The Pacaya Volcano hike sounded like an epic adventure. Seriously, roasting marshmallows on the vent of an active volcano, how amazing is that?! I just wasn’t sure if the hike was a good fit for five-year-old Eli. I’d read so many differing accounts of the hike’s difficulty level that I had no idea what to believe. So, we decided to go ahead and book it and see for ourselves.
We talked to several different tour companies in Antigua and found the price for a shared shuttle from our hotel and a guide for the hike to be around eighteen USD per person with no discount for children. The area around Pacaya Volcano is a National Park and there’s a fee of 50 QTG (about 6.50 USD) per person to get into the park that isn’t included in the eighteen dollar tour fee.
The hike takes about six hours including the roundtrip bus ride. All of the tour companies offer two different time options, early in the morning, and around 2:00 in the afternoon. After our Tikal Sunrise Tour, we’d had enough early mornings and decided to book the afternoon hike.
The Bus Ride to Pacaya
We were the first people to be picked up by the shared shuttle. It was a completely full bus and took about forty-five minutes before all twenty-eight people were on board and we finally left Antigua. The ride to Pacaya took about an hour and went up into the mountains and then down through several small towns before heading up to Pacaya. It was neat to see Pacaya from afar on the way there.
When we arrived at the base of the volcano our guide boarded the bus, introduced himself, and instructed us to go pay our admission fee before meeting him at the trailhead. The area near the parking lot was equipped with bathrooms and a small store selling snacks and drinks. When paying our admission fees I asked the cashier if I would need to pay for Eli. He glanced at Eli and waved him through with no charge. He didn’t even ask how old Eli was so I have no idea what age gets in for free. It obviously doesn’t hurt to ask though.
My dad rode the bus with us because he wanted to see the volcano, but he didn’t want to do the hike. He’s seventy-five years old and in good shape but he doesn’t like to hike. He asked the bus driver if there was an area he could wait for us at the trailhead and was told that we wouldn’t be coming back down the same way we hiked up (it’s a good thing he asked). When we started the hike the bus driver took my dad to where we’d end up after the hike and he waited for us there.
Starting The Hike
We were hiking with a large group that consisted of everyone on the bus except for my dad. When we were all at the trailhead we were met by four men on horses leading three extra horses. The horsemen asked if anyone wanted a “taxi ride” (horse ride to the top) and everyone initially declined. The guide started off at a relatively fast clip and the group followed right behind. We were the last people and the horses were directly behind us. After assuring the horsemen that we wouldn’t need a ride several times, they finally passed us and joined the rest of the group hoping someone would give in and pay for a horseback ride. The ground was really dry and dusty so it was nice to not have the horses kicking up dust so close to us.
The Steady Hike up Pacaya Volcano
It’s a steady climb with thick lush green vegetation on either side of the trail. In the first mile and a half, there is a 1,000-foot elevation gain. The guide continued to hike rapidly but stopped for three long breaks at the overlooks built into the trail. It seemed that he was hiking fast to get more people to cave in and pay for a horseback ride. His strategy worked and several people did indeed pay for a ride as we got closer to the top. We stayed behind the group and hiked at a slower pace but caught up to everyone at the overlooks. Unfortunately, it was really smoggy that day so the overlooks didn’t give us much of a view.
The hike was actually much easier than any of us expected. Eli and my mom (who is seventy-one) both did fine. The highest point of the Pacaya Volcano hike is 8,372 feet. I imagine the altitude has a large effect on why so many reviews I read reported the hike as being difficult. Coming from sea level, hiking above 8,000 feet is really hard. The one advantage we have of living above 9,000 feet is that we’re used to the thin air so hiking at that altitude wasn’t a problem.
Pacaya Volcano Up Close
Before we could even see the volcano we started to hear the rumbling and crashing of rocks coming from the crater. A short hike later we arrived at the top of a mountain right next to the Pacaya volcano. The vegetation was instantly gone and we were walking on a moon-like landscape covered with black volcanic rock. Red hot lava and gigantic boulders occasionally erupted from the crater. It was absolutely stunning.
It wasn’t long before our guide rallied our group together and lead us down the hill towards the Volcano. At the bottom of the hill was a huge lava field created from a recent Pacaya eruption.
Roasting Marshmallows on a Volcanic Vent
The lava field was littered with marshmallow roasting sticks from previous tour groups. Our guide showed us several hot vents and provided us with marshmallows to roast. It was crazy how fast the marshmallows toasted up. Those vents are hot!
Marshmallow roasting was by far Eli’s favorite part of the entire hike.
The Hike Down
We had one last up-close view of the volcano and then started the hike down. This was by far my least favorite part of the whole adventure. We were hiking down on a dirt road and the ground was extremely dry. The dirt was fine and powdery and everyone’s footsteps made a huge brown dirt cloud. Eli loved playing in the dirt so we again stayed at the back of the group so Eli’s dirt-playing wouldn’t annoy the other hikers.
The amount of dirt we dumped out of our shoes at the bottom was unbelievable.
It was starting to get dark as we met my dad on the trail near the parking lot. He said he was glad he came even though he didn’t do the hike. There was a good view of the erupting volcano just up the trail from the parking lot.
What to Bring on the Pacaya Volcano Hike
- Make sure that you have enough water and snacks to get you through the hike. There is a small store at the trailhead but the prices are a lot steeper than in Antigua.
- Dress in layers. It was hot at the trailhead and heading up the mountain but once we got to the top the temperature dropped dramatically.
- Wear sturdy shoes. The lava rocks are sharp and hard to walk on. It would be difficult to walk from the viewpoint at the top of the hill down to the lava field in sandals.
Would I go again? Absolutely! We all agreed that it wasn’t a great hike. But, being close enough to an active volcano to roast marshmallows and hear the boulders tumbling down was a once in a lifetime experience.