If you’re visiting Guatemala, then climbing a volcano should be on your bucket list. And, the Pacaya Volcano hike is the perfect experience.
It’s one of the shorter hikes, at a lesser altitude and no overnight camping is required. But you’ll see scorched rock, get incredible views and roast marshmallows on the volcanic heat.
And though you may have seen the well-photographed lava rivers that used to flow down from the crater of Pacaya Guatemala. Sadly, they’re gone but the fun of climbing an active volcano remains! Pacaya is well worth a visit.
Find out more about what to expect, how to book Pacaya Volcano tours getting the best price, plus all the information you need to know about the volcano.
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About Volcan Pacaya Guatemala
With its position on the Pacific Ring of Fire and almost a century of constant activity, Pacaya is one of Guatemala’s most active volcanos. It’s the smallest of the 4 volcanos located around Antigua after Acatenango, Fuego and Agua.
Pacaya is your typical, cone-shaped volcano located in southern Guatemala – inside the aptly named Pacaya Volcano National Park. Which is around 50 km from both Antigua and Guatemala City by road, taking between 75 and 120 minutes.
The peak of the crater rim sits at an altitude of 2552 metres (8373 feet). But, you don’t reach this altitude on the Pacaya Volcano hike as you can’t access the crater.
Because of this, you shouldn’t experience altitude sickness. Although, you may start to feel it by becoming out of breath quicker or uphill walking feeling a lot more difficult!
Instead of climbing to the top of Pacaya Volcano Guatemala, you’ll head to a viewpoint called Cerro Chino. Here, you’ll have great views of the volcano and scorched lava fields of hot rocks. Most tours also include time walking through the outer sections of the lava fields, where you roast marshmallows and play hot potato with volcanic rock.
When did Pacaya last erupt?
At the beginning of 2021, Pacaya was very active. Almost constant eruptions had created lava flows around 2 km long that snaked their way down from the crater edge to the lower ground.
However, the last of this activity was observed in August 2021 with a few ash clouds. Since then, the volcano has been in a quieter phase with no visible activity other than some small steam pockets.
Is Pacaya Volcano active?
Yes, Pacaya is considered an active volcano.
But, that doesn’t mean that it’s spewing lava and ash clouds morning, noon and night. The definition of an active volcano is one that has erupted recently (within the last 10,000 years!) and is likely to erupt again.
However, Pacaya does have a very recent history of eruptions (like 2021 recent). So, it definitely earns its active volcano title. But, no lava or ash has been seen since 2021 (correct as of December 2023).
Under-the-surface activity is still hugely evident though. Hot rocks and steam outlets are good indicators of volcanic activity underground. And, it’s probably not going to be too long until Pacaya erupts again.
Is Pacaya Volcano Dangerous?
Hiking a volcano – particularly an active one – always involves some element of risk.
Is this activity 100% safe all of the time? No, but that’s the way with most outdoor activities anywhere in the world. Does that make it dangerous? Also no.
That said, with volcano monitoring, the national park rules, having a guide and applying some common sense, you can reduce most risks and have a safe trip. Follow the rules, dress appropriately, don’t do anything stupid and respect that you’re standing on one of nature’s most volatile offerings.
Oh, and let your marshmallow cool down for a second so you don’t burn your tongue.
Will I see the lava flows or lava rivers at Pacaya Volcano?
No, sadly not – the Pacaya lava flows ended in May 2021.
If it’s any consolation, you can easily see where the lava rivers were from a distance. At the Cerro Chino viewpoint, you’ll see the look of a dried-out river bed running from the crater all the way to the edge of the lava field.
Of course, there’s always the possibility that the Pacay lava flows will return one day. Although, it’s not likely anytime soon. You can check for any recent activity changes on the Smithsonian Institute’s Global Volcano Reports.
Instead, if you want to see lava, you’re gonna have to climb Acatenango to see (and feel) Fuego erupt up close.
Do you need a guide to hike Pacaya?
Yes, a guide is needed for the whole time you’re in the national park.
Guides are available to hire at the park entrance. But doing it this way can be more expensive than taking a tour with a guide that also includes transport in the price.
As such, group tours are the most budget-friendly way of hiking Pacaya Volcano.
