Pacaya Volcano National Park
Looming over Lake Amatitlán is this 2,552-meter-high active volcano spewing lava and ash for the amazement of tourists and locals alike. Its current active phase began in 1965 and has barely ceased since. Activity varies from quiet gas, lava, and steam emissions to full-scale explosive eruptions hurtling rocks into the sky. It sometimes spews large ash clouds that prompt the closure of Guatemala City’s La Aurora International Airport, as was the case when a 1998 eruption blanketed the airport runway in fine volcanic sand and again in May 2010.
The volcano makes a convenient day trip from Guatemala City (45 minutes) or Antigua (1 hour). Logistically, it makes more sense from Guatemala City, but the tour operators offering the trip are almost entirely based in the old colonial city. It’s possible to make the trip on your own, though going in a group with a local guide is highly recommended.
The volcano’s national park status dates to 2001. A visitors center and ticket booth can be found at the trailhead in the village of San Francisco de Sales. Admission to the park is $5. You can also hire a guide here. There is safe parking for vehicles in San Francisco de Sales and the well-maintained trail has good signage, rest stops with trash receptacles, and outhouses. The trails are patrolled by park rangers and incidents of robbery, which once plagued this otherwise wonderful place, have become virtually unheard of in recent years.
Should you wish to spend the night in the area, Salamandras House (tel. 5201-8649, salamandrashouse [at] gmail [dot] com) has a café, rooms for rent, and a Mayan sauna. It’s also a spa offering aroma and mud therapy and there are handicrafts for sale in the gift shop. Salamandras House is located in San Francisco de Sales near the visitors center and trailhead.
Recommended companies include Old Town Outfitters (5a Avenida Sur #12C, tel. 5339-0440, www.bikeguatemala.com, $30 including lunch), which leaves earlier than most other companies to avoid the crowds. Adrenalina Tours (5a Avenida Norte #31, tel. 7832-1108 or 5535-6831) leaves daily at 6 a.m. and 1 p.m. The trip costs $10–20 depending on whether or not you want a meal with your climb. The more expensive V.I.P. trip has a four-person minimum and also includes the $5 park admission fee. For your standard trip in the $5–7 vicinity, a good outfitter is Gran Jaguar Tours (4a Calle Poniente #30, tel. 7832-2712), leaving at 6 a.m. and 1 p.m.
Getting to Pacaya Volcano National Park
To get here on your own steam, follow the CA-9 highway past Amatitlán to a signed turnoff at Km. 37.5. Head east eight kilometers to the village of San Vicente Pacaya, where you’ll find the park entry station and information center. The road continues from here another 10 kilometers to San Francisco de Sales (turn left at the fork in the road just past San Vicente Pacaya). For an excellent map detailing the route of ascent, see the interactive map online at Mapas de Guatemala (www.mapasdeguatemala.com/mapas).
© Al Argueta from Moon Guatemala, 3rd Edition. Photos © Al Argueta www.alargueta.com