One of our most unforgettable experiences that we had in Guatemala was hiking up Pacaya Volcano notwithstanding we are NOT a hiking family. My family loves adventure travel provided there isn’t too much sweat and exercise involved. If I can book a speed boat to explore rivers and untouched jungles, rather than a long hot trek, or some electric bikes to zip along undiscovered paths, I’m pretty much a shoe-in for mother of the year. However, if I book a hike, any hike, but most certainly one that is a 5 km (3.1 miles) hoof up 2350 metres (7700 ft) on an active volcano, it better be good. Otherwise, my three teenagers would NEVER let me forget!
So, it is with visible relief that I am happy to report that this hike was worth every step we took. If you are trying to figure out what are some of the “must do” activities or excursions in Guatemala, I would have to say that hiking up Pacaya Volcano is one of them. It was a tough hike in certain spots, but the panoramic views at the top were absolutely stunning. It was an exhilarating experience to realize how close we were at the summit to the smoking crater above and the lava fields below that would have burnt the soles off our shoes had we taken one step too many.
When we first arrived in Guatemala, my family of five (three teenagers aged 14, 15 and 17 years old) headed to Antigua for 3 nights. Antigua is a beautifully preserved colonial city surrounded by volcanoes in southern Guatemala. It has dozens of pretty churches and ruins to explore along cobblestone roads. We ate at fantastic restaurants and stayed at a beautiful hotel called Posada del Angel. From Antigua, we did a couple of excursions, one of which was the hike up Pacaya Volcano.
For more information about our time in Antigua, please read Antigua Guatemala: 8 Reasons Why It is Worth The Fuss.
Self Drive or Not To Pacaya Volcano
Pacaya volcano is only a 50 km drive from Antigua Guatemala. Nevertheless, we decided against renting a car for two reasons. First, we had read that it was dangerous on the roads. Was it? From what we saw, it really wasn’t. This was true for our whole trip in Guatemala. The highways were well paved and lit. The main highway in and out of Guatemala City had lots of traffic but we didn’t see any crazy driving. In most other places, there wasn’t very much traffic at all. Further, we never once experienced an encounter with another Guatemalan in person or in a car that made us question our safety. Nevertheless, there were travel advisories warning tourists about driving at night or in more remote areas. We did not want to take any unnecessary risks.
Second, we wanted to enjoy ourselves without worrying about the details. I didn’t want to be concerned about finding our way or wondering whether we could be putting ourselves into a risky situation. Instead, we hired a private car, driver, and bilingual guide for the day through a local tour company called Sin Fronteras.
Hiking Pacaya Volcano
The hike was described as “easy to moderate”. Yah, no! As mentioned before, we climbed 7700 ft or 3.1 miles to reach the summit. It took us 80 minutes to hike up and 40 minutes to walk down. I understand that this pace is pretty good. Most people take around 2 hours to reach the top.
The path up Pacaya Volcano was not dangerous. There were no death defying drops from the path. Instead, for most of the trek, lots of trees lined the footpath. Accordingly, I would not be concerned about bringing young children on the hike provided they are physically capable to do the climb.
Finely grounded volcanic rock lined the trail. This was both good and bad. The good part was that the trail was relatively gentle on your feet. However, the rocks settled loosely on the trail and they were slippery in steep sections. I slipped on the descent and rolled over a couple of times. I didn’t hurt myself but I was covered in dirt.
Overall, the hike had a consistent slope that was manageable with regular breaks. There are a few very steep parts but nothing that required us to scramble up using our hands. For most of the hike, we were hiking in the shade. Overall, the temperature was very pleasant both during our hike and while spending time at the top.
Lastly, there were hardly any other hikers on the trail. At the top, there were only around 20 people. It was a very large space so it felt like we had Pacaya Volcano to ourselve.
