Posted by: Jack | January 8, 2008

Guatemala – Volcán Pacaya and Back to Guatemala City

For the first time on this trip, our guided tour consisted of more than just myself, Anna and a guide. About twenty individuals made up this morning’s group as we set out to explore the active Volcán Pacaya. As soon as our shuttle bus pulled up to the visitor center, we were all swarmed by young children who apparently knew one word of English: Stick! Most, including ourselves, eventually gave in to these intimidating salespersons, paying the ~$0.75; more to get the kids to shut up than for the walking-stick itself. But even after purchasing, the kids continued to push their sticks on us, desperate to make a buck.

The hike consisted of a steep but relatively short climb and just before reaching the lava fields, the trail passed through a high clearing, presenting a great view of the three nearby volcanoes. In the photo below, Fuego is on the left, Acatenango next and Agua is the prominent and perfectly shaped cone center-stage. The town of Antigua is tucked away directly behind Agua.

From this knoll, but in the opposite direction, Pacaya loomed over us with a glowing river of lava flowing down one side. With no mention of special precaution, our guide directed us all out onto the lava fields.

With lava continually flowing into the field and cooling to form new rock, the landscape varies from moment to moment. Up on the hill just moments earlier, a powerful wind had given most of us an intense chill but after a couple minutes amidst the lava, everyone was roasting.

Distant hot spots could be discerned by their light refraction (like over a hot road) but more often they went unnoticed until we were right on top of them. Sometimes areas which appeared to be solid stone, consisted of only a thin crust covering still-liquid lava. One careless step could have certainly put a damper on the trip, but this is where the stick really came in handy. (Turn your volume up a bit)

Even without breaching the surface, standing so close to these hot spots was bearable for only a couple of seconds. By this time, more than a few people were even having problems with the soles of their shoes melting away.

Moving along we came face to face with lava flowing over the surface and watched as it cooled, creating new formations in minutes.

Growing tired from the heat, as well as the effort required to navigate this dangerous landscape, we were all happy to retreat to the cool and soft land beyond the lava field. On the way down, everyone snapped many pictures from the view point and although similar to the photo posted above, I feel compelled to post one from this return trip as well. The clouds provided better contrast or something.

Back at the trailhead, we climbed on the shuttle and returned to Antigua to grab our gear but immediately after, found a chicken bus headed for Guatemala City. Along the way we had a thorough conversation with the driver and assistant about where we intended to get off. We then made the mistake of explaining that we were hoping to find a hostel somewhat near the airport so that we would be able to catch our flight in the morning which would depart before the buses began running. The driver insisted that we get off elsewhere and as I realized that we were heading in the completely wrong direction, we basically had to yell at them to let us off. Though buses could have taken us back towards the airport, it was still early in the afternoon so we decided to walk the rest of the way.

Dark blue line on the Progress Map

Next: Our last day in Guatemala



  1. […] Next: Volcán Pacaya and back to Guatemala City one last time […]

  2. Hey,

    I have a great link for a video profile on a photographer and travel writer who has just finished a new travel guidebook called Moon: Guatemala. His name is Al Argueta and he is a child of Guatemalan parents and has spent much of his life in that country. He currently works and resides in Round Rock, Texas, right outside of the capital city of Austin. Here is a link to the video from the website of the show Docubloggers on the PBS station KLRU in Austin, Texas. Enjoy!



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