Guatemala’s Pacaya Volcano Hike: What to Expect

Just like skiing and mountaineering are a part of the culture of the Swiss Alps, volcano hiking is a huge part 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 in the distance and seeing a puff of smoke pop out from its peak.

We actually saw this happen a half a dozen times from an active one locally known as Fuego Volcan. Though this “Fire Volcano” offers a hike, it is known for treacherous slopes that should be reserved only for the fittest. A more popular choice (and slightly less challenging) is to hike Guatemala’s Pacaya Volcano (aka: Volcan de Pacaya).

By the way, just to add to the adventure, it’s an active volcano too!

Guatemala's Pacaya Volcano Hike: What to Expect

Guatemala’s Pacaya Volcano Hike: What to Expect


Introduction to the Pacaya Volcano

Volcan de Pacaya is located just an hour and a half drive from Guatemala City (an hour and fifteen from Antigua). It first erupted over 23,000 years ago and is currently one of the most lively volcanos in Central America.

Though the volcano has frequent eruptions that have been seen from Guatemala City, these bursts usually spew only small amounts of ash—just enough to make the rocks hot enough to toast marshmallows on, which you will literally get to do. So, if you are expecting to see red lava running down from the peak, that’s probably not going to happen.

NOTE: Before you head to the volcano, and depending on your interests, determine whether the authorities permit hiking to the summit at that time. It depends on the volcanic activity,

Annette hiking Pacaya volcano in guatemala

About the Volcano Pacaya Hike

The Volcano of Pacaya is one of the most accessible volcanoes in Guatemala, which makes it very popular. You will be sharing the trail with many others. This, along with the food stands that you will find on different segments of the trail and the marshmallows you will get to toast on the heat of the volcanic rock, make the experience much more fun. Bring some graham crackers and chocolate if you want to make your marshmallow a s’more!

toasting marshmallows at pacaya volcano

eating toasted marshmallows on pacaya volcano

Level of Difficulty

Pacaya stands a whopping 8,373 feet tall and the trek has an elevation gain of around 1,500 feet. I had read some blogs before taking the flight to Guatemala and got the impression that the increase in elevation on the Pacaya Volcano hike would be a piece of cake or near enough. But then the sign at the entrance declared it to be a medium difficulty hike, and that was more like it. Maybe even harder than that.

The hike started at the welcome center in the hamlet of San Francisco de Sales and took about 2 hours to hike to the top. The steepness combined with the altitude and trail length proved to be on the more difficult side. Even myself, who has a decent fitness level, needed to take frequent breaks along the way—like every few minutes.

People hiking pacaya volcano

The good news is that even if you aren’t the fittest you can still get to the top, with a little bit of help. To aid your efforts on this hiking excursion, you have a few options – to rent a horse (approximately 300 Quetzal, $40 USD) or purchase a walking stick (5 Quetzal, $0.7 USD). The sticks must be purchased at the beginning of the hike, but the horses will follow you for about a quarter of a mile to see if you get tired. After fifteen minutes, I was kicking myself for not buying a walking stick!

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.

Guatemala's Pacaya Volcano Hike: What to Expect

At one a women sat with her child who was completing his homework, a row of oranges in front of them. For a measly 3 Quetzal (39 cents) you could order a Guatemalan tradition, naranja con pepita—an orange with ground pumpkin seeds and salt. 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.

naranja con pepita in 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 | Guatemala's Pacaya Volcano Hike: What to Expect

Fees

There is a 200 Quetzal ($27 USD) expense to enter the national park and hire a mandatory guide. Plus, bring some extra money if you plan on renting a horse, for tips, food stands along the way and purchasing marshmallows to toast (bring your own graham crackers and chocolate if you want to make your marshmallow a s’more!). It is best to bring Quetzales since exchange rates for $USD are very poor.Annette's Bucket List Check at Pacaya Volcano Guatemala

Best Times to Visit

As for the best time of the year for undertaking the hike of the Volcan de Pacaya, this would be November, or the beginning of the dry season in Guatemala. At this time, the surrounding countryside is still green from recent rains, and verdant forests make a contrasting backdrop to the bare volcanic landscape. The entire span of the dry season (which lasts until April) is usually considered the second best time for taking a Pacaya hike.

Guatemala's Pacaya Volcano Hike: What to Expect

Booking a Tour

Though it’s possible to navigate your way to the volcano, it is easiest to book a tour. From a major city, it can take up to 4 buses to get there! There are various tour companies in Antigua and Guatemala City that organize half-day trips to the Volcano of Pacaya, which last up to 4 or 6 hours (transfers + hiking). You can typically book them directly with your hotel concierge. If you are a planner like me, then here are others that can be booked in advance:

And one important note – some tour companies may advertise the trip with photos where you can clearly see lava rivers, though this typically isn’t the case.

The Pacaya Volcano hike, will put your fitness and endurance levels to a hard test, especially if you aren’t suited to this particular type of activity. So, don’t feel ashamed to negotiate the price of renting a horse. Plus, you will encounter vendors along the way offering refreshments, so you don’t need to bring large stocks of snacks with you.

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.

TIPS:

  • Keep in mind that you may experience the altitude sickness at this height; to prevent that, spend some time in Guatemala City or Antigua, which are perfect for adjusting.
  • Sturdy closed shoes are a must! The rocks are very sharp.
  • The weather can be unpredictable, dress in layers.

Where to Stay Nearby

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 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.

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.

Kawilal Hotel dining room in Guatemala

dish at the restaurant at Kawilal Hotel in Guatemala
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This post was provided in a partnership with Visit Guatemala. All opinions my own. This post may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase through my links, I earn a commission that helps to keep this blog running—at no extra cost to you. You can read my full disclosure here.

