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Ways to Experience Pacaya Volcano
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Reviewed November 22, 2009

The shuttle for Pacaya volcano picked us all up promptly at 2:30 (not bad for central American time) and went around to pick up as many passengers as would fit in the shuttle, which was basically a minivan like they have on those shows “18 kids and counting.” But in those shows, they have two vans. Well, we managed to fit about 15 people in one, and that’s for the “nice” shuttle services. The chicken busses are a whole other story. Anyway, I had a bumpy trip to the bottom of the mountain. I was equipped with Bonine, to prevent motion sickness, and a beer, just because. I chatted with the other passengers on the way and was excited to start hiking.

I have hiked to volcanoes before. I walked to an inactive volcano in Santorini, were I could look into the crater and see the beautiful scenery; and to Poas, an active volcano in Costa Rica that is basically a warm sulfur pit, rich with blues and greens. But this would be different. This volcano had hot lava, and we could get close enough that we could roast marshmallows at the top. I really wasn’t sure what to expect. We arrived at the bottom, where we paid our entrance fee and then returned to the van. We then arrived at the base of the mountain, where 7 kids with walking sticks attacked us. Well, they didn’t attack us with sticks, but they attacked us with offers… “5 Quetsales. You need?” “estick?” I wanted to buy one from the only girl there, but she didn’t have change for my 10. She looked forlorn when I had to give my 5 to one of her male competitors, so I told her next time she should be sure to be prepared so that she could sell more than the boys. She just nodded, still wanting my 5 Quetzales.

We went up as a group. “Los Lobos,” and in an hour or so, I started to think of us as “Los Locos.” In our group, we had 5 men and 5 women. There was the option of taking a horse up the first portion of the hike, and two of the women opted for that immediately. The rest of us proceeded. Within the first 10 feet, it was clear to me that this wasn’t like my other volcanic excursions. Those were more like walking up mild hills. No, this was Hiking. After the first little portion, which was still paved with steps, the other women and one of the men opted for a horse. There were men on horse the whole way asking “Taxi? Taxi?” and as we went higher and higher, more people gave up on walking and opted for one of these cabs. But I hiked on, the only woman left on her own two feet.

I felt like carrion to the vultures. Now there were fewer people walking, and there were a few horses without passengers as we headed up the hill. I could feel my face getting flush and my skin getting sweaty, despite the cool weather. Every time our group would stop to rest, they would ride up to me on their horses. “Taxi? Taxi? Ahora, si necessitas.” I probably did look like I needed to hop on a horse, but that only pushed me harder. I realized I was the only woman with a bunch of young healthy guys who probably maxed out at the age of 23. But I knew I wasn’t going to get on any horse, especially not on this muddy steep mountain.

I kept walking. The paved steps gave way to a trail full of mud and horse excrement. It was still raining and muddy, and I soon gave up on trying to watch where I stepped. After a few breaks, the mud gave way to sand, and I soon wished I was back on the mud again. The sand actually fine volcanic ash that was very fine. Every time I took a step on the steep mountain, I slid backward a bit. We then took broke through the cloud line, and the rain stopped. We headed to a hill made entirely of volcanic ash, where we did “Ash Skiing,” which basically meant jumping as far and fast as you can down the ash hill. From there, it was straight up, with a mix of ash and volcanic rock. It was treacherous and slow-going, since it was dusk and difficult to see the path. I felt like I wouldn’t be able to make it, and had to pause every five minutes. I couldn’t help but think that my butt had better look fabulous as a result of this extreme workout. I trudged on.

Suddenly I felt it. As the path turned to all volcanic rock, the wind swept the heat down from the volcano. It reminded me of that particular smell in saunas--a dry earthy heat that at once soothes and also stuns your senses. The rocks under foot got larger and larger, and I could feel that they were hollow and seemed frail. They didn’t make the deep thunk that rocks normally make when you step on them. Instead, they had a hollow echo and were so fragile, the guide recommended poking them with a walking stick before stepping, so that our leg didn’t end up down in a lava flow.

Then there was the lava. We had to walk directly past hot glowing lava rocks. If someone tripped or was bumped, they would have fallen hands-first into the rocks. One of the hikers in our group stumbled and began to fall. The guide just yelled “NO NO NO!” and she instinctively retracted her hands. Thankfully, she regained her balance. We were told of people who fell, which wouldn’t be hard considering the terrain, and they sustained third degree burns. Another group was unlucky enough to be caught in a live lava flow, and sustained severe burns on their feet and legs. Keep in mind, this means hiking back down the mountain yourself minus the use of the burnt limb. There’s no helicopter lift here!

Finally, we were at the top and the color of the lava flow was unbelievable. Reddish orange steam lingered over the lava river. And the glow from the mouth of the lava was an intense white hot. We were so close we roasted the marshmallows that the kids below were selling in bags. And wow, they’re the best marshmallows I will ever eat in my life. I was in awe, and realized that I had likely just done the most physically challenging things I will ever do. Two women there said it was more difficult than childbirth, so I can only hope this Volcano was worse. And the view was unlike anything I have ever seen or anything I will ever see again. The three hour hike back in the dark was quiet as we all reveled in awe in our own accomplishments and at the marvel we had just witnessed. See more travel reviews and adventures at: [--].

