Climbing Pacaya Volcano, in Guatemala


Before I went to Guatemala, researching on possible travel itineraries, I came across an amazing activity that I booked straight away: climbing Acatenango volcano. This involved a difficult 7 hours hike, spending the night on top, at over 3900 meters, and reaching the summit in the morning just in time for sunrise. What is special about this, you might ask? Well, right next to Acatenango stands tall Fuego, a volcano that erupts pretty much every 10 minutes.  I booked my adventure with Ox Expeditions, one of the safest agencies in Antigua. However, the plan I’ve made at home didn’t go as expected and I managed to get the flu on the flight to Guatemala. The day before my hike I woke up with fever, muscle pain, difficulties breathing, no energy and definitely not ready to climb a volcano.

Mighty Fuego erupting every 10 minutes, next to Acatenango

It started to become very clear to me that my so awaited climb of Acatenango is not going to happen. No matter how many medicines I took, my body was not capable of more than getting up from the hammock. I literally spent most of my Christmas Day in a hammock, in the beautiful garden of Selina Antigua Hostel, where I stayed in Antigua, because of the flu. If you want to stay in an Instagramable hostel I recommend you Selina Antigua, their entire building and gardens are superb. The location couldn’t be more perfect either, 5 minutes walk from St Catalina’s Arch and next to the food market from Iglesia de la Merced. I only paid 120 quetzals/night (about £12). You can check the latest prices here.


Pacaya Volcano

Pacaya smoking

I didn’t want to leave Guatemala without doing some physical activity so after going to the local pharmacist and stocking up on antibiotics (yes, my flu came with the entire package, including an infection), as soon as I started to feel better I booked myself on a day hike to Pacaya volcano, the bad boy of the country. Not as high as Acatenango, Pacaya is still a challenge because it constantly erupts violently and, sometimes, you can see the lava on top. After its last eruption, in 2014, the access to the crater has been closed for tourists. Back then, Pacaya erupted so badly that it covered with ash both Guatemala City and Antigua. The ash and debris column raised up to 1500 meters in the air. However, there is still a path going up to the crater and some adventurous tourists still go there. You shouldn’t though, as it’s closed for a reason, which is safety.


Prepare your trip to Guatemala with the Lonely Planet Guidebooks

Guatemala travel guide, 6th Edition Oct 2016 by Lonely Planet Central America on a Shoestring travel guide - Guatemala (20.492Mb), 9th Edition Oct 2016 by Lonely Planet Volunteer: A Traveller's Guide, 4th Edition Jul 2017 by Lonely Planet


Climbing Pacaya – the guided tours

The best way to climb Pacaya is through a tour, which you can buy in Antigua. All the hostels seem to be selling the same tour, one leaving at 8AM in the morning and another one at 2PM. As the afternoon one coordinates with the sunset, I would recommend this one. You have to also keep in mind that it takes about 2 hours to reach Pacaya National Park, as the traffic in Guatemala is horrendous.


I bought the tour for 120 quetzals (£12), as they had a special 15% off promotion, because of the winter holidays.

As our van reached the parking lot from the volcano, all the 15-people squeezed inside got off and we were directed to the small ticket booth, to pay the 50 quetzals fee to enter the park. This is the equivalent of around £5. You can’t enter the park without a certified guide.

Then we waited. And waited. It seemed that there was no guide to greet us, so they had to go get one from the nearby village. Meanwhile, analysing my breathing and coughing situation in the dusty volcanic ash, I decided that the wise thing to do would be to rent a horse. So, for another 100 quetzals (£10) I found myself on top of Tequila, a horse led up by a boy no older than 7 years old. As the name suggested, my little horsy was not very good with directions, so you can imagine a terrified me riding a horse that wasn’t really walking straight, at some point even bumping into the other members of the group.

A very sick me and my new friend, Tequila

“I’m sorry, really sorry”, I kept saying, embarrassed. I was the only one from the group who rented a horse, which wasn’t really something to be proud of, especially that the previous year I climbed Villarica volcano in Chile and a few years back I did the 4 days Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu, in Peru.

The horse is only allowed to go up to a certain point, so from there I had to get off and wait for the rest of the group. Luckily it was just us and another group on Pacaya at that point, which made it quite a special visit as we had the volcano all to ourselves. As I mentioned before, you can’t get to the crater of the volcano. Instead, you descend in a caldera created by the lava rivers with every eruption that took place recently.


