So you’re visiting the beautiful country of Guatemala and wondering how to hike the famous Volcan Pacaya. This active volcano just one hour outside of Antigua is a highly visited attraction. Not only is it one of three active volcanoes in the country of the Guatemala, but it’s the only active volcano that can be hiked safely and in one day. Add in its easy accessibility from Antigua and the unique experience, and you have the perfect hiking excursion. But let’s be real, visiting another country and attempting to hike an active volcano can definitely feel a bit intimidating. There are a lot of unknowns about the terrain, what to expect, safety, and logistics for even getting to the trail. This is where doing a bit of research and showing up prepared can offer some peace of mind. This article will walk you through exactly how to hike Volcan Pacaya and everything you need to know to prepare.
1. The first step when planning to hike Volcan Pacaya is to look for a guide or trekking company to go with. It is required to complete with hike with a guide. For one, it supports the local Guatemalan economy, and it also prevents tourists from getting lost on a volcano. Not a great situation. This may seem like an added hurdle, but hiring a guide actually has a lot of benefits. Guides are extremely knowledgeable on the history and geology of the area, so you will get a lot more out of the hiking experience. Going with a guide is also a great opportunity to meet people traveling from all over the globe. I’ve met some really cool people by getting outside of my comfort zone and joining tour groups while traveling. Guides also come ready with snacks for the top of the hike. But more on that later! Prices for a day hike will range from $30-70 depending on what all is included (pick-up, drop-off and transportation, park entrance fee, food, etc). If you book a more involved tour, prices will increase and vary. Here are a few well-renowned excursion companies you should look into:
Typical tours offered by most excursion companies are as follows:
· Day hike (5-7 hours)
· Overnight backpacking trip
· Day hike + Thermal Spa
2.Once you have successful decided on which tour you’re interested in and booked with an excursion company, you’re on to step two. Next, you will need to get on the same page with your tour guide about when and where you are meeting. Some tours include pick-up at your hotel, while others will have one central meeting place. If it’s not extremely clear on the website, be sure to reach out to them and get a game plan in place.
What to Bring
Before you get all packed up, be sure to check your confirmation email or website which you booked through to clarify what items your guide will be providing and what items you are responsible to bring. You will also want to check the local weather report before packing. In general, the following items are recommended:
· 1-2 L of water
· A hiking pack
· Snacks/Food (keep in mind that how much food you need to pack with largely depend on which tour you book – day hike vs. backpacking trip will look quite different)
· A rain jacket/extra layer depending upon the weather (more layers if doing the overnight tour)
· Extra cash in quetzales (the local Guatemalan currency). This way you can pay for your park entrance fee if it’s not included in your tour rate, and tip your guide after the hike. There are plenty of ATMs around Antigua and Guatemala City, so just be sure to get cash out prior to your hike.
· A hat or sunglasses
What to Wear
*The following recommendations are for day hikes only. If you plan to backpack, be sure to get a packing list from your excursion company*
While what you wear will largely depend on the weather that day, and what time of the year you go, it’s important to note that Guatemala has two main seasons: rainy season and dry season. Rainy season begins in May and goes through October. During this season, the weather is more humid and wet in general. Dry season begins in November and ends beginning of May. This is typically considered to be the best time of year to do major hikes in Guatemala because the visibility is better and the temperatures are more pleasant. Overall, Guatemala has very little variance in temperature year-round. The climate is comparable to that of San Diego for much of the year.
Of course when hiking at higher altitudes, you can expect cooler temperatures the higher you go. Especially in the early morning, evenings once the sun goes down, or overnight, temperatures can drop below freezing in Guatemala on these volcanoes. For a day hike, I recommend wearing the following:
· Hiking pants, leggings, or shorts depending on temperatures that day
· A tank top/t-shirt with an extra layer you can put on if necessary
· A rain jacket/or warm jacket in your pack if necessary
· Long hiking socks
· High ankle hiking boots that you feel stable in
· A hat if desired
About the Hike
Distance: Roughly 4 miles
Elevation gain: 1440 feet
Final elevation: Around 8,000 feet
Difficulty: rated as moderate
Trail conditions: Fairly steep withslightly unstable ash/lava rocks for much of the hike
Time needed: 3-5 hours depending on pace and time spent at the top
Last major eruption: March of 2021
Family friendliness: While it largely depends on the comfort level of you and your family, I have seen many kids on this trail. Just exercise caution when walking on the hot lava rocks
Terrain: Partly covered by trees and partly exposed. As you get closer to the volcano, you will experience more of a haze, particularly later in the day
Safety: While Pacaya is an active volcano, the eruptions are slow and small enough that it is not considered to be a dangerous hike. Use common sense and do not tough steaming rocks, lava flow, or anything that looks like a safety hazard
Highlight of hike: Your guide will bring smores and sticks to roast marshmallows over the lava rocks! This is definitely an experience like any other. There is also a gentleman who runs a pizza stand on the volcano! If you have extra cash and want a meal, he will roast you a pizza on Volcan Pacaya.
I hope this gives you the confidence to hike Volcan Pacaya and experience this unique, adventurous hike! I have done this hike several times, so if you have any questions, drop them in the comments. Is hiking an active volcano on your bucket list?