Pacaya Volcano Hike Tours
Tours are the easiest and cheapest way to climb Pacaya Volcano Guatemala. Especially for tourists who generally stay in Antigua. Consider the following important points when booking your Pacaya Volcano tour…
Types of Tours
Quite honestly, all you need is a standard tour that includes a guide, transport and marshmallows. It shouldn’t cost an arm and leg – and generally less than 30 USD.
A less popular option is to double up the Pacaya Volcano hike with a trip to nearby hot springs, with lunch included. This can be a great way to soothe your legs after the walk!
A third option – and one that’s grown in popularity over the last few years – is the Pacaya pizza tour. It’s everything that’s included in the normal tour, but on the lava fields you eat pizza that’s been cooked over the volcanic rock.
But you do need to be careful booking this option. Some private tours cost around 250 USD. And some tours don’t even include the cost of the pizza in the price (it’s 250 Q extra)!
Time of day
Pacaya Volcano tours typically run in either the morning or the afternoon.
Morning tours leave Antigua at 6 am or 9 am. And afternoon tours leave at 2 pm. You’ll start hiking around 2 hours after leaving Antigua.
For morning tours, consider that you’ll be walking during the hottest part of the day. But, during the rainier months, mornings typically have the better weather.
For afternoon tours, you’ll catch sunset but will have to walk down from the volcano in the dark. Additionally, there’s also a greater chance of cloudier skies and possibly rain, especially in the wetter months.
Booking a Pacaya tour
- BEST OVERALL: Pacaya Trek from Antigua
- BEST PACAYA + HOT SPRINGS TOUR: 9-hour tour from Antigua with Lunch
Like with most experiences, you’ll get the best price for your Pacaya Volcano tour by booking on the ground in Guatemala. Either through an agency directly or through a hostel (these generally have established relationships and don’t take commission).
But if you want to book in advance in your own currency and with the security of refunds and payment protection. Online bookings offer a very similar price for this activity and means you can secure your date.
My top pick is this 25 USD, half-day Pacaya Volcano tour from Antigua. It includes hotel pick up, transport and a guide – plus you get free cancellation up to 24 hours beforehand if your plans change last minute.
Or, if you fancy mixing adventure with relaxation, the Pacaya tour with hot springs and lunch is a great shout.
Make sure you check what is included in the price before booking any Pacaya tour.
Importantly, most don’t include the 100 Q national park entrance fee in the tour price. You’ll need to pay this in cash at the park.
Walking poles are another 5 to 10 Q to hire, payable directly in the park.
What to Expect when Hiking Pacaya Volcano in Guatemala
Once you get to the national park, a visit typically includes hiking up towards the volcano, seeing the lava fields, roasting marshmallows (provided), visiting the viewpoint and then returning back down.
The drive from Antigua Guatemala usually takes around 1.5 to 2 hours during the day, depending on traffic in the small towns on the route. Once you reach the national park entrance, pay your entrance fee to receive a wristband.
Walking poles are available for rent at the start of the hike to Pacaya Volcano Guatemala. Plus there’s bathrooms and a small snack stall at the trailhead.
Make sure you’re prepared for your walk at this point, as there aren’t any facilities until you get back here.
The Climb Up
The trail starts pretty steadily and you’ll quickly pass the visitor centre, where they might check your wristbands. Then it’s a long, fairly slow slog to the lava fields.
Along the way, you’ll pass a small refuge, where a few makeshift benches allow you to rest your tired legs (and lungs). The path is pretty easy to walk along and is mostly black well-trodden dirt.
Depending on the weather, the two factors that make the walk hard are the heat and/or the humidity. When you’re walking through the clouds, the air is so moist that it’s almost impossible for your sweat to evaporate so you can’t cool down. And, you’ll literally be dripping.
The Pacaya hike starts at an elevation of just over 1800 metres (5900 feet), just 250 (820 feet) more than Antigua. As such, there isn’t much of a temperature change at first.
As you climb higher, you can notice slight differences in the temperature when you stop – especially as your wet, sweaty clothes will cool you down. But, when you’re walking, you’ll definitely be warm enough in a t-shirt and shorts!
