano in Antigua, as I have never been a lover of hiking, but so often the destination makes the hike worth it. However, I knew Acatenango would be torture, despite the view that awaited me if the clouds cleared. So, to see if I was up for the challenge, I tested myself by hiking Pacaya volcano, which is an easier hike but on a live volcano all the same!
A Pacaya Volcano Hike Tour from Antigua Guatemala
All hostels in Antigua can arrange the Pacaya hike for you. Costing 80Q from my hostel, El Hostal, including transport and a guide, but not the 50Q entry fee, it would hardly bankrupt me. And I wanted to do at least one volcano hike in Antigua Guatemala!
I was picked up from my hostel in a minivan which was already rather full. We still had another couple of stops to collect more people, and more seats appeared, folding down to fill up any available space. I had taken some travel sickness pills, as the road was windy on parts and I didn’t want to start the hike feeling sick!
Our group was quite large, maybe 20 people had been crammed into the minivan. We gradually drove higher, and I was relieved to see we would start hiking already fairly high up. Everyone paid their entry fee, and there were a few kids around renting out wooden walking sticks for 5Q – I took one, which would be collected again when we came back down. Our guide explained how the hike would be, and a few information boards around the entrance explained how the volcano was formed, and how it was still active.
Hiking the Pacaya Live Volcano in Antigua Guatemala
Our group set off on the hike, and we settled into a rhythm and found our places so we wouldn’t be overtaking each other constantly. I took up my usual position towards the back of the group, but I actually found the first part of the hike very easy. We stopped regularly along the hiking trail to allow everyone to catch up, so there were regular rest stops along the way.
We hiked up the volcano for about an hour until we reached a flat top. It had been partly sunny on the way up, but now we reached the summit it was cloudy. When the clouds cleared I realised that we weren’t actually at the top of the live volcano Pacaya, rather just next to it, as I could see the steam seeping out of the top of Pacaya close by. We took some photos, and could see the other Antigua volcanoes Agua, Fuego, and Acatenango in the distance.
We continued our hike, descending a little way to actually reach Pacaya, and descended sharply to reach the lava field. Pacaya’s last eruption was in 2010, when lava had flowed out of the volcano, covering part of where we were standing in what was now a steaming black river of rock. We walked around the edge of the wall of lava, it reached up to waist height, and found a spot to roast marshmallows on the volcano. A couple of holes went deeper into the volcano, and the heat coming off them was quite shocking. The guides offered us long sticks and marshmallows to thread on, and we gathered around the holes and toasted our marshmallows. It was an interesting campfire!
The Shop on the Pacaya Volcano
We turned a corner and climbed onto the lava flow where footpaths crisscrossed the black field of lava. In the middle of the lava was a shop. We made our way over, taking care to follow the path. I had no idea how hot the surrounding lava was, and didn’t want to find out! At the little shop, the owner explained that they had decided to open the shop after the most recent eruption in 2010 to help the communities affected by the eruption. The shop sells beautiful jewellery made from pieces of lava, embedded into silver chains or earrings, keyrings and bracelets. I sadly hadn’t brought enough money with me, so if you think you may want to buy something then take plenty of cash with you, or check out their website Mayan Rebirth. The owner showed us a video he had taken on his camera of the last eruption, as he watched from a safe distance, which looked scarily close to me!
We left the lava jewelry store and climbed up another ridge to look down on the smoking summit of Pacaya volcano. We sat for a while, had a snack and took a breather, before heading down the other side. The descent for me was actually the worst part, as the path was very steep, and underfoot the shingle was slippery. In places, I preferred to sit down and scramble down on my backside than risk falling and breaking an ankle. Once we had struggled through the steep parts the rest of the walk down was much quicker, and in no time we were back to the entrance. The kids who had rented us the walking sticks ran over and collected them back, and we headed back to the minivan for the ride back to Antigua.
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Tips for Hiking Pacaya Volcano
Wear good walking boots – in rainy weather and for the descent, you will be glad of them
It is definitely worth hiring the walking sticks from the local kids
Remember to bring cash for the lava jewellery store
Snacks, plenty of water, sunscreen and a hat are also essential
I had enjoyed the hike and didn’t find it difficult, but by the end of the descent my knees were beginning to hurt. I decided not to take on Acatenango as I had heard it was a very difficult ascent, but if you got clear views of the smoking Fuego volcano it was totally worth it. The other factor in my decision was rainy season, and I’d spoken to a few people who had climbed up, but didn’t see a thing due to the weather! I made peace with my decision but would have still loved to hike Acatenango too! Without that though, Pacaya was a gentler hike, and suitable for kids or those who might struggle on the tough Acatenango hike. I enjoying hiking Pacaya, and can at least say that I hiked a live volcano!
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Have you hiked a live volcano? I’d love to hear your experiences below!
Where to stay in Antigua
There are a lot of hostels and hotels in Antigua to choose from. Hostal Antigueño is great for families and for overlanders, with a ping pong table and outside garden and terrace. It is about 10 minutes’ walk from the main square, so if you are alone you may want to stay somewhere more central like El Hostal or Somos. If you want to stay somewhere completely different, check out the amazing Hobbitenango, a hobbit-themed eco-hotel in the mountains surrounding Antigua.
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