Hiking the Active Pacaya Volcano at Sunrise (LAVA FLOW)

by | Last updated May 19, 2021 | Guatemala | 4 comments

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Hiking an active volcano in Guatemala was at the top of my bucket list ever since moving temporarily to this wild country. But little did I know at the time when I signed up for the Pacaya sunrise hike and rolled out of bed at an early 2 AM that I would soon witness a mind-blowing lava flow right in front of my eyes.

Pacaya is one of the most active volcanoes in Central America and lately, it’s been putting on quite the show. It’s been exploding for a few weeks now, and at one point the Parque Nacional Volcán de Pacaya was closed. However, it recently opened again.

So, in the spirit of adventure, we sacrificed a good night’s sleep to instead witness one of the most extreme geological events in the world. And let me just say, it was nothing short of EPIC.

Here’s my guide to the Pacaya Volcano hike near Antigua, Guatemala! 

Ultimate Guide to the Pacaya Sunrise Hike

lava flow from the active pacaya volcano in guatemala

How to Hike Pacaya Volcano

There are several ways to experience the hike up Pacaya Volcano via one of its two authorized trails, but know that while you can get there on your own, you cannot hike it alone. At all times, a certified guide needs to accompany you on your trek! You can hire local guides at the Pacaya National Park entrance for Q200 (hours 7 AM – 5 PM) or arrange transport/guides through a tour company in Antigua.

You also have the choice to hike Pacaya at sunrise, early morning, or sunset (departures at 2 AM, 6 AM, and 2 PM).

Alternatively, you can camp overnight at Pacaya base camp to enjoy a night under the stars and enjoy the views at sunrise. If you don’t get the chance to do an overnight 2-day trek to Acatenango, then the overnight on Pacaya will be a great alternative. Not to forget, but if the hike seems too challenging then you also have the option to do it on horseback.

woman hiker in front of lava river from pacaya volcano

Most people do a day trip to Pacaya Volcano, seeing as it’s so close to Antigua, Guatemala (where most people base themselves out of for hiking Pacaya). Alternatively, you can book a Pacaya Volcano tour from Guatemala City if you’re based there.

From our experience, the 2 AM sunrise hike is perhaps going to give you the most epic experience – especially if there is a lava flow happening you will get to see the vivid orange and red of the lava pop against the black of the night!

We have also heard that the sunset hike, which departs at 2 PM, provides epic views of Volcán Pacaya and the surrounding volcanoes (Agua, Acatenango, and Fuego).

So when planning your hike up Pacaya Volcano, consider whether you want to go for sunrise, midday, sunset, or camp overnight. Consider as well if you’ll arrange your own transport from Antigua (90 minutes drive) and hire a guide at the national park entrance or simply book the entire experience with a tour. Either way, it takes around 40 minutes to climb Pacaya (via La Corona Trail).

Pacaya Volcano Tour

man dressed in spacesuit on hardened lava field (igneous rocks) at the base of Pacaya Volcano

So what can you expect with a Pacaya Volcano tour?

COST

Although prices may vary and you’ll read various reviews online, our Pacaya sunrise hike cost Q200 per person which included transportation from/to Antigua, certified guides, snacks, and gear (2x trekking poles and 1x headlamp per couple).

That didn’t include the Q50 national park entrance fee, which we paid in cash to the park office after descending Pacaya.

We booked our trek with Wicho & Charlies, but there are others in town you can compare rates with. It was simple and efficient, but the group was maxed out at 16 people in total which felt a little crowded. They split us up into two vans for the drive there/back.

No matter who you go with, most if not all tours will provide transportation, guides, gear, and a snack.

We also brought our own marshmallows just in case they weren’t offered, but in the end, one of the local guides by the name of Sergio shared his marshmallows and sticks with us so we could roast some inside a hole of semi-cooled hardened lava rock!

Besides booking in-person with a tour agency in Antigua, you can also book your Pacaya Volcano trek online via:

lava flow from volcán pacaya eruption

THE HIKE

As for the hike itself, expect the unexpected! On our way up in the dark, you can’t see much of where you’re going but don’t worry, you’ll get to see it all after sunrise on your way down. As for the time + duration, I believe we took the La Corona Trail which took approximately 40 minutes to reach the lava rivers. There is an alternative trail you can do which I read takes 2 hours.

