Pacaya Volcano Antigua Guatemala

Updated: Mar 28

Looking to get up close and personal with an active volcano?


Not only does Antigua Guatemala boast rich cultural history, it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979.


But the city also offers adventure seeking travelers easy access to a plethora of active and inactive volcanoes.


While Antigua is most commonly associated with Volcan de Agua which most prominently towers over the city. There are several other volcanoes nearby that travelers should familiarize themselves with before visiting Antigua.


In this guide I'll go over everything you need to know in order to have a successful day trek out to Pacaya Volcano.


Have a specific question about visiting Pacaya Volcano? Jump ahead using the table of contents below:


The hike to Pacaya was one of my favorite activities we did during my trip to Guatemala and I'm excited to help others get the most out of this experience.


You'll notice some links and advertisements from partner or affiliate sites throughout this post. I typically earn a small commission on any purchases made through those links at no additional cost to you. If you check those out, great. If not, I'm still happy you're here!

 

Where is Pacaya Volcano Located?


Pacaya Volcano can be easily accessed via car from Antigua, Guatemala. The volcano is located to the southeast of town. Visitors should budget about 75 minutes to reach the trailhead parking area If departing from Antigua by car.


Pacaya Volcano
Pacaya isn't visible for much of the hike until you make this corner

For our trip to Pacaya we booked a day trip with OX Expeditions who are based out of Antigua. Our tour departed from their offices which are centrally located in Antigua.


If you’re staying near the square in Antigua as we were you can easily reach the offices by walking. Travelers staying further away can arrange for logistics through OX Expeditions.


The whole experience took about 7 hours and for our tour we chose the morning departure. They also had afternoon offerings if getting up at the butt crack of dawn isn’t your thing!


You're required to have a registered guide for this hike, which you can hire near the trails entrance. Since you can't do this one alone, you might as well make arrangements through an Antiguan based company that can also offer a shuttle to the volcano.


Don't make this one more complicated than it needs to be!


What to Expect When Hiking to Pacaya Volcano


The actual hike to Pacaya Volcano isn't too difficult. The journey up from the parking area will take about 90 minutes. The distance of this hike (roundtrip) is about 3.2 miles or 5 kilometers.


The trail is pretty well maintained until you get out onto Pacaya's lava rock covered hillside. You'll want to wear sturdy footwear specifically for the latter portion.


Hikers walking up a trail
Part of the hike is covered by trees - but don't forget sunscreen!

While the terrain and total distance suggest this hike isn't too difficult, the steepness and elevation will slow most hikers down. At an elevation of 8,373 ft (2,552 meters) the air will be thin. Be aware of altitude sickness and if you start feeling a headache or dizziness slow down!


I usually don't use trekking poles for short or flat hikes. But if you do prefer hiking with them - locals will offer large hiking sticks for rent in the parking lot. This can be a great way to save your knees on the journey back down.


The first half of the hike is covered by trees. Meanwhile you'll enjoy stunning views of the Guatemalan hillsides as you work up to Pacaya. In the distance you'll be graced with the presence of not one, not two, not three.. but FOUR volcanoes. I'm counting Pacaya in that, but you'll also be able to see Fuego, Acatenango and Agua as you hike.


Man taking photo of volcano eruption
My brother snapping a photo of Fuego erupting in the distance

Once the terrain starts to convert from trees to volcanic rock you'll encounter a small shack staffed by locals selling snacks and water. If you need to reload on anything, this is the place to do it.


After passing the small store you'll work out onto Pacaya's mountainside which is covered with loose volcanic rocks (this is where those hiking boots will really come in handy).


Looking for a souvenir? There's a small shack selling crafts made out of Pacaya's volcanic rocks. Sure, you could just grab one off the ground, I suppose. But the prices here are reasonable, the crafts more interesting AND you'll be supporting a local in the process. Definitely peruse their offerings while you're here.


There's a good chance at this point the wind will have really picked up as you hike out onto Pacaya's exposed and barren mountainside. Be sure to pack an extra layer in your hiking day pack for this part of your hike. Otherwise, you'll be cold and exposed for the best part of the whole experience!


Man taking photo on Pacaya Volcano
It can be extremely windy on Pacaya - you have been warned!

Our guide (via OX Expeditions) brought marshmallows to roast on the volcano! It's less likely you'll encounter flowing lava on this hike, but you will stumble across heat vents in the side of Pacaya that are hot enough to roast marshmallows or cook a pizza!


More on the pizza in a minute.


The views from the side of Pacaya are absolutely stunning. There's a crude hangout area that makes for a great photo op and place to hang out for a bit while you take in the scenery.


You Can Eat a Pizza Cooked by Pacaya


Have you ever wanted to eat a pizza cooked by a volcano? Well at Pacaya Volcano you can!


Man checking volcano heat vent
A guide showing us one of the heat vents on Pacaya

There's a local who runs a pizza stand on the side of Pacaya Volcano. He uses heat that escapes through vents in the mountainside to cook the pizza. He's located near the Guatemalan flag. The single trail leads down to a common area so you can't miss him.