Roasting Marshmallows on the lava fields of Pacaya Volcano Guatemala
From the trailhead, it’s 2.2 km until you reach the lava fields, which sit at an impressive 2100 metres of elevation (6900 feet). It’s also here that Pacaya will start to come into view as you round the corner and start to hike above the clouds. This is what you’ve come for!
At the lava fields, your guide will show you some hot rock – and probably find one hot enough for you to touch but not burn yourself. You’ll hopefully see steam piercing through gaps in the rock in the distance and how the volcano creates its own cloud cover.
Of course, no trip to Pacaya Guatemala is complete without roasting marshmallows on the hot volcanic rocks. If you’re coming on a Pacaya Volcano tour, most guides will provide both marshmallows and skewer sticks.
But, you can always bring your own if you’re worried about missing this! Just be careful to remove any small stones that might get stuck to the melting goodness.
Watching sunset from Cerro Chino
If you’ve picked an afternoon tour from Antigua, then you’ll likely get to watch sunset on your hike.
From the lava fields, it’s a steep but short climb to the ridge of Cerro Chino. Where you get great views of Pacaya, the lava fields and the countryside towards Antigua.
On a clear day, it’s easy to see Volcan Agua with Acatenango and Fuego behind. And although you can’t see them when it’s cloudy, you do get a magnificent colour show as the clouds start to glow.
Unfortunately, what goes up must come down. And, the quickest and easiest way to get down from Cerro Chino is by sliding steeply down the volcanic sand back to the refuge hut.
Walking sticks come in very handy, I assure you. Plus, as a memento of the hike, you’ll be finding black sand in your shoes for weeks!
The only thing left to do is walk back to the parking lot. A headtorch or phone with enough charge to run the torch is pretty handy here, as there’s no lighting and the path can be slippery underfoot. On the plus side, it’s a much easier walk downhill.
How long does it take to hike Volcan Pacaya?
The total Pacaya Volcano hike distance via the lava fields and Cerro Chino is 5.5 km. To reach the lava fields, it takes 60 to 90 minutes of walking.
You’ll spend a while on the lava fields, experiencing the unique landscape and roasting your marshmallows. As well as some time on Cerro Chino admiring the view, getting photos and seeing the sunset (unless you’re there in the morning).
The walk back to the drop-off point is much quicker as you won’t need to stop for breaks. This could take as little as 30 minutes, although, it’ll probably be around 45 to 60 minutes for most people.
In total, from leaving the parking area to getting back, the Pacaya hike takes around 3 hours. Expect transport to and from Antigua to add another 3 to 4 hours to this. All in all, you’ll probably be back in Antigua 7 hours after leaving.
How hard is Pacaya Volcano to climb?
The hike itself isn’t technically challenging. But overall, given the terrain, heat and humidity, the Pacaya Volcano hike difficulty is moderate.
In reality, though, it’s one of the easier volcano hikes in Guatemala, but none of them come that easy!
Physical fitness is a bonus to get to the top. But, ultimately, you’ll also need some mental resilience to keep putting one foot in front of the other when you’re sweaty, hot and exhausted. Especially, when you’re walking in the clouds and there’s no view.
The descent down from Cerro Chino on the steep, sandy path is also challenging to some. Be prepared to slide down using your walking pole for stability.
Can you hike Pacaya Volcano on your own?
No, it’s not possible to visit Pacaya without a guide.
What to wear and what to bring
The following clothing would be my recommendation:
- Hiking boots – if you have them – otherwise sturdy trainers
- T-shirt and shorts (or lightweight trousers if you normally live in warmer climates)
- A light jumper or jacket for the journey there and/or back
- A cap to keep the sun out of your eyes and to absorb the head sweat!
Additionally, I think the following items are essential for this trip:
- At least 1.5 litres of water
- Snacks – a couple of things that won’t melt but give you a little pick-me-up
- Phone, battery pack and camera (if you have one)
- Headtorch for sunset hikes (or a phone will suffice, but you do have to hold that)
- Cash for the park entrance and walking pole hire
Do you have any questions or want any more information? If so, drop a comment below and I’ll get back to you!
Information and prices are correct as of December 2023 but are subject to change in future.
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