Just like skiing and mountaineering is a part of the culture of the Swiss Alps, volcano hiking is huge chunk of the culture in Guatemala. The country has 37 officially named volcanoes, three of which that are still active. It is not uncommon to be driving by one of these and seeing a puff of smoke pop out from its peak. We actually saw this happen a half a dozen times from the one locally known as Fuego Volcan. Though, this “Fire Volcano” was not the the one we would be getting up close and personal with on this morning.
Today, we would be hiking the very active Pacaya Volcano.
We arrived at the base of the mountain and immediately hired a guide for 150 Quetzal ($20 USD). With his assistance we would be hiking this volcano to a spot where the lava was so hot that we could toast marshmallows. Literally.
Why didn’t I bring graham crackers and chocolate?
Besides the guide fee, there was 50 Quetzal ($7 USD) charge to enter this national park, plus an option to rent a horse to the top instead of traveling by foot. This would run you 300 Quetzal ($40 USD). Quite possibly worth every penny.
My intention was to do the hour and a half hike, sans the horse, to reach the top. Wish me luck.
The trailhead started at the modest welcome center in the hamlet of San Francisco de Sales. Our Pacaya Volcano hike began at 9:45, with an estimated hour and a half to the top. Though, it became quickly evident that we would need some extra time due to our frequent need for rest stops.
The entire hike was steeply uphill. Shoot me now.
Prior to the ascent, for a mere 5 Quetzal I could have bought a walking stick from a local child. Not only would this have been a huge support for the community, but also for my winded lungs. What was I thinking? After fifteen minutes I was kicking myself for not making that purchase. Even the horses were smarter than me, they followed us for about a half hour of the hike hoping someone would get tired.
I had to be forcefully talked out of hitching a ride.
When I reluctantly declined for the last time, convincing myself that it would make a better story for this travel blog, the herd turned around and there was no choice but to move forward on foot. It was very slow moving. a turtles pace. It was necessary to stop every five minutes for five minutes.
The signage at the beginning claimed that this hike was of medium difficulty, but I (and my bursting lungs) would beg to say it’s borderline high, especially with the added elevation hindrance. And I consider myself in decent shape.
Luckily, rest stops were strategically placed every five minutes or so. Some of these were picturesque lookouts, while others were just a bamboo bench. It didn’t matter, even a tree stump would have been a welcomed breather.
At one of these memorable breaks a women sat with her child who was completing his homework, a row of oranges in front of them. Enticing. For a measly 3 Quetzal (39 cents) you could order a Guatemalan tradition, naranja con pepita.
An orange with ground pumpkin seeds and salt.
Yes, please. Not only did this sound incredible, but it was also bound to take enough time in order for me to catch my breath. Two birds, one stone.
Once I ordered my orange, the mother put it through her manual peeler, taking away the thick rind and leaving a healthy pith. She then topped it with a sprinkle of salt and ground pumpkin seeds. It was simple, yet refreshing and delicious.
After almost two hours and an elevation increase of just over 1600 feet we reached our destination. Though we were not at the tippy top of the volcano, we were at the point where sections of lava rock was warm to the touch and certain crevices were burning.
Our smiling faces confirmed the happiness of our success.
Me & Cacinda of Points and Travel
Though there was a booth to purchase marshmallows and other snacks, our guide immediately whipped out some spongy treats that he had stowed away in his backpack.
I grabbed 3 and put them on the provided skewers.
There were several ‘hot spots’ along the rocks for marshmallow toasting. The problem was my stick was about six inches too short and my fingers were getting toasted too. I finally was able to manipulate my digits and skewer in order to get a very lightly brown on my marshmallows.
At least they were melted.
We couldn’t begin our trek back without hitting up the tiny “Lava Store” that sells souvenirs, of course made with lava rock.
A souvenir shop in the middle of nowhere? Random.
As we started to travel back to our starting point, I hoped there would be a white stallion waiting for me. There wasn’t. Luckily, the walk back went much quicker.
Though my legs wobbled for hours afterwards.
At least now I can count “Hike a Volcano” as a check off my bucket list.
Where to Stay
After a very strenuous day, we deserved some relaxation, luxury and pampering. And that’s exactly what we got.
We headed over to the uber trendy Kawilal Hotel, a leader in the sustainability movement practicing efficiency in energy use, water use and material selections. Even the rooms roofs are built with gardens, keeping the inside temperature comfortable without the use of an air conditioner.
Once we settled into our rooms we headed over to their Santa Teresita Spa to do a therapy circuit in their thermal baths.
Here we sipped on fresh fruit smoothies as we immersed our bodies in thermal water pools of different temperatures. It is said to improve circulation, relax the bodies muscles and eliminate stress.
I definitely felt my knotted muscles start to unwind.
Cacinda (Points and Travel), me, Jessica (A Passion and A Passport), Steph (TravelBreak)
We capped off the perfect day with dining at the hotels restaurant, Fonda del Castillo. With its modern interior, floor length windows and delicious dishes it couldn’t have been a better way to end such a physical day.