Pacaya roasted marshmallows


The scenery here is spectacular, with solidified lava and a small path that goes through it. I followed the guide and my group, only to find myself that I almost couldn’t breath due to the volcanic dust. Damn you flu, I kept telling myself. Luckily someone else in the group had problems with their sore throat so they shared a couple of Strepsils with me, which helped me stop chocking with my own cough. We passed by the tiny “Lava shop”, a wooden hut inside the caldera where someone usually sells all sorts of lava-made souvenirs, but on this day, it was closed. Another 5 minutes and we stopped. Our guide pulled a bag full of marshmallows from his backpack and handed them to us, together with sticks. Because Pacaya is an active volcano, you can roast marshmallows by sticking them inside the lava holes, where the temperature significantly raises and it’s quite hard to keep your hand in for long.


A sunset to die for

From our fun experience with the marshmallows, we moved on, heading up from the caldera, on a different route. The volcanic soil was slippery, and I would take one step up and two down. It felt exhausting, but I was very grateful that I carried my walking sticks all the way from the UK. As you know, climbing Acatenango….


Through coughs and feelings of suffocation, I finally reached the top, about 15 minutes after my group did. I almost begged the guide to wait for me to take some photos, but it wasn’t the case, as everyone was fascinated with the sunset that we spent easily another 15 minutes up there. At the horizon, Fuego was having his normal show, spitting fire and ashes.

The way down was mostly sliding, as the ground was very unstable. Fun though, as long as you could keep up and don’t fall and get your clothes covered in ash.


And there is lava!

Back at the entrance to the caldera, we stopped for a quick sip of water and to take the lava dust out of our shoes. As I was wearing boots I didn’t have this problem, so I went around the corner to take another photo of Pacaya in the golden light, before the sun went down completely. And then, as soon as the cloud surrounding the crater moved away, there it was…. Lava! You can’t really see it in the picture, but you can spot 3 red dots. In reality it was much more noticeable. I did wish that it would erupt, just for a little bit, as I knew it did put on a show a couple of days before, for the evening tours. But I was still very happy to see lava, even if it was just a little bit at the top.


What do you need to know if you want to climb Pacaya volcano:

  • Book the cheapest tour you can find in Antigua as they are all the same. You will be picked up by a van from your hostel and receive exactly the same package as everybody else.
  • Do this hike in the afternoon. In the morning it can get very hot and you won’t see the sunset from the top either.
  • Bring at least 2 litres of water. Whilst the hike itself is not very long, the terrain is quite steep and unstable as you walk through lava dust.
  • Bring walking sticks or rent wooden ones from the children at the entrance of the national park. Your knees will thank you, especially on the way down. And on the way up, they will be a great support to lean on during the steeper parts of the trail. A wooden stick costs 5 quetzals.
  • Bring hiking boots if you can. I carried mine from the UK and didn’t regret it, as I had a good grip and didn’t slide as much as the others did. Plus, I got no dust inside them.
  • Bring 50 quetzals with you to pay the entrance to the park, which is not included in your tour price.
  • You can always rent a horse for 100 quetzals. There will be children with horses following the group on the trail, in case you feel like giving up.
  • Bring a jacket. As soon as the sun goes down, the temperature drops drastically.
  • Bring a flashlight. When you will descend the volcano it will be dark and there will be no visibility.
  • The trail to the caldera is about 2 miles long. However, don’t think that it’s easy. It is very steep, and it will take 1.5 to 2 hours to get to the top.

Have you ever climbed an active volcano? Would you if you had the chance?


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Traveler. Dreamer. Cat lover. Wondering around the world with my backpack and my camera. Contributing to make the world a better place.


  1. How terrible you got the flu! I suppose the silver lining was the beautiful garden at Selina Antigua Hostel. I’m happy to read that you did get better and hiked Pacaya volcano. That was cool to read about roasting marshmallows inside the lava holes!

  2. Wow what an amazing sounding place to go to explore, but what a nightmare to be ill at the time. That sunset is just beautiful as well and the roasting marshmallows in the lava holes just wow!

  3. Wow, what an amazing experience! I would love to say that I would totally try and hike up the side of a volcano, but I’m not sure that I have the endurance to make it. It sounds like you had a wonderful time, and made a lot of lasting memories.

  4. I admire your persistence, where a lesser person like myself might have backed out. I was enticed by your description and found myself adding ‘climb a volcano’ to my bucket list. The photographs really looked amazing and Tequila does sound like he epitomized the name.

