Hike the Active Pacaya Volcano in Guatemala

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.

Pacaya first erupted over 23,000 years ago and is currently one of the most lively volcanos in Central America. Fabulous. But, please refrain from spouting off while I am in close proximity.
Annette White Hiking Pacaya Volcano in Guatemala

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.

San Francisco Sign at Pacaya Volcano Guatemala
Bathroom at Pacaya Volcano Guatemala

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.
Lava Rock at Pacaya Volcano Guatemala

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.

Orange con Pepita at Pacaya Volcano in Guatemala

Orange con Pepita at Pacaya Volcano Guatemala

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.

Annette White at Pacaya Volcano Guatemala
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.
Annette White roasting marshmallows at Pacaya Volcano in Guatemala

At least they were melted.

Annette White eating marshmallows at Pacaya Volcano guatemala

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.

The were selling mostly jewelry, everything from bracelets to necklaces to earrings.
Lava Jewelry at Pacaya Volcano Guatemala

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. It turned out to be a great addition to my list of the top things to do before you die.

Annette's Bucket List Check at Pacaya Volcano Guatemala

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. 

Kawilal Hotel in Guatemala Kawilal Hotel room in Guatemala

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.

Santa Teresita Thermal Spa Guatemala Santa Teresita Thermal Spa in Guatemala
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.

Santa Teresita Restaurant in Guatemala

Chicken Dish at Santa Teresita in Guatemala

. . .Read More. . .

Shopping at Chichi Market in Guatemala’s Chichicastenango

My trip to Guatemala was hosted by the Visit Guatemala, but all opinions are my own.

2017-08-05T15:34:02+00:00 July 9th, 2015|Categories: Central America, Guatemala, TOP PICKS, TRAVEL|Tags: , , |


  1. Stef July 9, 2015 at 5:52 pm - Reply

    I just came back from Guatemala and wanted to do this hike as well – on my last day. But after hours of busses (I went from Antigua to Lanquin to Flores and back in a few days) and very little sleep, I felt really bad and was exhausted just by walking down the street. so I decided I better not do it.And when I read your post now, it was definitely the right decision. I would have died with this steep hike.

    • Annette White July 9, 2015 at 9:52 pm - Reply

      I definitely recommend being well rested before attempting this hike! Unless you wanted to take a horse, it’s probably better that you skipped it this time.

  2. Stephen Mueller July 28, 2015 at 8:43 am - Reply

    Lovely post! I love that you mention those little but cute details [I mean the food and the souvenirs]. If I go to Guatemala, maybe I’ll find some place crowded to practice my Spainish :), since mountaineering is not my passion. And that uphill sure is steep!

  3. […] on the hunt for the perfect backpack, one that will take me from hiking an active volcano to going on an African safari to comfortably carrying all my technology while traveling by […]

  4. rebecca October 7, 2015 at 1:43 pm - Reply

    What a great experience, bet you’re glad you did the hike!

  5. Golden Triangle Tour 4 Days February 2, 2016 at 12:43 am - Reply

    Pacaya is an active complex volcano in Guatemala, which first erupted approximately 23,000 years ago and has erupted at least 23 times since the Spanish invasion of Guatemala.

  6. Sheila Logan March 10, 2016 at 8:06 pm - Reply

    Great post! I love buying souvenirs from different places I go to. It serves as a remembrance of the place and the adventures that I had. I would love to visit Pacaya Volcano someday!

  7. Ralph Prioleau March 24, 2016 at 11:01 pm - Reply

    My wife and I envy your travelling experiences. It’s our 25th wedding anniversary this June and hopefully we could visit Guatemala too. We’re not decided yet but we also have plans to go for an Asian tour this year. Thanks for this post.

    • Annette White March 25, 2016 at 4:48 pm - Reply

      Happy early anniversary!!! My husband and I will be married 19 years in July and we always love to plan a trip somewhere special too. Not sure where we will end up this year yet! Let me know where you decide to go 🙂

  8. […] keep active in order to have the energy and strength for adventurous things while traveling, like hiking an active volcano in Guatemala or learning to surf in Costa […]

  9. Justin July 20, 2016 at 5:50 am - Reply

    How much did it cost to get transportation from Antigua? Seems like there are tours that cost around $70pp to get them to take care of everything. This doesn’t seem worth it then right? If the guide is $20 and entry is $17 for two people, seems much cheaper just to do yourself.

    • Annette White July 20, 2016 at 3:55 pm - Reply

      We had a car to get to Pacaya Volcano, I’m not sure if there is a bus from Antigua that will take you all the way there, but I don’t recall seeing one. I found this shuttle company: http://atitrans.net/index.php?route=product/product&product_id=44, but it looks like they charge $15 per person each way which could save a little money. Renting a car for the day may be cheaper than a tour, but probably not by much.

      • Justin July 24, 2016 at 8:24 am - Reply

        Thank you! Appreciate the response. Thank you for the link.

        It says this below, saying it ‘includes a local guide.’ Does that mean the guide is included in the shuttle? Seems kind of odd… wondering if that’s not correct.


        Antigua to San Francisco transportation round trip

        Local Guide to climb the Volcano

        Not Include;

        Entrance fee

  10. Anna July 24, 2016 at 7:16 am - Reply

    I’m staying with a family and don’t really want to go to Antigua to book the tour…you say I should be able to pay for a guide at the trailhead?

  11. […] over the region is the dramatic Pacaya Volcano that rises up over 2500 metres and has had a rather turbulent past, erupting dozens of times over […]

  12. Des January 10, 2017 at 2:01 am - Reply

    I’m going to Guatemala next month and after this post, climbing one of the volcanoes is definitely on my list! I was in Reunion Island last month and did the 2,5 hour hike to the top of Piton de la Fournaise, one of the most active volcanoes in the world. Unfortunately the volcano was peacefully quiet during our trip – no lava and no eruptions, but it was still incredible standing at the top and looking down into the crater! Definitely one of the highlights of my travels ever!

    • Annette White January 11, 2017 at 6:17 pm - Reply

      Wow! Reunion Island sounds like a crazy cool hike too. I’d be totally okay that it didn’t erupt while I was looking down into it 😉

  13. Nancy January 29, 2017 at 1:43 pm - Reply

    The company I work for will be hosting a conference in Antigua this March. We will be staying at the Casa Santa Domingo with a trip to the Pacaya volcano on the Saturday before we leave. Thanks for your blog, it really makes it sound like fun but I will be sure to get a horse for the climb!

    • Annette White January 29, 2017 at 6:34 pm - Reply

      Wow! What an amazing place for a conference! Antigua is such a charming and colorful place.
      Have fun at Pacaya and have an extra marshmallow for me 🙂

  14. Rebekah July 5, 2017 at 5:58 am - Reply

    Just returned from Guatemala 3 days ago! I attempted to climb this volcano but opted for the horse instead. It was a wonderful experience! Those volcano roasted marshmallows were amazing as too!

    • Annette White July 5, 2017 at 7:42 am - Reply

      If I did it again, I would probably do the horse too! Happy to hear that you had a great time.

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