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Pacaya volcano hike & what to expect on the tour

Pacaya is an active volcano that you can hike up on a guided tour located in Guatemala. It’s one of the most popular hiking trails to experience in the country and is also the most accessible. Visitors of all ages and abilities come to climb this complex volcano every year.

What’s great about this hike is it allows you to get up close and personal with an active volcano. Plus, you’ll also get to see the mesmerising view of the other volcanoes in the region: Fuego, Agua and (sometimes) part of Acatenango.

For an outdoor activity, climbing Pacaya ticks all the boxes for outdoorsy types. Besides, why wouldn’t you want to climb one of Guatemala’s most active volcanoes?! It’s one of 37 volcanoes in the country and is also one of the main stops along the common gap year route along the Gringo trail that many travellers take each year.

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Country: Guatemala – Currency: Quezales – Check if you need a visa here.

Did you say “active volcano”?

Yes, Pacaya is active. This means from time to time there are physical eruptions. On a clear day with minimal cloud coverage, you can even see these small eruptions from nearby Antigua and Guatemala City!

On some occasions molten lava flows have been seen running down the side of the volcano itself. This is not too common so don’t believe every tour companies photos that show otherwise, it’s only happened a handful of times!

Don’t worry though, the guides are kept informed on how to stay safe in the instance that this occurs. The trails for this hike are well-kept and always marked to ensure that all visitors know where they’re allowed to walk. The guides take safety very seriously.

Standing on the cone of Pacaya with another of Guatemala’s volcanoes in the background

Trail stats & location of the trail

Length of Trail

3.2 miles

Time to complete

2.5 hours round trip

Elevation Gain

2,552 metres

Located in: The municipality of San Vicente Pacaya in the department of Escuintla

This hike takes around 2 and a half hours to complete including returning back down to the trail starting point. The hiking trail takes you up above the clouds to reach a few viewpoints and see the surrounding 3 volcanoes Agua, Acatenango, and Fuego.

The Pacaya volcano hike is located roughly 1 and a half hours south east of Antigua and south of Guatemala City. Palin is the closest small town to the trailhead which has a population of under 70,000 people.

When travelling from either big city, you will likely spend around 6 hours for the full day tour. Although the hike itself is only 2 and a half hours, you’re likely to need to spend an entire day on this tour to factor in your 3-ish hours travel time.

The Volcan Pacaya sign and the horse stop

Where to book a Pacaya volcano hiking tour?

Since this is one of the most popular activities in the area, there’s no shortage of available tour companies available to take you up Pacaya. If you want to be organised in advance, you can easily find some tours on Viator which is my go-to site for booking excursions.

If you’d rather not compare a huge list of tours, I’ve highlighted a few below depending on where you’re going to be:

Likely to want to soak your muscles to reward yourself after completing the hike? Then you should visit the local Hot Springs too. You can either go there independently after your tour, or to save yourself the trouble of planning separate excusrions you can actually take a tour that does both! Check these out below:

Semi-flexible booking

What’s great about all of these tours is they can be booked relatively last minute if you’re not sure of your plans far in advance. Many hostels and accommodations will offer this tour to their guests also for an extra cost.

Just be aware that the tours to Pacaya fill up very quickly during the busy season. The busiest months for tourism are between January and April each year.

The majority of the general tours to hike the Pacaya volcano are just done to 2 thirds of the cone height. There are only a few tour companies allowed to climb to the summit. Since the summit is more dangerous and the volcano spits out ash from time to time, the park authorities don’t always allow permits to climb as high up.

If this is of interest, do your research before you try to do so. If you break the rules you can get into serious trouble climbing to the summit without the appropriate permission.

View of Pacaya Volcano before you hike onto the cone itself

What to expect on the Pacaya volcano hike

After being driven to the drop off point, there is a public bathroom available for use before you start walking towards the park entrance. In some cases your park entrance fee is included in the (roughly 200 Quetzales/22 GBP) tour price where the guides pay on your behalf. But in many other cases you will need to pay the park entrance separately and at this stage.

The Pacaya volcano park entrance fee is: 50Q (£5 GBP) and you should bring this in cash.

After paying your fee and getting your park wristband your guide will round up your group. From here you can make purchases to enhance your experience:

A) A hiking/walking stick: 5Q (50p GBP)

B) Rent a horse to carry you up: 300Q (34 GBP)

This horseback ride will last for most of the journey until you reach the 2nd-to-last viewpoint of the trail. It’s a great experience for those who want to climb Pacaya with much less effort. This is also helpful if you have already tired yourself out after completing the Acatenango overnight hike in the days before this one.

That is exactly what I did and I seriously regret not enjoying a day’s rest in between. I had too much pride to take the horse but my legs were slowing me down.

A small snack and drink stand near the final rest stop

Once all hike enhancements have been purchased, the guide will take you to the 1st viewpoint about 15 minutes away from the entrance. Luckily for hikers, each rest stop is roughly only 10 minutes apart after this. If you’re as unfit as me, you might even take breaks in between the rest stops.