  5. Wow, I really enjoyed this and I’m bookmarking this as a must do item. I’m currently planning a trip to Guatemala and Belize so your tips will be coming in super useful. Loved the photos too. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Sorry that you weren’t feeling too well through the trip, I can imagine the volcanic dust did not help your flu at all. The trip, however, did land you with some really good pictures and it’s nice to see that you managed to catch a glimpse of the lava. Also, it is quite intriguing that you could roast your marsh mellows in the lava holes. The sunset is definitely one to die for!

  7. Wow I would love to visit this part of Central America. So far I have only been to Nicaragua and Costa Rica but Guatemala is defintiely high on my list. Everybody keeps telling me that it is a dangerous place to visit but you post conviced me of the opposite. Hope to visit pacaya volcano very soon.

  8. I’m amazed to know that you can hike somewhere to witness active volcanic eruptions. I’m not a hiker myself and had given up on it years ago, but this is totally worth it. And it’s cool toasting those marshmallows! 🙂 The view in Pacaya is indeed breathtaking.

  9. So sad you had the flu for your planned excursion but glad you were able to make the best of it and adjust your plans. And what a cool story that you roasted marshmallows on a volcano!

  10. Amazing photos! I didn’t have the opportunity to hike this due to bad weather but I am thankful I could still see the volcano lava from town in Antigua- I remember it so well!

  11. Wow! I had no idea Guatemala was so stunning! I have heard about it, but seeing these pictures is proof that it’s beautiful! Will definitely keep this in mind if I travel there, loved all your tips!

  12. Oh my god, makes me want to go hiking right now! These photos are great! I once hiked a sleeping volcano (Mt Longonot in Kenya) and the hike up was tough! Was the “volcano rubble” a problem here?

  13. It’s frustrating when you have a trio all planned then something like that happens. I hope you can go back and experience the Acatenango volcano. But still, you had a great experience, that sunset indeed is to die for. Lovely photos!

  14. This looks one of those trips that I would just dream about. Witnessing volcano, roasting marshmallows…I mean everything looks something unattainable. Great work with pictures 🙂

  15. Sorry to hear you were sick (I know that feeling all to well), but at least you still had an incredible experience. Those views looked absolutely amazing! How difficult was the hiking? It looks like something I’d love to tackle.

  16. I’m so sorry your trip and Christmas was interrupted with the flu. What a horrible way to spend time on a trip. At least you still got to climb one of the volcanos and had an amazing time even with the remaining flu. And got to roast marashmellows into a hot lava area!

  17. Poor you. Falling sick few days before an anticipated trek. I tried to spot the three dots of Lava but I had no luck. I am not very good with smoke since I am highly allergic. So guess this climb is something I won’t be doing.

  18. I’m so sorry to hear you were poorly on your trip but also glad you didn’t miss out, it looks incredible and your pictures are absolutely stunning! I can’t believe how cheap the tour was too, so little to pay for see something so truly beautiful.

  19. Aw, I’d hate to get sick before a big trip because then you might not get to experience it “fully.” I admire you for climbing post-sickness, but sometimes exercise can be refreshing after feeling down. Thanks for sharing, I felt like like I was there with you.

  20. This sounds amazing and for sure you had a great time. Now, I want to take this tour and roast some marshmallows with the lava heat. That hotel you stayed in is on my list for sure. Love gardens and beautiful pictures.

  21. What a wonderful experience and your photos are amazing. Such a shame that you caught the flu and weren’t able to climb the Acatenango volcano. Your determination to tackle the guided trek to the Pacaya volcano is commendable and was obviously SO worth it. Thank you so much for sharing.

  22. This is totally worth the effort! The view is breathtaking and I’m so sorry you were feeling under the weather during that time. I think it’s great that you pushed through with climbing Pacaya. The pictures are just stunning!

  23. This sounds like an incredible experience. I’m sorry you got sick and didn’t get to do the planned activities but kudos to you for still making it up Pacaya, your photos are stunning and I can see the lava from the volcano!

  24. I didn’t realize there was an active volcano in the world which erupted quite so often. I am sure it must have been an amazing experience. And the pictures look great too. I would love to make a trek like this. Sorry you got sick for part of it though. That would be rough. I have been sick on vacations before and it’s not fun.

  25. This trip looks like A LOT of fun! I’m sure your pictures don’t do it justice although you captured some pretty amazing images. I’m glad you got this experience! Thanks for the review.

  26. So sorry your trip to Acatenango fell through! There was definitely no way you could do it sick, though–that hike kicked our butts! The marshmallows and sunset at Pacaya look lovely, too. 🙂 My husband climbed Pacaya and Acatenango both, but there was nothing that could get me on another volcano so soon after Acatenango, so I skipped it. He enjoyed the trip, though! I agree with the advice of just booking the cheapest tour–they all get packed together anyway.

