A Volcano Pacaya hike is a must when in Guatemala.
Known for tis Mayan archeological sites, the unique cultures and the many markets, Guatemala is also a country of many natural wonders. Thick jungle, isolated natural pools, the breathtaking Lake Atitlan and many active volcanoes (there are 37 in Guatemala) dot the landscape of this country in central America.
If, like me, you are used to the calm beaches of Sardinia, seeing volcanoes throwing smoke at regular intervals will leave you speechless, and it is only natural you will want to see them from up close. The good news is that you can!
I have had a chance to hike Volcano Pacaya during one of my many trips to Guatemala, and I am about to share everything you need to know before you embark on the same experience. Continue reading!
Before you embark on your hike, double check whether it is actually permitted. Local authorities regularly change the rules for how close you can get to the volcano and the crater, depending on the volcanic activity.
What You Must Know Before Your Volcano Pacaya Hike
Some background information on Volcano Pacaya
Volcano Pacaya is located just over an hour drive from Antigua. The volcano measures 8,373 feet (2552 meters). Its first eruption was recorded around 23000 years ago. This is one of the most active volcanoes in Central America. The last big eruption of Pacaya volcano was in 2010.
Until 2016, it was actually possible to see lava from up close during the hike – different tour companies took different routes. Albeit being very active and having regular eruptions, the majority of the activity is actually consisting of spewing ashes and – occasionally – lava. Don’t go there expecting to see massive lava flows as those are rare, and you may be disappointed!
Volcano Pacaya hike is an out and back hike of little over 5 km (3.1 miles), with around 1,500 feet (457 meters) elevation gain, of moderate difficulty. The terrain is soft earth and sand to begin with – not ideal to walk if you have knee and back problems. After a short while the terrain is more rocky as you will be walking on lava flows.
The entire hike takes little over 4 hours. I didn’t find the hike to be particularly long or difficult, but I guess that is all relative – I have met people who complained for how difficult it was, so I guess it really depends on your level of fitness and how accustomed you are to hiking. All in all, it is better to never underestimate the level of difficulty of a hike.
Horses are available for rent to go up the volcano for around 300 Quetzales (short of $40 USD). Walking sticks are available for rent at 5 Quetzales (less than $1).
Best time for a Volcano Pacaya hike
Though the volcano can be accessed year round, the best time to hike is actually November – that’s when I went, indeed. This is just the start of the dry season in Guatemala (which lasts until April), which means that the landscape is nice and green from the recent rain, whereas the sky will be incredibly clear and there are no chances of rain.
The sights along the hike
Nowadays, it is no longer possible to climb close to the crater. Hikes to Volcano Pacaya go up till a certain point and then down, following a trail where the terrain is made of solidified lava. The landscape is incredible: the vegetation is very thick to begin with, almost lush. Going up, the terrain becomes sandy and vegetation more sparse, and eventually, closer to the crater, it is completely bare.
At some point, the hike goes next to a bunch of fumaroles. That’s when guides hand over marshmallows and a stick, to melt the marshmallows on the fumaroles.
The view of the volcano hiking up is incredible. On a clear day, when the volcano is not surrounded by clouds, it is possible to see it fuming. Once at the highest point, the view of the surroundings (and of other volcanoes) is simply spectacular, especially at sunset.
Guided Volcano Pacaya Hikes
You can’t hike Volcano Pacaya independently (in any case, I never recommend hiking solo – read here why). Guides can be hired directly at the visitors’ center at the entrance of the national park. However, if you add up the costs of transportation from Antigua and to that the entrance fee to the national park and the mandatory guide (which will cost around $27 USD per person) joining a guided group hike that departs from Antigua may end up being cheaper.
Tours can be booked online, but watch out because while some include the entrance fee to the park, others don’t. The same goes for the tours advertised by the many tour companies around Antigua: it’s important to get a clear understanding of what to expect, not only in terms of what’s included, but also in terms of how the hike is structured. All hikes are pretty much the same: they last anything between 4 to 6 hours, including the 2 hours driving to San Francisco de Sales, the welcome center.
Volcano Pacaya is part of a national park. The entrance fee is 100 Quetzales (less than $13 USD).
Sunset hikes tours typically leave from Antigua at 2:00 pm. You can also go on two days hiking expeditions of Pacaya volcano, where you will be camping near the top and (after a 4:00 am wake up call) see the sunrise.
Gearing up for the hike
Here are some recommendations for what you need to wear and carry for your hike.
- Wear a good pair of hiking boots, as the terrain is quite sandy and slippery.
- Carry a wind jacket: once at the top, it gets incredibly windy and as the sun goes down, the temperatures drop as well.
- If going on a sunset hike, carry a torch or a head lamp because the descent will be almost completely in the dark.
- Pack a small daypack with plenty of water for the duration of the hike.
- Bring small change.
Where to stay when hiking Pacaya volcano
Though it is possible to visit the volcano from Guatemala City, the best starting point for a hike is Antigua Guatemala – not so much in terms of distance (which is more or less the same), but quite simply because Antigua is a lovely city, pleasant to visit, packed with things to do and interesting attractions and with food and accommodation options for any taste, need and budget.
These are the best places to stay in Antigua:
- Casa Elena – quite simply, the best hotel in Antigua.
- Barbara’s Boutique Hostel – a wonderful hostel, but with incredible attention to detail.
- Yellow House – perfect for backpackers and budget travelers.
- San Rafael – located right by Santa Catalina Arch, one of Antigua’s landmarks.
Have you ever hiked Pacaya volcano? What are your tips to make the most of it?
Make sure to read my other posts:
- What You Must Know Before Visiting Guatemala
- The Best Things To Do In Guatemala
- The Best Mayan Sites In Guatemala
- The Best Things To Do In Antigua Guatemala
- The Best Things To Do In Lake Atitlan
- The Best Guide To Chichicastenango Market
- The Best Things To Do In Flores, Guatemala
- The Best Guide To Visiting Tikal
- The Best Guide To Semuc Champey
- The Best Itinerary For Two Weeks In Guatemala
- A Guide To Hiking Stromboli Volcano
- What To Know Before Volcano Boarding On Cerro Negro
- A Complete Guide To Visiting Mount Etna
- A Quick Guide To Vulcano Island
- What You Need To Know Before Hiking Mount Bromo
- A Guide To Hiking The Volcanic Region of Garrotxa