54 thoughts on “Guatemala’s Pacaya Volcano Hike: What to Expect”

  1. 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.

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  2. 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!

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  3. 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.

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  4. 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!

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  5. 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.

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    • 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 :)

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  6. 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.

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  7. 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?

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  8. 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!

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  9. 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!

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  10. 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!

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  11. Hey Annette, I just happened to do a google search for volcanic lava (thinking about making some unique jewelry based on my travels), and I got drawn into this post. I did the Pacaya hike last April, and it was a life-changing experience for me!
    I opted NOT to take the horse “taxi”, though the locals followed us up most of the way to entice us to change our mind. I was also happy that I have enough passable Spanish retained that I had whole conversations with our different guides about some of the plants we saw along the way.
    Your post is pleasant to read and reminisce, and also to compare notes with others that have done or plan to! I’ve still go so many pictures and videos to go through, and subsequent posts to write myself, but check me out on IG for my “proof”, lol! @Swaitespot.

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  12. Climbed this mid Jan. this year, I am 68 years , just had to do it, it was tough but worth it, beautiful views. The walking stick I rented from one of the kids was probably the best dollar I ever spent

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  13. so…i did this in 2013 and it was an amazing experience very much like you described and we went probably a very similar route. Well…i just did it again, with my daughter, and had it been my first time, there would not have been a second. for her, it was great because there was no comparison, so I guess i was spoiled, if you will by my first experience. we went up very vertically, on a different side of the volcano and there was no expansive lava to travel on like the one in your picture, but instead once we got to the “top” of where we were going, we went DOWN into a lava pit. I don’t want to sound negative, but for those of you reading, it is not a “moderate” hike…it is a HARD hike :) and the horse up was worth it for sure, and if you don’t want to do that then GET THE STICK!…the change in route in the past 5 years is due to an eruption in 2015, so, I get it, but just be ware…look for recent reviews because the details of years past are different.

    Enjoy- regardless it is a bucket list treck!!!

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  14. We are here and about to go up the volcano in the morning. Thanks for the in depth info as we wanted to know the cost for a horse! We have a 3 and 8 year old! Should be fun….

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  15. Interesting read. The landscape of Guatemala’s Pacaya Volcano is similar to Tenerife Island where I live in. Stunning photos!

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  16. The Quetzal is the national bird, and White Nun Orchid (Monja Blanca) is the national flower of Guatemala. The currency of Guatemala—Guatemalan Quetzal—is named after the beautiful Quetzal bird. In ancient Mayan times, the feathers of this bird were used as currency.

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  17. Great post. I hiked this volcano in 2005 when I was younger and fitter and remember it being a fun challenge! I noticed your hiking shoes in the photo and liked them. Can you tell me what brand they are? Thanks!

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  18. Whatever you do – do NOT wait for the sun to set on the top – it will be well dark before you get down and the track is very dangerous. Our guide let us do that and one of our group came a cropper walking back in the dark with only a few flashlights to mark our way.

    Great walk through and doable by any fit people of any age.

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  19. Took a Pacaya tour along with a couple dozen tourists from Antiqua in 1995 before it was a Nat Park.
    Our “guides” set us up and we were all robbed at gunpoint about 1/2 way up the volcano. Usually don’t like to see places developed for tourism, but in this case, it is obviously a good thing.

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  20. This site looks amazing… If you love to travel and hike in the mountain you can visit in Nepal. Nepal is the one of the most popular hiking and trekking destination in the world.

    Thank you very much for sharing great info about the traveling

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  21. Did it 2 days ago from Antigua. $10 transportation plus guide. 50 wuetsals entrance. So glad I bought a flashlight the day before and got a stick.
    Crazy brilliant experience. Was irritated by the horse and guy stalking me. Told him I would die on the volcano rather than get on his horse. Lava flows were beautiful as was the sunset. Careful of guides with sob stories. Ours said his father died and could we help with funeral expenses. Duh!! If not for my flashlight I would have had to s ou end the night on the trail. Pitch black.

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  22. Great post, never been to Guatemala. Looks like a great hike to go on and relaxing afterwards. I will keep Pacaya Volcano in mind if we can make it to Guatemala some day.

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  23. This was so informative! Thank you for sharing! I’ll be in Antigua next month and thinking about hiking Pacaya. I’m not the most athletic but I think I could do it with a walking stick. I’m going to bookmark your page and let you know how it goes!

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  24. Loved this hike! It was my first ever hike, let alone up a volcano and I remember it being challenging but so worth it. I did it in 2018 and the volcano was actually quite active when we were there. The lava was constantly bursting out of the top and we couldn’t climb to the summit because of it, but we were able to go to the normal ‘top’ bit. I would recommend camping there if possible! It was an amazing experience, allowed us to enjoy the sights of Pacaya at night, as well as the city below. Not to mention the fact that it gave us time to recover while we enjoyed watching the lava glow as it ran down the very top of the volcano. It was admittedly a bit hard to sleep what with the constant sound of explosions/mini eruptions through the night, plus our guide was a bit jumpy and kept checking his phone in case of warnings, etc (which put us a bit on edge), but overall it truly was an unforgettable experience!

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  25. Thanks for this really informative article. I am itching to do this hike! This past April I was in Costa Rica, all geared up to go to Guatemala when they shut down the international airport due to so much volcanic activity. I’m really hoping I can go next year! Question: did you bring your hiking shoes or buy them there?

    Reply

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I'm Annette.

I’m a goal obsessed mid-lifer, traveler, experience collector, fear crusher, digital marketer and author with big bucket list dreams. Let's Connect!

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