Hiking Pacaya Volcano is one of the main activities that come up when you search ‘things to do in Antigua, Guatemala’. And while ascending a volcano is definitely an exhilarating activity, I think we should be honest about the fact that it can be physically and mentally exhausting if you’re not adequately prepared.
Honestly hiking Pacaya Volcano was one of my least favourite hikes despite the wonderful views at the end; mostly because everything I had read online skimmed over the truth. So here are my truths about hiking Pacaya Volcano to help you prepare yourself:
The way the hike is orchestrated is unpleasant
Unless you’re renting a car in Guatemala (and I am not sure why anyone would do this), it’s going to be quite a mission to get to the starting point for hiking Pacaya Volcano. The hike is located quite a distance away from the city (1.5 hours away) and requires a vehicle to get there. The most common way is to speak to one of the countless tour operators in Antigua to organize this hike. Their package includes transportation and a guide (because you cannot go without a guide) .
When you get to the starting point of the hike, you will be overwhelmed by men and their horses. They are trying to get you to take a horse to the top of the volcano. They’re quite pushy… to the point of being unpleasant. Even when you decline their offers, they continue to follow the group up the volcano.
Now I get that people change their mind and might decide they want a horse later on in the hike, But there is no need for the horses to be absorbed by the group; they really need to give the hikers some breathing space; riders and horses should actually form their own group as they can go much faster.. But no, we all become part of this large group of horses, riders and hikers.
The group has to move at the pace of the horses- which is infinitely faster than humans- and the whole thing is a mess. I think I saw the guide for one 10 minute interval before he disappeared into the chaos of our 20+ person group.
He did not offer any information, help or guidance while we did this hike. Furthermore, it’s a clearly marked path up and down so honestly… he wasn’t needed for navigation either.
The feeling of horses breathing down my neck while I ascend steep inclines is quite unpleasant.
The slopes aren’t gentle and you’re pressed for time
I don’t consider myself a particularly unfit person but let me tell you that hiking Pacaya Volcano is no joke! It’s a steep climb and you ascend very quickly. You climb around 610 metres swiftly; it is the elevation of the volcano that makes it tough. You don’t need to be extremely fit, but people with joint problems, severe back problems or those who have a poor fitness level, should probably not attempt this hike. Many bloggers are advertising this as an easy hike but I’ve done much easier hikes!. While it’s probably easier than neighbouring Acetenango, hiking Pacaya Volcano is not a relaxed way to pass time.
The views from the hike are also beautiful and worth stopping for. Unfortunately because you only arrive at Pacaya around 4pm to start the hike, and you want to be at the top for sunset, you can’t take too many stops. You need to finish sooner rather than later. I suppose this is another way the persistent touts get you to hire their horses just so you can speed up.
If I knew I had to speed hike, I don’t know if I would’ve signed up for this.
Despite all of that,
The views from the top are 100% worth the struggle. It’s a stunning vista overlooking the entire surrounding area. Of course how much time you have on the top depends on how fast you fly up the volcano.
What’s really worth going for is the fumaroles. A fumarole ( smoke hole) is an opening in the crust of the Earth and is often found in areas surrounding volcanoes, which emits steam and volcano gases.That’s when guides hand over marshmallows and a stick, to melt the marshmallows in the fumaroles. With the steam from the fumaroles and the sun setting behind us, Expat Dragon & I managed to get some awesome photos. It made up for everything. Kinda.
Remember that you descend the volcano in darkness after the sun sets. Of course our guide disappeared and we weren’t sure when it was time to leave. We saw him at the bottom looking smug. I could only roll my eyes.
How much does it cost to visit PAcaya?
Pacaya Volcano tours usually cost only Q200 (excluding a 50Q entrance fee that you pay in cash at the entrance). Plus, with a tour, the private shuttle only takes 1.5 hours to get there. While I really didn’t like my tour and the way it operated, I don’t see another cost/time-saving strategy. To do the hike, you have to have a guide which costs 200QZ (plus the extra entrance fee). I also think it’s completely inconvenient to use public transport to get to Pacaya. So,a tour will save you a lot of time and money especially if you’re alone or just a small group.
Which tour operator did you use?
Based on the recommendation from Travel Made Me Do It, we went with A Viajar Guatemala. Honestly, I don’t know if the experience would be better with another tour agency; if you went with another company and had a dissimilar experience, please leave me a comment below.
Note: Many tour agencies use photos of molten lava flowing down the side of the volcano itself. Don’t be fooled by this as it can only happen if there has been a recent eruption.
What to wear when hiking Pacaya Volcano?
It is a must to wear proper closed shoes; hiking boots would be best. Pacaya Volcano is quite steep so it gets cold very quickly; don’t forget to bring a jacket along or you will freeze at the top when the sun is gone.
In addition, I would bring along a torch and a lot of water!
Where to stay in Antigua?
I strongly recommend the property I stayed at in Antigua called Hotel Casona del Lago. It was operated by a team of wonderful women. The property is centrally located and extremely comfortable. Their rates also include a delicious breakfast!
WHAT ARE THE RATINGS ON PANDA’S RATING SCALE?
Hiking Pacaya Volcano is definitely an amazing experience but I do think it’s important to know what to expect so you can be mentally prepared. Don’t miss the opportunity to get up close and personal with an active volcano. Plus, you’ll also get to see a stunning view of the other volcanoes in the region: Fuego, Agua and Acatenango. All in all, I am proud of myself for hiking Pacaya volcano even though there were times where the speed, altitude and incline made me want to throw up!
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Have you considered visiting hiking Pacaya Volcano in Guatemala? Or have I just put it on your list? Let me know in the comments below!