16  Thank junglelawyer
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed October 18, 2009

The trip to climb the Pacaya Volcano was not billed as dangerous or very arduous. It was! My husband and I are both in our 60s and in good shape but this was the most dangerous and difficult adventure we have ever taken part in. The climb is steep to start with (I work out every day and I was out of breath after five minutes) and only got more difficult. We took the afternoon tour and were stuck in the middle of the mountain hours later in pitch black darkness. We never did make it to the top, where the steaming red, hot lava flows. I do have photos of it tho' because the guide took my camera up with him. Many of the other folks in the group (all in their 20s) said they never would have done the climb had they known how difficult it was going to be.

7  Thank Misstourguide
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed August 25, 2009

While in Antigua last week we decided to try out the Picaya Volano hike. It was very easy to arrange a cheap tour in Antigua and it ended up costing us $10 per person with Silva Travel.

The volcano itself was much cooler than I expected. Lava was gushing out of the side and we were able to come within one foot of the lava. It was so hot that you could only stand near it for a few seconds and I could feel the rubber on my shoes melting to the rock below my feet. Truly amazing!

You can see some of my pictures online at www.chasefoto.com under galleries -->Picaya volcano

5  Thank fotoadventures
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed July 22, 2009

After arriving into Guatemala City airport, we went straight to Pacaya Volcano. Pacaya Volcano is great for experiencing lava flows up close. You need to purchase a ticket at the turn off of the highway onto the road up to the volcano. There are people wanting you to hire them for your guide here.

We decided to hike to the lava flows as the volcano was smoking at the summit and was to dangerous to visit. People at the lava flows had brought marshmallows and they shared them with us. We cooked our marshmallows from the heat vents near the lava flows. The heat from the flow was too intense to stand very close and roast marshmallows.

The round trip hike took about 3 or 4 hours.

I had read all about the "disappearing guide" robberies and was leary of hiring a guide. We parked in the "lot" outside of the ranger station and paid the lady in the house adjacent Q10 to watch the car. As you exit your car you get bombarded by all sorts for guides and horses.

We planned to do the hike ourselves but the ranger asked if we had been before. We responded that we had not and he highly recommended a guide. I asked him for a recommended guide and the ranger pointed to one and said he was good. Our guide also happened to be leading a horse. He said it was Q70 for a guide up to the lava flows. After a few hundred yards, my wife realized how strenuous it was going to be and asked how much to ride the horse. Our guide said it was Q100 each way, but that included the guide service. My wife felt it was worth the extra and she rode the horse up and back. You still have to hike the last steep part up to the flows, and the guide helped here up the loose lava rock and the tricky solid jagged lava rock.

It's probably too difficult a climb for children younger than 7 or 8 and overweight and out of shape persons. Our guide said that they will take young/overweight/out-of-shape people up in the afternoon to see the flows from a distance. As the sun goes over the other side of the volcano in the afternoon, you can see the lava flows from a distance.

My teenagers and I were fine on the hike, but it seemed longer than a couple of miles they said it was.

My daughter got a few minor scrapes from the sharp lava, but everyone else was careful and didn't get any scrapes. You can reduce the number of scrapes by wearing long pants.

Take a wind breaker/rain jacket for the wind on top.

Take about a liter/quart of water per person so you don't get dehydrated.

9  Thank Mark B
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed June 10, 2009

Rather than do the day trip with hundreds of other travellers to the vocano, you can do an overnight camp to lava with a caompany called OX, based in Antigua. You need to note a few things before you visit them. The owner Victor, an american guy, is very pushy and money orientated. Try not to deal with him - he is very in your face. The website says they supply all your camping gear, but then when we asked Victor for things on the day he refused to supply us with a torch for no apparent reason. He could have told us that at the time ofbooking and we could have got one for the trip. Even local/ex-pat cafe owenrs we spoke to said the locals do not like him because he is obsessed with money! Make sure whatevere you do, he doesnot go on your trip as a guide as he will spoil it with his bad attitude.

Now to the trek - our guides Steve and Sophie were execellent, and were english speaking. They helped everyone and were very informative and friendly. You share carrying the campig gear between the whole group and pitch the tents when you get up there. All the day groups are coming down as you trek up the volcano. You get up there and you have the volcano to yourself. You see the lava flow at night, they cook you dinner and have a few glasses of wine. In the morning you get up for sunrise, see thelava again, have breakfast before descending. It is a magical experience!!and worth the extra money. If wedidn't have to deal with Victor it woud have been the best experience but his aggresive and unfriendly attitude at the start was the only issue. Do this trip with OX for something special!

10  Thank sermo
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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