From each viewpoint, you will get a gradually clearer view of the volcanic cones in the distance. If you happen to be hiking on a clear day, you’ll definitely get the most out of the view and the experience.

There are some sections of trail that have a steep incline. If this is the first hike you are doing you might find it tricky as it is accurately labelled “moderate”. If you have already hiked Acatenango in Guatemala, then honestly, you’ll find Pacaya a piece of cake in comparison (providing your legs have had a break since then!).

This is part of the “lava flow” trail across the front of the volcanic cone

On tow of the larger rest areas there are small stalls run by locals who are selling some snacks and drinks. If you still have some cash left over and want to get a refreshment, there are only really 2 opportunities along the trail. After walking past the final rest stop you’ll be in full, close-up view of Pacaya itself.

Once you reach the horse stables you’ll notice the trail turn to the right across the front of the cone. Be careful as this is where the lava flows down during an eruption and much of the terrain here is rocky.

The terrain on this part of the hike is very different to what you will have seen before this point. The ground here has formed unevenly due to all the previous eruptions when the lava then cools and hardens.

Did you know? Volcan Pacaya has erupted at least 23 times since the Spanish conquest in 1519! It’s most eruptive period began in 2015 and is still happening today.

Our mashmallow sticks cooking on the heat pocket

Making use of the hot ground

You may notice some parts of the trail in this area have small steam pockets and the ground is warm. The pockets are typically off to the side of the trail. If you’re not careful or you stand on a heat pocket for too long, you could melt your shoes a little.

One of the highlights of hiking Volcan Pacaya is the sweet treats at the top. Your guide will take you to an opening along the trail to find a heat pocket in order to roast everyone some marshmallows or chocolate.

Since the inside of a volcano is hot (due to geo-thermal activity), there are small gaps in the rock that emit hot steam and air from the volcanic centre inside. This means that the heat can quite easily cook your marshmallows in just a minute or two!

It’s a nice treat after walking the trail and you get to enjoy this time just eating something sweet and enjoying the rewarding view before starting the walk back.

As you look around this area you will see different coloured rocks compared to much of the rest of the trail. This is because much of these rocks came from a lava flow originally. Yellow rocks are part sulphur and can have an egg-like smell to them.

Some other places around the world that are known for their geo-thermal activity include New Zealand’s hot-water beach & Wai-O-tapu.

Sitting on volcanic rocks above the clouds celebrating that we made it to the final viewpoint

When is the best time to go?

Most of the photos from this tour were during the daytime hike. This tour group met in Antigua around 2pm and arrived back around 8pm/8.30pm the same day.

If you have a choice of the day or evening hike, it really depends on your preference. On the early daytime hike you can easily be up and back down the volcano before it gets dark.

If you are not an early bird then a sunset hike might be a better option. What’s better than sunset on top of a volcano admiring the views?!

Is there a difference in the seasons?
When to visit?Reason
November – AprilThis is dry season so the weather is at it’s best, however it is the busiest time for tourists.
May – OctoberThis is rainy season so the weather is temperamental, but nowhere near as many tourists.

How to prepare for the weather

Whatever season you decide to travel in, be aware that the weather is generally warm all year-round in Guatemala. When hiking you can easily become dehydrated so it is always advised to bring enough water to last you the entire trip.

Make sure you are aware of the dangers of hiking so you can prevent yourself from getting into trouble.

The higher the altitude of the hike, the colder the temperature will become. So even if you don’t wear them the entire time, it’s recommended to bring some layers for when you get to the higher sections of the trail.

Speaking of altitude, this hike is so high it can cause some people to get sick. This can make the hike much more difficult if you’re fighting off nausea. Altitude sickness is not fun and it can affect even the most fit and active. To acclimate, spend at least a few days in Antigua or Guatemala City before attempting the climb.

If there is a chance you could get altitude sickness, consider bringing some anti-nausea medication with you.

Don’t be too put off by the weather. We went on a day that had high cloud coverage and still got a fantastic view. Even if it is cloudy for much of the hike, it doesn’t mean it will be at the final viewpoint.

Our group walking back down the trail

Where to stay

I would highly recommend staying in Antigua before starting this trip as it’s a tourist friendly city with a lot to offer. Many travellers prefer Antigua to Guatemala City as it is generally classed as a “safer” place to walk around as a solo traveller.

Its long been known as one of Guatemala’s most popular tourist destinations and many travellers use Antigua as a central point to start and end their day tours in.

If you do stay in Antigua and want to stay somewhere lively and sociable, I’d suggest staying at Tropicana Hostel. They have a mix of dorms and private rooms and a great rooftop bar with views of the surrounding volcanoes. They hold lots of events and is rated as one of the top places in the city to meet people as a traveller.

Tropicana isn’t available for your selected dates or you’d rather stay somewhere else? HostelWorld have multiple hostels available for visitors to this historical Guatemalan city.

Don’t want to stay in a hostel? Check out Booking.com for a different selection of accommodations instead.

Need some more volcano hiking inspiration? Check out these trails from around the world:

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