  27. so sorry you were ill for part of this trip! I’m so not an outdoorsy kind of girl so the answer is no, I wouldn’t climb anything haha. but I like to live vicariously through others! I know, I’m boring! !

  28. This sounds like an amazing trip. Sorry to hear you got the flu and couldn’t hike up Acatenango like you had wanted but good for you on going up Pacaya even with your illness!

  29. Getting sick on vacation is the worst! It’s so disappointing when we have to change our plans, but it sounds like you made the best of it and still had an amazing time. Sounds like a fun climb!

  30. This sounds like such an adventurous trip! I am feeling so much excitement reading about it and the pictures are just so scenic and beautiful. I’m sorry you got sick and couldnt stick to the plan and the activities but you were great by still making it up Pacaya!

  31. Loved reading your post. I should admit I never thought about Guatemala as a travel destination. Guatemala has never been on my radar (I don’t know really why ?) but now I feel like I definitely need to go. Of course this country is commonly known for its nice people and its high crime rate, especially in Guatemala City. But there are so many more things to discover. It’s got everything you could want in a proper Americas adventure: gorgeous volcanic beaches, mirror lakes, jungle, Maya ruins and friendly locals.

  32. It looks like you really had an amazing experience there. Your photos are so breathtaking and it makes me wanted to visit that place someday.

  33. That looks like such an incredible experience and something I would love to do. Your photos are stunning, and you really captured the beauty.

  34. So sorry you were so sick,doesn’t that almost always happens when one gets ready for vacation.
    This is something I wouldn’t mind doing and seeing at one point in my life.

  35. This would be a dream come true for me as I love studying volcanology and would love to see a volcano up close. Such a shame you caught the flu but glad you managed some of the trip you planned

  36. Getting the flu while on vacation sucks! I hate when that happens, I’m glad that you managed to clim a volcano anyway, it sounds like quite an adventure!

  37. What an extraordinary activity to do whilst on holiday. From exploring the volcano to roasting marshmallows. You’ve put it some handy tips that I’m sure will help others especially about when is the best time to do the trek and tips on costs.

  38. Wow what a magical experience and I’m sure you have captured some memories that you will never forget. My husband would love to photograph here as its just so exquisite. I’m not a hiker but for someone who is and thinking of visiting this post will be super helpful

  39. Wow, that sunset is truely one of the most beautiful ones I have seen! Hats off to you for completing your journey even though your health wasn’t supportig you. I must say it was once in a lifetime experience, I would love to climb a volcano someday.

  40. Gosh! How very exciting, I am totally in awe that you climbed a volcano. What an experience. And toasting marshmallows too, that is fab. Horrible that you got so poorly and had to change your plans, but you did it in the end. I imagine it was worth it.

  41. It’s a shame you weren’t able to climb Acatenango. I think that would have been an exciting trip. I am glad you were still able to do another hike, because it looks like the scenery is beautiful. I hope you have another chance to go!

  42. What an incredible trip to go on, although I’m sorry to hear you were so ill and had to change your original plans. What an experience though, to say you’ve toasted marshmallows in a volcano. Some really great tips for this trip as well

  43. oooh!! That looks really wonderful. I always wanted to try climbing someday. I will definitely put this on my goals this 2018.

  44. Heavens, what a sight and what an experience! Climbing a volcano is such an adventure itself, I can’t even imagine how one would feel if allowed to walk on the crater, too. You’ve mentioned that this wasn’t the first volcano you visited – do you have a favourite?

  45. This has got to be one of the most beautiful hiking post I have come across in quite a long time. Beautifully spoken of your time on the trail. And great pointers as well.

  46. I will be honest I am not much of a hiker, but I never thought you could hike up into a volcano. The must of been an experience in a half, and who would of thought you could roast marshmallows up there as that must of been fun for the kids and the adults!

  47. What a true adventure! Sorry you fell sick this has happened to me before and I’ve had to change travel plans, but its all part of the experience. Thanks for the instagrammable hotel term I’m sure to use it all the time now! I really enjoyed reading your post and I’m glad you at least got to see a bit of lava, I’m not sure if I ever want to get that close to the action though!

  48. Never had the opportunity to climb a volcano but wouldn’t miss one. Sorry to hear you were under the weather in such a beautiful place and inspite of that you still managed to have yourself loads of fun.

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