Jul 24, 2012

Posted by in Blog, Featured, Postcards | 14 Comments

Hot Dogs Roasting On An Open Volcano

“Pretty lady, you want marshmallows for volcano?”

“Amiga, please, compra marshmallows!”

Marshmallows? Why are the ninos trying to sell us marshmallows for hiking up a volcano? I’m confused. But then again, I’m traveling in a foreign country, so that’s nothing new.

I think I’ll buy a 25 cent walking stick instead.

We were, after all, about to hike the most active volcano in Guatemala.

View of lava on Pacaya Volcano in Guatemala

Climbing up Pacaya Volcano is a great day trip from the city of Antigua, and something that my friend Teddy and I had immediately known we would like to do. Tours are easy to find and leave every day from Antigua in the morning and afternoon.

We met our spunky little man of a guide, Sergio, and set off with a group of about 25 people.

Our guide on Pacaya Volcano in Guatemala

The 1.5 hour trek, through dense Rambo-like foliage, wasn’t too hard-going and had lovely vistas of the surrounding fields and hills, all wrapped in green and mist.

The trail eventually turned to lava rock and dust, and at one point, it looked like we were walking on the face of the moon… or some other planet. (Idk which; I am bad at space.)

Climbing up Pacaya Volcano in Guatemala

The last half hour of the climb was a bit of challenge, and definitely made me question our choice to participate in “all-you-can-drink-beer” event at a random bar the night before.

(FYI, not really worth the $6, unless you are into urine-scented smoke machines and such a high guy:girl ratio that Teddy feared we were in a gay bar.)

Terrible face from smoke.

The ONLY photo from the night prior. Note the smoke. And the face.

It was a steep ascent up slippery black lava rocks – almost like climbing up a sand dune. I was doing everything I could not to bite it hard, and was very appreciative of my walking stick during the mad scramble.

Despite our ill-advised time in the all-male-all-you-can-drink bar, we were somehow the first and second people to make it to the top. (Not that we’re competitive or anything.)

And we were not at all ready for what awaited us there.

We had read about the spewing lava, but figured that our guidebooks were being hyperbolic.

Lava on Pacaya Volcano in Guatemala

We would probs be able to see the lava, but not actually get close to it, right?


What about personal safety and lawsuits?

Apparently, not high on the list of concerns in Guatemala.

Because, we were standing ON TOP OF AN ACTIVE VOLCANO.

Standing on top of Pacaya Volcano in Guatemala

Umm, what?

While walking slipping around on Pacaya Volcano’s porous black rock, we could actually see the red glow beneath us. It was incredibly hot (duh, we were standing on lava), and my legs were literally burning (they remained red for a few hours!).

The soles of my sneakers even started to melt.

It was difficult not to trip or fall, and I’m not gonna lie: we were pretty terrified the first few minutes we were up there. Thank sunshine for the sticks, or some of the stray dogs would have been treated to a nice grilled Susan & Teddy sammy.

Lava on Pacaya Volcano in Guatemala

Judging by my fake smile, I am guessing this is still during the terrified phase.

Well worth the fear, though. I can’t overstate how cool it is to watch lava flow around and underneath you.

After hanging out for a few minutes, we got a little more used to our surroundings (as used to it as you can be, when your surroundings are spewing the same substance that destroyed Pompeii) and began to relax a little.

That’s when other people started opening their backpacks and busting out… marshmallows.

SHUTUP. That’s why the kids were selling marshmallows – you could roast them on the lava!

Roasting hot dogs on Pacaya Volcano in Guatemala

Thank you, Balthazar, for having an awesome name AND bringing hot dogs.

Luckily, we had made some friends on the way up who had inside knowledge. One of our new friends, a Swiss dude named Balthazar (yup, really), had brought hot dogs and was kind enough to share them with us.

Roasting hot dogs on Pacaya Volcano in Guatemala

A new kind of grill.

It was simultaneously the most disgusting and the most awesome hot dog I’ve ever eaten.

Roasting hot dogs on Pacaya Volcano in Guatemala

Belly full of undercooked hot dog, I then stole a minute to myself. Now, I am not a religious person, but nature causes me to sometimes feel quite spiritual. That moment, with Volcano Pacaya’s scalding lava flowing all around me, was one of those times.

