Want to hike a volcano in Guatemala? If you are planning a trip to Guatemala then an overnight camping trip to Volcan Pacaya needs to be on your itinerary. Guatemala has 3 active volcanos, 2 of which are in the Antigua area making them really accessible. It’s pretty hard to miss all the volcanoes in Guatemala, especially if you arrive by plane into Guatemala City.
In my humble opinion, you can’t visit Guatemala and NOT climb a volcano! There are several to choose from of varying levels of difficulty.
The most popular of those volcanos is Volcan Pacaya. Rising to an elevation of 8,370ft. / 2,552m Payaya may be one of the smaller volcanoes but it is still active and although it hasn’t erupted since 2014, the night I was there I saw plenty of lava flowing and some small eruptions.
If climbing Acatenango isn’t your idea of fun and you prefer an easier hike, you have children with you, or you are on a mission to climb all the volcanoes that you can in Guatemala, here’s everything you need to know.
You have 3 options when booking a tour:
- Daytime – leave early (6 hours)
- Daytime – leave in the afternoon (6 hours)
- Overnight camping – leave in the afternoon get back the following morning
Choosing a Tour Company
When choosing a tour company I have compiled a whole article detailing what to look out for, read it here. What I would say is you get what you pay for. There are plenty of companies offering very cheap tours to Pacaya. I have heard many stories though about people paying the tour operator and then having to pay a fee to get onto the volcano. Whoever you go with check the entrance fee is included.
If you decide to do an overnight tour I would be even more careful about who I booked through as it can get very cold overnight at high altitude so you need to make sure the company has the correct equipment. I decided to do the overnight trip, mostly because I’m a sucker for a good sunset and sunrise photograph and on the overnight trip you get both, plus I love camping.
I took my trip with OX Expeditions based in Antigua. Leaving at 1 pm from their hostel Base Camp it’s a hours drive to the park entrance. Here you can get any last minute food and drink, use the bathroom and get yourself a walking stick for 5Q.
As this is an overnight trip I had to carry a 50lt backpack with my gear, part of a tent, sleeping bag, 4 litres of water and my food, oh and some wine! It was a little on the heavy side but totally manageable (although I’m 5ft8 and like lifting heavy things). If you know that you don’t want to carry your backpack, or you aren’t in good shape, you can also arrange a porter for your bag. Infact you can even get a horse to ride on to the camp. Its 100Q for a porter/ horse so it’s worth making sure you keep some extra money on you just in case.
The hike itself took us about 45 minutes. The first 20 minutes was the worst for me. It’s a really nice walk and Jose our guide stopped a few time one the way up to talk to us about the local area and the environment.
When we arrived at the camp we dropped our bags, Jose set up our camp and then we walked up to watch the sun setting.
We were all pretty surprised to see lava flowing! It’s been years since this has happened so we were really lucky!
We then look a pretty easy walk down to the “hot spots” to roast marshmallows, and drink a few beers!
Once we arrived back to our camp Jose got to work cooking a hot dinner for us all, and the local guide Carlos started a fire. I’ve heard lots of mixed reviews on food from different people taking other tours saying there wasn’t enough food etc. I had a huge tub of rice and sauce which was delicious and way too much for me to eat…lucky for the dog who had been following us around though as she got to finish it!
We all sat around the campfire talking, drinking wine and watching the lava. Fuego the other active volcano in the area was also rather active that night so from where we were sat we could hear them both! Sorry, no pictures as the visibility wasn’t good enough.
Sleeping on a Volcano
Turns out it’s pretty difficult to sleep on an active volcano. I was warm enough in my sleeping bag, but trying to sleep in between two noisy volcanos, without any ear plugs, was never going to end well. Not that I’m complaining, it’s not every day I get kept awake by erupting volcanos after all!
Wake up call was at 4:30, getting out of the nice warm tent to hike to the summit was pretty grim. For me, this was the most difficult part of the tour. It’s dark and you are hiking up the volcanic rock which is loose and it’s steep. It’s about an hour to the top, although half way through it may not feel like it, it’s 100% worth it.
I must say that I probably made the hike more difficult by not checking the batteries in my head torch, so I had to keep shouting for someone to shine a light on me when I got to a tricky part, when we had almost reached the top I remembered I had my phone torch….sometimes I amaze myself.
Despite the cold, early start and lack of headtorch the view from the summit was incredible! We sat there and watched Pacaya erupt for a good 20 minutes before I was time to head down a bit to see the sunrise. I didn’t realise at the time how lucky we were to see this. Sadly the clouds kept coming in and none of my pictures turned out…so if you want to see it you will just have to book a tour and see it for yourself.
I took a few ok images on the way back down, but to be honest there were so many clouds none of them were that wonderful. Although the clouds do make the mountains look like little islands in a sea of clouds. If you think it’s tricky hiking up the black stuff, wait until you come back down! I fell over so many times I had to put my gloves on to protect my hands. It was a lot of fun running down, though.
Once back at camp, it’s time for breakfast, and most importantly coffee. I normally have a 2 cup rule before I do anything in the morning, so the fact I submitted a volcano without any caffeine is an achievement in itself. Once we packed up camp it was time to head back down.
So here are my top reasons you should do an overnight tour to Pacaya:
- If you are looking for a fun camping experience on a volcano that isn’t too physically challenging, this is the tour for you.
- If you are with a group of friends and want a night away from partying in Antigua, but the thought of climbing Acatenango makes you reach for a bottle of tequila.
- You really like marshmallows
- You want to beat the crowds. Pacaya is the most popular volcano to hike because it’s the easiest. That means there are a lot of people hiking up and down every day. Doing the overnight tour we hardly saw anyone. So if you don’t like people in your pictures, or just in general, the best thing about the overnight tour is you are on your way up when everyone else is leaving.
- You’re a little bit bonkers and decide to do the OX Expeditions “Trident” tour. This is only to be attempted if you are in excellent physical condition. Basically, you hike and camp on Acatenango, hike to Fuego from Acatenango, come down and maybe grab a quick shower and then off you go hiking Pacaya and camp there for the night.
Thank you to OX Expeditions for inviting me on this trip with them. The experiences and opinions are my own.