The Summit of Pacaya Volcano
The summit of Pacaya Volcano was a jaw dropping experience. We had 360º view of Guatemala and it was stunning. In one direction, we saw the flatlands nestled next to the Pacific Ocean. In another, we had the Pacaya Volcano ‘s smoking crater and its lava fields below. And still in another, we saw Fuego Volcano a short distance away, the second of the three active volcanos in Guatemala. Just months before, several people were killed in a village below Fuego when it unexpectedly erupted. As we watched Fuego smoke and were reminded of these events, we were keenly aware of our proximity to Pacaya.
The Details of Hiking Pacaya Volcano
Here is key information about the experience.
- The entrance fee is 50 Quetzals or $7 USD per person.
- You have to hire a community guide to accompany you on the hike regardless of whether you are on an organized tour already. It cost 200 Quetzals or $26 USD. Most likely, the community guide will only speak Spanish. Our community guide was 83 years old! He said that on some days, he climbs up and down Pacaya Volcano three times. He was amazing.
- Walking sticks are available for purchase at the bottom of the hike. They cost $1 USD. I highly recommend that you purchase one. We relied heavily on ours.
- You can rent a horse with a handler instead of hiking to the peak. This cost 200 Quetzal ($30 USD). If you are physically challenged in some way, I would highly recommend renting a horse. This seemed the way most families were transporting young children. The views at the top of Pacaya Volcano and along the way were stunning and very much worth the cost.
- Proper closed-toe shoes are a must. Hiking shoes would be best, but running shoes with a tread is enough. Do not hike up with flip flops.
- Bring a light fleece or windbreaker. On the hike up, I took my fleece on and off constantly. At the summit, you will definitely need one. It is windy and your body temperature will cool after the climb.
- You can purchase drinks and snacks at the entrance. They cost more than elsewhere, but they are available.
- Locals were selling snacks and drinks at the top in case you need more.
- There were clean modern toilets available at the start of the hike, but nothing at the top.
Our Private Tour
Our private tour cost $70 USD per person or $350 for the five of us including all entrance fees and the community guide. We booked this tour with a local travel company called Sin Fronteras. This was more expensive than other options, but we were happy with our decision.
- We had a large private van where we could spread out. My husband and sons are all very tall (6’6″ or 198 cm) so leg room is always a concern.
- We had a driver and a bilingual guide. For the 3 hour return drive, we were provided with lots and lots of cultural and historical information about Guatemala and Antigua. We asked a ton of questions and learned a lot.
- As mentioned before, we also had a community guide, a local man who accompanied us on the hike.
- Further, we hiked up Pacaya Volcano at a pace that worked for everyone without anyone feeling like they had to climb faster than what they were capable. Our bilingual guide was in the lead with our fastest son and our community guide was at the back keeping an eye on our slowest member.
- We had regular breaks which allowed us to rest and kept our family together. Ultimately, we set the pace for these breaks.
- We were able to explore the summit without a schedule.
- Finally, we were completely left alone by the locals. No one followed us up with horses trying to get us to ride them or purchase anything. Regardless, we knew that we would pay a fair price for whatever we bought.
Do You Need a Bilingual Guide or Private Vehicle to Hike Pacaya Volcano?
The short answer is “no”. There were group tours from Antigua to Pacaya Volcano that offered cheaper travel and touring options. Also, Guatemala has excellent public transportation. I don’t know specifically how you would get to Pacaya Volcano from Antigua by bus, but it is a worthwhile option to explore if you are on a tight budget.
The pathway up Pacaya Volcano was very wide and easy to follow. You are not going to get lost trekking up the volcano with a community guide regardless of whether you speak Spanish or not.
It is much more a question of preference and budget. We prefer the type of tour that we took as it provided us with lots of comfort and support, but there is no reason that you would need a bilingual guide or private vehicle to do this epic hike up Pacaya Volcano.
Pacaya Volcano is an exciting destination and one that I would highly recommend that you add to your itinerary on your next trip to Guatemala. Depending on your physical condition, it could be a difficult climb, but you can hike at your own pace or ride a horse to the top. The panoramic views from the summart are mesmerizing and will leave you speechless. It was a thrill for us to be so close to an active volcano. Definitely, it was one of our highlights of our Guatemalan trip.
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