I was completely awestruck by the beauty and power of my surroundings.

Lava on Pacaya Volcano in Guatemala

Wouldn't you be?

By the time we started our descent, the sun had set and we were all hiking in a line with our headlamps on. Well, more like sliding. I longed for my skis, as it would have made my time with the slippery volcanic scree much more enjoyable.

Behind us, Pacaya Volcano glowed, and we stopped often to watch the red hot lava ooze down her sides.

Lava flowing down Pacaya Volcano in Guatemala

Conclusion: Mother Nature is fucking awesome.

(Mostly in the original, “profoundly reverential,” “somewhat-scary-it’s-so-powerful” sense of the word, but also in the “totally tubular” sense that I, as a typical American, overuse with alarming frequency.)

Climbing Pacaya Volcano

Climbing Pacaya Volcano, and thereby roasting hot dogs over bubbling lava, is definitely on my list of the most fun and silly things I’ve done.

(And you’re talking to the girl who grew up in the town that was home to the world’s largest pig! RIP Big Norm.)

Next time, though, you can bet I’ll be buying the marshmallows.

Have you ever hiked an active volcano? Were you scared? 

Pacaya Volcano (Volcan Pacaya) is a bumpy 1.5 hour bus ride from Antigua. The tour is offered by vendors all over the city for morning or afternoon departures. I’d recommend the afternoon trip for the beautiful sunset and post-sunset views of the volcano on the way down. Bring water, a headlamp, and something to roast!

  1. I am so, so, so envious. I wanted to visit (not climb) an active volcano while I was in Costa Rica, but sickness cancelled the excursion. Now I’m thinking that Guatemala sounds even better. I’m adding this to my bucket list. Thanks for sharing your experience! I’ll remember to bring hot dogs since I don’t especially like marshmallows.

    • Aw, bummer! Guatemala has SO MANY volcanoes. And, it’s much cheaper than Costa Rica.. so I’d definitely recommend it for your next adventure! It is one of my favorite countries, too — the people there are insanely friendly, and the culture is fascinating.

  2. I did Pacaya as well and brought marshmallows – although you only really rent the stick as the kids want it back when you return.
    Ayngelina recently posted..Torn between two worldsMy Profile

    • Oh, that’s true! I kind of forgot about that part – guess I was just glad to have the stick on the way up.

  3. Hahaha! I hiked Pacaya a couple of years ago, and LOVED it. The wind was blowing over the lava toward us, so we weren’t able to cook any fabulously processed foods over the lava (bummer). I did think I was going to get beaten by a 5 yr old girl in a bathroom, though… she was trying to sell me a hiking stick. I regretted not buying that later…
    Carla recently posted..Pooping AbroadMy Profile

  4. Climbing Pacaya Volcano is definitely on my list of things to do when I return to Guatemala. It seems like a great adventure – I will definitely remember to bring some marshmallows!
    Sky recently posted..California DreamsMy Profile

  5. I haven’t hiked and active volcano, but a dormant one! My husband and I hiked Cerro Chato in the Arenal region of Costa Rica. Hardest thing I’ve ever done but was totally worth it for the view of the green lagoon in the crater!

    I bet this was so cool though, if I ever make it to Guatemala and the lava is still flowing, I’ll DEFINITELY be doing this!
    Danielle recently posted..Hiking Torrey PinesMy Profile

  6. I must say, I am jealous. We climbed the Pacaya recently and we didn’t get to see any lava 🙁 but we did get to roast marshmallows. Nonetheless, it was still a nice hike and totally worth it.
    Jazzy recently posted..6 Places to Eat in Antigua for CheapMy Profile

    • Oh, really?! Maybe the lava isn’t as prominent anymore? It’s been several years. Glad you got to roast some marshmallows though!

  7. Margaret says:

    My boyfriend and I are visiting Antigua in two weeks. So glad to have come across this blog post. We will definitely be booking a hike to witness this in person. Thank you!

  8. I will be in Guatemala and Antigua on Feb. 28th and would like to arrange for a hike up the volcano. Is this possible. The group I am with will be shopping and seeing in the town of Antigua, but I would like to hike up the volcano.

    Thank you,


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