Volcán de Pacaya


Volcán de Pacaya is a massive, smoking hulk of a volcano on the outskirts of Guatemala City. It has been erupting continuously since a massive burst in 1965 and really blew it’s top again in 2010. In fact, we were told the top crater was off limits due to ‘noxious gases’ and ‘projectiles’ blasting out and rolling down the slope. Alright, we’ll take your word for it. We signed up for an excursion from our home base in Antigua. It took a lot longer than we thought to get there – roads can be pretty slow in these parts – but heading up for sunset was the way to see the landscape dramatically from those black slopes.

Things to expect on a trek up Pacaya:

Signing into the park at the gate while fending off marshmallow vendors. Marshmallows?

Looking back across the valley at not one, two, but three volcanoes to the north that surround nearby Antigua – Agua, Fuego, and Acatenango (pic 1, 7)

Declining the ‘Taxi Natural” – aka a small, skinny horse – as you climb up and up. When one of your group gives up on the hiking and hops aboard, this will not stop the caballeros from inquiring if you need a lift, too. But with the “Taxi Natural” already occupied and those skinny legs strained, how many can they fit onto one horse?

A souvenier shack with nothing but rocks and dust, the only thing up there. (pic 2)

Pausing for a quick shot of your shadow on the rocks, inadvertently recreating previous self portraits.

Glimpses of the crater between the foliage (pic 4), before bursting forth suddenly onto a lunar landscape. (pic 5, 6)

Sussing out your own personal sauna ‘steam hole’ – room for just one, it’s like a steam shower in your clothes. (pic 8)

Finding a population of Volcano Dogs living half way up the mountain. (pic 10) They must subsist on a marshmallow diet.

About those marshmallows, now you wish you bought some! Roasting, er, steaming marshmallows from the earth’s heat. (pic 12)

Climbing a bit higher for the spectacular sunset (pics 11, 14) and peering hard for a glimpse of the ocean beyond. Nope, darned beautiful clouds getting in the way!

Jumping for joy with your group as the sun sets and the stars begin to twinkle.

A final look at the steep slope of Pacaya as the sky darkens (pic 16) and the silence engulfs.

A descent where you are one of only two people who thought to bring a flashlight. (pic 15) Even the guides went down in the suddenly pitch black night with no light to offer. Those “Taxi Naturals” on the way up? Well, they are long gone, leaving in their place road apples that are only too invisible in this darkness. Again, thank god for always having a headlamp in the rucksack.

Making your way down the slope towards the forest, a massive glow fills the valley and the scope of Guatemala City’s sprawl becomes apparent. (pic 15)

All in all, an excellent day trip from Antigua into a strange and desolate world, with views to die for, steam vents to warm yourself and of course, marshmallow for a reward at the top. Recommended if you are staying in GC or Antigua. With any luck, the crater may be open to trekking once again. Just keep a heads up for projectiles.

Volcán de Pacaya, Guatemala, 2011.

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