Guatemala is located right along a strip of land known as the ring of fire that goes through all of the Pacific coast of the American Continent and part of the Asian one. Because of that, you can find a crazy number of volcanoes in it. So far there are 37 official ones but there are a few other dormant hidden in the forest.
Out of those 37 three of them are still active (Pacaya, Fuego and Santiaguito volcanoes) and two are semi-active (Acatenango and Tacana). If you love nature and have the time you should definitely visit them all. Each is unique and gorgeous.
I truly think that you can’t just visit Guatemala and not climb at least one of its volcanoes, even if it is not one of the active ones. One of the most popular among travelers is Pacaya Volcano. Yes, it is active but at very low levels so it is saved to walk near the crater and (on a good day) to see the lava rivers. Plus it is not a very challenging hike that can be done in one day or stay in it for a camping adventure.
Camping With Friends In Pacaya Volcano
I have been climbing volcanoes and exploring the Guatemalan mountains for almost two years now. That includes visiting the top 3 tallest ones in all of Central America (Acatenango, Tacana, and Tajumulco). However, I kept on neglecting Pacaya. I used to think of it as one of those places where everything is pre-fabricated and overly touristy.
But it is one of the icons of the country so finally a couple of months ago a friend convinced me to spend the night in it. I got my stuff together, put it in my hiking backpack and on a Saturday afternoon we set off to a small town called San Vicente de Pacaya.
We got there at around 5 pm right before the sun started to set. We were pretty comfortable about getting there late because the walk is really short and not too complicated. Plus we love to take places like this as small, fun challenges and get up there as fast as we can. We are on the camping grounds in 30 minutes.
If you are doing it more relaxed, stop at all of the lookout points and decide to take tons of photos it will take you an hour. I would also recommend you get here much earlier. This gives you better chances of getting cool views and opportunities for photos.
We quickly set up our tents and a bonfire. We managed to do that right before there was no sunlight. We hung out, had dinner and went to sleep.
The real adventure started the next morning when we set off to explore. I woke up before sunrise and I'm so glad I did. The weather was amazing and there were no clouds in the sky so we had amazing views.
We started our walk towards McKenny cone (the active one). If the eruption is low enough you can walk up to just meters away from the crater but it is dangerous. Cerrone Chino is the second of its cones and offers amazing views of McKenny and other surrounding volcanoes. This is the best spot for photographers.
If you walk further to the south you will also be able to see the remains of a collapse that this volcanic complex suffered about 1,100 years ago.
The third cone is Cerro Grande, this one is taller than McKenny which offers even better views of the rest of the complex. Then there is Cerro Negro, it will make you feel as if you were in another world, a creepy one. Years and years of eruptions have damaged the trees, making them dark and weird looking.
Most people only get to the campgrounds, some other venture to get closer to McKenny but almost no one takes the chance to venture into the other trails that take you to the dormant cones. But as you might be able to tell it is worth the extra effort. You will have tons of fun, I guarantee it.
Recommendations on What to Take With You to Pacaya
Most people think about Guatemala as a tropical place but when you do this kind of activity you should always be prepared for cold weather.
Pacaya isn't on one of the coldest areas or the country and isn't the highest but it can get quite windy and cold, so yo should always pack some clothing items to stay warm and comfortable as you enjoy the camping grounds.
1. COLD Womens Fitted Merino Wool Base Layer by SUB Sports - I love to take this one with me. When I walk I prefer to wear something else , fresher but this base layer is awesome for the camp. It is comfortable, super soft, stylish and most importantly keeps me warm.
The best part about it is how it fits me. I'm a tiny person and normally everything is too large for me but their XS fit me perfectly and i love how it looks around the waistline. Here is what it offers:
- 100% Merino Wool
- Merino wool - that keeps you naturally fresh and ready for any weather
- Stay Dry – breathable merino fibers wick moisture away from the skin
- Smell Fresh – the wool’s natural antibacterial properties help to repel bad odors
- Small zippered bag on the back.
2. Thermawool Full Zip by Terramar Sports - This one is advertised as a first layer but I have really been enjoying it as a mid layer. When I first tried it on I was a bit disappointed to see that it was too loose for me. The length was right but it didn't hug my body as expected from a first layer.
However over one it works perfectly. The combination of these two garments was amazing for hanging out at the bonfire and chatting with the rest of my friends. Here is what it offers:
- ClimaSense Thermoregulation Technology keeps you comfortable in all conditions
- Brushed microfiber against the skin for no itch
- Midweight warmth and superior breathability
- Functional thumbholes and flat seam construction
- UPF rating 50+
- Outside: 70% Micro-Polyester, 30% Merino Wool,
- Inside: 100% Micro-Polyester
3. Flash Forward Down Jacket by Comumbia - Once I was in my tent getting ready to sleep, alone and away from the bonfire I started feeling a lot colder. So I felt the need to throw on something else.
I am a person who doesn't tolerate cold weather very well so I was glad I packed my down jacket with me. It is extremely light, takes almost no space and it has saved me from a cold and uncomfortable night a couple of times. I always pack it with me. This is what it features.
- Heat Seal Technology eliminates baffled stitches
- Water resistant fabric
- 650 fill power down insulation
- Zippered hand pockets
- Binding at cuffs
- Active Fit
- Center Back Length: 25"
- Shell: 100% polyester
- Lining: 100% polyester
- Insulation: 71 grams of 650 fill power down
4. Women's Trabagon Rain Pant by White Sierra - Another thing about Guatemala that not a lot of people are aware of is that even during the dry months yo get an 70% of chances of getting rain if you enture into the woods. I had to learn that the hard way. I can't tell you how many times I got soaked for thinking that we wouldn't have any rain.
Now I always carry a waterproof soft shell jacket and I recently bought these rain pants. You can not imagine how much more comfortable they have made my trips. Plus it is one of those items that can be folded into their own pocket so they take almost no space in he backpack. I highly recommend them. Here are their features:
- Teflon fabric protector
- Waterproof/Breathable fabric
- Fully Seamed Taped
- Packable - stows in thigh pocket
- Comfort adjustable waist
- Zip secure front pocket
- Velcro secure back pocket
- Snap adjustable leg gusset
- Inseam: 31"
Fun Facts About Pacaya Volcano
Pacaya is much more than just a cool place to visit for the weekend with friends and family. This is an ancient place that has seen many eruptions over centuries. Here are some facts about Pacaya Volcano that you might now know:
- Pacaya is an active complex volcano in Guatemala with 5 summits but only one active cone.
- It first erupted approximately 23,000 years ago and has erupted at least 23 times since the Spanish invasion of Guatemala.
- Pacaya has an elevation of 2,552 meters (8,373 ft) above sea level.
- After being dormant for a century, it erupted violently in 1965.
- Since then it has been a constant eruption.
- Its last large eruption was on 2010.
- Pacaya is located 30 kilometers (19 miles) southwest of Guatemala City and close to Antigua.
- There is only 1 active cone but it is formed by 4 others that are dormant and a lagoon.
- From its camping grounds, you can see the active cone and 3 of the most iconic Volcanoes of the country: Agua, Fuego, and Acatenango.
- Around the volcano, you can find places offering swimming pools and even a spa filled with naturally heated hot springs.
Spending one night in Pacaya Volcano is a definite must do. As I mentioned before, the hike is pretty easy to do and you get amazing views of the active cone. It is perfect for people of all ages including kids.
Do you need any more reasons?