UPDATE: In April 2017, I hiked this volcano a second time — and the experience has changed dramatically. Since the 2014 eruptions, you’re no longer able to climb to the top of the volcano. There’s only one small opening where you can cook marshmallows, and you’re unable to see ANY lava flow. If you’d simply like a closer view of the volcano, this is a nice and easy hike — but if you’re hoping to see red lava, I would no longer recommend it. Of course, conditions could change — that’s the beauty of nature, after all!
“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.
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.
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.)
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
It was simultaneously the most disgusting and the most awesome hot dog I’ve ever eaten.
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.
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.
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, 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!