Hiking Guatemala's Pacaya Volcano

 

HIKING GUATEMALA'S PACAYA VOLCANO

BY LOGAN NOLIN  ·  AUG 2018  ·  TRAVEL

 Image: Logan Nolin

Image: Logan Nolin

BACKGROUND

The one thing that I kept hearing from people when asking or researching what to do in Guatemala was: hike a volcano. Guatemala is home to 37 volcanoes. THIRTY SEVEN. I knew I had to hike one and had my sights set on Acatenango — one of the most challenging. I worked out in the weeks leading up to my trip and bought a ton of gear for the hike.

Once I arrived in Antigua, anxiety started setting in. I was really struggling with the altitude when hiking up hills and around Earth Lodge, where I was staying. I met some fit hikers that were planning on hiking Acatenango. I woke up the morning they left and got some breakfast. Around 11:30am, the group came sauntering into the lodge. I was confused and asked them if they decided to postpone their trip. They said that they had tried hiking Acatenango and turned back because it was too difficult. I immediately cancelled my Acatenango hike and booked Pacaya, the smaller volcano, in Acatenango's place. If these in-shape hikers weren't able to do it, there was no way in hell I was.

 

THE HIKE

The morning of my hike, I met my tour guides and fellow hikers. My fellow hikers were a family of 5 incredibly in-shape Danes. We were loaded into a van and began our 1.5 hour drive to Pacaya Volcano. I wish I remembered more about the drive to the volcano, but I was so exhausted that I was nodding off a majority of the way.

We finally arrived at the spot where we would begin our hike. Tens of Guatemalans were gathered trying to sell hats, gloves, walking sticks, horses, bottled water, etc. It was a madhouse. If you didn't bring a pair of gloves or hat with you and the temperature is slightly chilly, it would be a good idea to buy it now. It's always colder on top of the volcano.

We gathered some drinks and snacks and set off directly up a cobblestone incline, passing a group of Guatemalans offering a "horse taxi." Interesting fact about the hike: there is only one path to the top so you will be passing people hiking down as you're hiking up. I had been told that Pacaya was a "beginners volcano" and so I was expecting an easy hike. This was insane of me as I knew that Pacaya stands 8,373 feet tall. Nothing about that sounds "beginners."

 The hike is STRAIGHT uphill. The path continuously weaved through countless twists and turns, With every turn, I kept thinking we might eventually meet a short landing or level path. I thought wrong. The guide took group breaks every 15 minutes or so, but as we got higher and higher, I needed much more frequent breaks.

Early on I noticed two Guatemalan men following our group with horses. Whenever I would stop to take a break, one of the men would say, "amigo! Horse taxi!"

I knew that hiking a volcano was something I wanted to do and riding a horse to the top was definitely cheating. I politely declined, but that didn't stop him from asking every. single. time I stopped for a break. About halfway up, the youngest boy in my group was done walking. His parents decided a horse taxi was in order. ONLY ONE HORSE TAXI LEFT

The last half of the hike was intense. The climb seemed to get steeper and getting a good breath seemed to get harder. I was about 3/4 of the way up when I looked behind me and noticed that the last horse taxi man had left. Panic set in. I didn't want a horse taxi, but knowing that there was one available to me was comforting in a mental game sort of way. With him gone, I immediately wanted a horse taxi. Annoyed and out of breath, I made my way to the top. The Danish family I was with were so awesome and supportive. Signe would take a short break herself and then cheer me on to keep going.

We eventually made it to the top and the view was totally worth it. We were even lucky enough to see some lava spilling out the side of the volcano.

Was the hike fun? Absolutely not. Would I do it again? Hell yes.

 Lava spilling out of Pacaya

Lava spilling out of Pacaya

 

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