What was unexpected was getting to see Volcán Fuego explode its lava in a wondrous light show from afar. We heard the boom several moments after. But what a sight! We could see the fire exploding out in the dark and running down the sides of the Fuego volcano. It was simply mesmerizing.

Most of the hike is uphill, but your tour guide gives the group a break (a rest for some and time to catch up for others) about once every 15-20 minutes. So you’ll get two before you arrive at the slopes of Volcán Pacaya.

About halfway up, we began to see lava slowly flowing down the side of the mountain. We didn’t realize at the time that we were heading into the thick of it!

It truly felt like we were hobbits on our way to Mordor – especially as we got closer and began to feel the heat of the lava blow around us mixed with the chill of the wind. It was simply WILD!

lava flow running down the Pacaya Volcano eruption

We rounded the Cerro Chino, unknowingly so at the time since everything was still pitch-black. Suddenly, the fine black soil of the trail soon turned into crunchy hardened lava rocks – which I believe is called igneous rock! 😉

What we saw next was truly jaw-dropping! We kept blurting out phrases like “This is insane!” “Incredible” “OMG, MORDOR!” during the entire final section of the hike.

We arrived at around 4:30 AM at the base of Volcán Pacaya, where an enormous slow-moving river of molten lava flowed just feet away. Truly, you could feel the heat seep into your shoes (later, as we’d find out, the sole of Paul’s shoe actually melted).

lava from from the pacaya volcano eruption 2021

ROASTING MARSHMALLOWS

Sunrise came and lit up the scene even more vividly, illuminating the sky and the clouds in purple hues.

One of the attractions to hiking Pacaya, an active volcano, is getting to roast marshmallows over real lava! There were even people making coffee and another guy reportingly making pizza!

That said, if you aren’t sure your tour company provides marshmallows + sticks, make sure to pick some up at the La Bodegona supermarket in Antigua (you’ll find the marshmallows in the candy section).

woman roasting marshmallows over lava on Pacaya Volcano (Volcán Pacaya)

roasting marshmallows over lava at Pacaya Volcano

HIKING BACK DOWN

Shortly after sunrise, our group was motioned it was time to go.

We began making our way back across the field full of igneous rock to meet the trail when Paul stopped and alarmed me that one of those rocks had actually melted into the sole of his shoe. Somehow he hadn’t noticed until then – probably because of our excitement to just stand right next to and witness real lava.

The hike back down took only 30 minutes and goes fairly quickly.

What’s special about the way back is that you get to see the landscape that was hidden in darkness on your way up. That said, on your way back you will get to enjoy magnificent views of the three volcanoes marking the skyline: Volcán Agua, Volcán Acatenango, and Volcán Fuego.

woman overlooking three volcanoes of Agua, Acatenango, and Fuego while on the pacaya sunrise trek

Once back at the trailhead, you’ll need to pay the Q50 entrance fee if you haven’t already. You’ll also have time for a bathroom break before hopping into the shuttle van and making your way back to Antigua (or Guatemala City).

The road back was longer than when we came due to traffic – another reason that the Pacaya sunrise hike is probably your best option to avoid traffic on the road as well as foot traffic on the trail.

Note: We were extremely fortunate to see lava as we did and it’s all thanks to the Pacaya Volcano eruption 2021. That said, you might not have the lava experience as we did even if you do a sunrise tour. Some people go and are disappointed due to bad/cloudy weather at the top. That’s why before you set out to do a sunrise hike, make sure to check the weather for Pacaya here (not your average weather report).

What to Wear to Hike Volcán Pacaya

woman looking at lava river from pacaya volcano eruption

We had little guidance from our tour company about what to expect and wear up to Pacaya, so I wanted to jot down an ideal packing list for hiking Pacaya that you should use to help plan your trip.

