Fire On the Mountain
Guatemala is one of few places in the world where you can get up close and personal with an active volcano in relative ease. From the town of San Francisco de Salas, the 3.7-kilometer trail up Pacaya Volcano (2–3 hours) climbs gradually through cornfields and secondary forest before arriving at a vast volcanic wasteland of old lava flows. After crossing a barren ridge, the trail then winds up the slopes of the volcanic crater itself. Hiking up the loose ash will give you the sensation of taking two steps forward and one step back. It’s a good workout but worth the effort. At the summit, you’re treated to a fine view of the main vent spewing lava, rocks, and ash. It may sometimes feel too close for comfort, as large chunks of lava rock often land nearby. You can also see Guatemala City, The Pacific Coast, and some of the neighboring volcanoes from here.
At the summit, avoid breathing in the clouds of sulfuric gases. Be especially careful where you step, as there are some hot zones and sometimes some slow-moving lava flows. The skilike descent down the same sandy ash can be tricky and you should exercise due caution to avoid a nasty face-plant into the jagged lava rocks alongside the trail.
If hiking during the day, bring plenty of sunscreen along with a hat, preferably with a chin strap that will prevent it from blowing away at the windy summit. Water and some snacks are always a good idea. Try not to carry excessive amounts of cash, but just what you’ll need for the park admission, guide tip, and a drink and/or snack when you arrive back at the base of the trail. Rain gear (depending on the season) and some good, sturdy boots are also important. You’ll especially appreciate the latter because you’ll need ankle support and it’s easy to get rocks and sand in your shoes, which can be extremely uncomfortable, during the final ascent up the sandy crater.
© Al Argueta from Moon Guatemala, 3rd Edition. Photos © Al Argueta www.alargueta.com