Hiking Guatemala’s Pacaya Volcano: What to Expect
While Guatemala is not really known for having a bustling tourism industry, there are a ton of gems to see. If you have the opportunity to visit Guatemala, it really is a beautiful country with some wonderful, unique places to visit – including several hikeable volcanoes.
We chose to hike Pacaya Volcano, which stands at 2552 meters high. It is known to be the easiest volcano in the country to hike, and is also an easy day-trip from either Guatemala City or Antigua, so this makes it an ideal volcano hike for first-timers.
Pacaya’s proximity to Antigua is a bonus, because Antigua is a beautiful, colonial style town and one of the most popular tourist destinations in Guatemala. It’s known for showcasing some of the best of Guatemalan culture and architecture, and is also a great place to take Spanish classes.
I realized the night before our trip that there isn’t a ton of information online about hiking Pacaya, so I’m covering the basics of our experience and everything we learned here. Read on, brave hiker!
Top Three Things to Know Before You Hike Pacaya Volcano
1. The National Park that houses Pacaya (Parque Nacional Volcán de Pacaya y Laguna de Calderas) is open from 7am to 5pm.
In my opinion, it is best to go early in the morning before the midday heat hits, though there are also sunset hikes available with a lot of the tour companies.
If you are going during the rainy season like we did (May-September), I would highly recommend going early, because the cloud cover builds up throughout the day.
We started our hike at around 10:30am, and by 11:30am the clouds were heavy and covered a lot of the views from the top.
2. You are required to hire a guide.
When you arrive at the park, there will be guides waiting in the parking lot. They will explain how the hike works, take you to buy your tickets, and then guide you through the entire hike.
There’s also a bathroom off of the parking area for any last minute trips before the hike.
The hike will take you through areas that have been destroyed by lava flow, and it quickly becomes apparent why a guide is necessary.
Guides currently cost Q200.
3. You can rent horses to take you up the mountain.
If you are traveling with kids or just aren’t up for a fairly strenuous hike (also remember that the high altitude makes activities a little harder than normal here), you have the option to rent a horse to take you up the mountain.
If you’re not sure about needing a horse or not, the guides can have a few follow you up the mountain for the first 20 minutes or so in case you change your mind.
Related Reading: The Best Tips for Traveling with Kids
Why You Should Hike Pacaya
1. Proximity & Ease
It’s very easy to get to from either Guatemala City or Antigua, which is one of the most popular and safest tourist destinations in Guatemala.
From Antigua, you can easily hire a guide or join a tour group, which will normally include transportation to the park.
We drove from Guatemala City, and with the exception of a seriously bumpy unpaved road for the last 10 minutes or so of the trek, it was an easy drive.
**Note: I would not attempt to drive yourself unless you are in an SUV or something similar.**
2. Views for Days
The views from the hike are stunning. On a clear day, from several lookout points, you can see Guatemala City, Lake Atitlan, and three other major volcanoes – Volcán de Agua, Fuego, and Acatenango.
Even on a cloudy day in rainy season, we were able to catch glimpses of the volcanoes, and once we got to the top, the view of Pacaya itself was incredible.
3. Marshmallows. Yes, Marshmallows.
One of the most unique and fun parts of the hike comes after you enter the active area.
The last eruption of Pacaya was in 2014, and there is a field of lava rock that still overwhelms the area.
The amazing part is, there are steam vents present that emit enough heat to roast marshmallows. Yes, you read that right! You can roast marshmallows in the middle a field of lava rock. Pretty cool.
Other FAQs on Hiking Pacaya Volcano
1. When Is the Best Time to Visit Pacaya?
According to our guide, who has been hiking the volcano for nine years, the best months to go are November-March.
November marks the beginning of dry season, so there will be considerably less cloud cover, and the weather will be comfortable.
April is the beginning of the hottest time of year in Guatemala; there is some shade during the hike, but the sun is strong is Guate, so the more you can avoid direct sunlight during the hike, the easier it will be.
2. How Long Does it Take to Hike Pacaya?
On average, it takes anywhere from 2.5-4 hours to complete the hike.
The hike is approximately 8km, roundtrip. Depending on your level of fitness, how many photos you stop to take, and how talkative your guide is, completion time will range.
We stopped several times for photos, stopped to roast marshmallows, walked to a higher view point, and made it up and down in roughly 2.5 hours.
3. How Far is Pacaya?
Pacaya is very easy to get to, at just about 1.5 hours from either Guatemala City or Antigua. Traffic in Guatemala can be rough, so it’s best to go early in the morning and finish by early afternoon in order to avoid the majority of rush hour traffic.
4. How Much Does it Cost?
Tours range in price, but will normally include transportation, a guide, and the entrance fee, but not food.
Since we did the trip on our own and didn’t use a tour company, I don’t have tour companies to recommend, but you can easily find some in Antigua through your hotel.
If you do opt to do the trip on your own, here is a breakdown of the fees:
- Entrance to Park: Q50 (~$6.50 USD)
- Guide (Required): Q200 (~$26 USD)
- Horses/Mules (Optional): Q200 (~$26 USD)
5. What Should I Wear?
It goes without saying that comfortable shoes are a necessity.
If you have hiking sneakers or hiking boots, those will be especially helpful on the way down, as there is an option to hike down a steep hill of sand/volcanic rock.
Side note: I completely destroyed my hiking sneakers on the way down, so be careful about choosing to hike down the quicker, sandy route.
Loose, comfortable, lightweight t-shirts or tanks will be most comfortable. A pair of comfortable pants, like leggings – or for guys – cargo shorts or lightweight sweatpants – are a safe bet.
It’s also usually a good idea to wear layers in Guatemala, since the temperature can vary greatly throughout the day. Consider bringing a hoodie, sweatshirt, or lightweight jacket.
6. What Do I Need to Bring With Me?
- Water and/or Gatorade; limited drinks are also available for purchase in the parking lot
- Insect repellent/wipes
- Headlamp or small flashlight if doing the sunset hike (it will be dark when you descend)
- Your camera
You can read more details on the history of Pacaya, get detailed directions to the park (though Waze or Google Maps both work well here!) and see more amazing photos of the volcano all on this site as well. Happy traveling!
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