  • Proper hiking boots or shoes (a must because the fine volcanic soil is hard to hike up/down and the igneous rocks are fairly hot next to the lava – avoid sandals!!)
  • Trekking poles (likely provided if you book with a tour company – also rentable at the park entrance)
  • Headlamps (usually provided by the tour for sunrise hikes)
  • Windbreaker/jacket (it’s cold at the top unless you’re right next to the lava – if there is any)
  • Comfortable hiking pants, shirt/tank-top or long sleeve
  • Reusable water bottle
  • Marshmallows and sticks!
  • Camera
  • Tripod (don’t forget this if you are doing the sunrise trek! I did and regretted it)
  • Drone (optional – some people were flying theirs)
  • Snack
  • Travel daypack
  • Bag to put/pick up trash (please Leave No Trace)

Despite having clear weather, we had lots of chilly wind. We were glad to have worn long pants and our jackets. Make sure to consider changes in weather as you ascend/descend and pack accordingly!

Also, don’t forget to bring sunscreen if you are departing for Pacaya at 6 AM or 2 PM since you’ll be in the sun later in the day. You won’t need it if you leave at 2 AM and do the sunrise hike.

Also Read: What’s in My Camera Bag? My Travel Blogging Gear Guide

Pacaya Volcano FAQs

active pacaya volcano lava flow

Where is Pacaya Volcano located? Pacaya lies just 30 miles (48 km) southeast of Guatemala City and 21 miles (35 km) southwest of Antigua.

How long does it take to climb Pacaya? It takes around 40 minutes to climb Pacaya – 30 if you are a quick hiker – and only 30-35 minutes to trek back down. Trekking poles and proper hiking shoes recommended!

Can you hike Pacaya Volcano? Yes! While you can’t hike it when it’s exploding like crazy, you can still hike Pacaya Volcano even when there are lava flows.

How do you get to Pacaya? From Antigua, take the Ruta Palín. It takes about 1.5 hours to drive to Pacaya from either Antigua or Guatemala City – traffic pending. There’s a parking lot (parqueo) at the national park entrance.

What is the elevation of Pacaya? Pacaya sits at 2552 m or 8,373 ft in elevation. The elevation gain is about 450 m, or 1,500 ft. Read more Pacaya Volcano facts here.

What type of volcano is Pacaya? Pacaya is a complex (or compound) volcano. Its first eruption is estimated to have occurred around 23,000 years ago.

Is Pacaya still active? Yes! It has been almost continuously active for decades with frequent lava fountains and lava flows.

Best time to hike Volcán Pacaya? The dry winter months (Nov-Apr) will be the best months to hike Pacaya Volcano. We went in mid-May during the rainy season but got lucky and had a clear morning. Also consider not just the weather for when to hike Pacaya but going after reports of high volcanic activity – this will increase your chances of seeing lava flows.

Final Thoughts

OK, so we’ve trekked to Annapurna Base Camp in Nepal and now we’ve trekked on the active Pacaya Volcano and witnessed real LAVA! I must say, this experience rivals some of our favorite adventures we’ve had around the world.

If you get the opportunity to hike Pacaya at sunrise while traveling in Guatemala, do it!!!

If you spend the day exploring Pacaya and the nearby towns, there are also volcano-heated hot springs (more like thermal pools) to check out in nearby resorts such as Santa Teresita Hotel y Spa and Kawilal Hotel in Amatitlán.

If you have any questions about our sunrise hike to Pacaya Volcano in Guatemala, feel free to reach out and write a comment below. Happy trekking!

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4 Comments

  1. Cosette

    So epic. And wow that a rock melted in his shoe. Would love to do the sunrise trek, but the sunset trek also sounds cool.

    Reply
    • Bri

      Haha, right! I’m sure he’s not the only one that left Pacaya with a partially-melted shoe lol. Yeah, we hope to do more treks like this before we leave!

      Reply
  2. Taylor

    Wow! Bri, this is so epic! You are really making me consider booking a trip to Guatemala specifically to do this hike (as well as everything else). What a cool experience and so hilarious a rock melted into Paul’s shoe.

    Reply
    • Bri

      Hahaha I’m glad I’m not the only one that found that so funny! I hope you get to hike Pacaya one day and a few more of Guatemala’s epic volcanoes!

      Reply

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Hi, I’m Bri! I’ve been slow traveling around the world in search of new adventures since 2013. I have lived in 8 countries on 4 continents including Nepal, Mexico, Colombia, and parts of Europe! I created this blog to inspire others to live a life of adventure, seek out meaningful experiences, and to travel slowly and mindfully. Join me on this journey and let’s tick off our bucket lists! Read my story here.

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