There was a group of other hikers waiting in line to order so we never got around to having one ourselves.


If you think you'll try one I suggest heading straight for the make-shift pizza oven right when you see it!


How to Prepare for Pacaya Volcano


When preparing for a trek out to Pacaya Volcano there are a few important things to keep in mind.


At an elevation of 8,373 ft (2,552 meters) the air will be thin. Even though the duration of this hike isn't too long, it is still possible to feel the effects of altitude sickness. Be careful not to over exert yourself!


If you're staying in nearby Antigua save this hike for the back end of your stay. The elevation above sea level in Antigua is still quite high at 5,253 ft (1,601 meters). While you're staying in Antigua your body will slowly start to acclimate to the higher elevations.



The next most important thing to remember is to pack sturdy footwear. You'll be hiking out onto loose lava rocks, a sprained ankle is the last thing you want out here.


It's also important to remember to pack enough water, snacks and sunscreen for the hike.


If you find yourself in a pinch there's a small shop near the volcano that the hiking trail passes. When we visited we were able to grab some water and bananas here.


The last thing to remember is the temperature on this day is going to vary widely. Be sure to dress in layers. It will likely be cold in the morning, extremely windy near the view point and hot by the time you're hiking back down.


Other Things to Know About Pacaya Volcano


Is There Cell Phone Service at Pacaya Volcano?


There is surprisingly strong cellular service at Pacaya Volcano due to a nearby cell tower. Why not give mom a ring from atop a volcano!


How Much Does Pacaya Volcano Cost?


We used OX Expeditions for our Pacaya visit. Use the link to check out current pricing, but it's very reasonable for a 6+ hour excursion.


Our trip with OX was amazing and couldn't have gone more smoothly. They even offered to pick us up from our Airbnb! We ended up walking to their offices though since we were staying nearby. If you're staying anywhere near the main square in Antigua their offices should be very reachable on foot.



They take care of all of the logistics (transportation, entrance tickets, guide) and made the whole experience buttery smooth.


How Long Does it Take to Visit Pacaya Volcano?


With driving factored in from Antigua you should budget six to seven hours to visit Volcan Pacaya.


Driving will take about three hours roundtrip. Hiking up the volcano will take about 75 minutes. Coming back down is a bit quicker but be sure to budget plenty of time for the top!


Are there Bathrooms at Pacaya Volcano?


There are restroom facilities located at the main parking lot for Pacaya Volcano.


Once you start onto the trail your only bathroom option will be the great outdoors!


Should I Bring any Special Hiking Gear for Pacaya Volcano?


The most important things to bring when visiting Pacaya Volcano are hiking boots, water, sunscreen and an extra layer since it can be cold and windy near the lookout area.


The hiking path up from the parking area is well maintained but once you get out to the actual Volcano area the terrain is extremely rocky since it consists primarily of loose lava rocks.


Hikers on Pacaya Volcano
Hikers work down the side of Pacaya Volcano

Since you’ll be off the grid for most of the day when you factor in driving time, don’t forget to pack snacks and water. When we visited there were locals selling water and snacks near the top, but I’d still suggest you come prepared.


When visiting with OX Expeditions they brought marshmallows to roast, coffee and hot chocolate to enjoy once we reached the viewing area to top off the whole experience!


What is the Best Time of Day to Visit Pacaya Volcano?


The best time to visit Pacaya Volcano is either in the morning or early evening. If you're booking through a tour operator the timing of your visit will be at their discretion. The operator we used had an AM and PM option.


At these altitudes sun exposure can be harsh, so these times will also help you avoid the worst of that!


Is There Food at Pacaya Volcano?


Not only is there a snack stand along the trail, but there's also a local who makes pizzas on Pacaya Volcano.


The best part? He uses heat that pours from vents in the volcano mountainside to cook them! Good luck finding that back home.


Can You Buy Souvenirs at Pacaya Volcano?


You can and you should my friends.


Once you get out onto the lava rock field you'll notice a small shack dubbed the Lava Store. Here you can purchase some truly unique souvenirs and support the locals who run the shop!


Souvenir shack at Pacaya Volcano
The volcanic souvenir shack at Pacaya

And if you're going to purchase a souvenir here, that leads us into my next tip..


Do I need to Bring Cash to Pacaya Volcano?


I would recommend bringing cash with you when visiting Pacaya Volcano. If you don't have a guide or ticket you will need to purchase those at the park service facilities near the entrance.


Some visitors may want to purchase food or water from the locals along the trail. There's also a pizza maker on the volcano and souvenir shop. If you want to do any of these things be sure to have some coin in hand!



Do I Need a Guide to Hike Pacaya Volcano?


Visitors attempting the Pacaya Volcano hike are required to have a certified guide accompanying them.


I would recommend booking a tour company from Antigua that can handle all of the logistics as well as provide a guide. Otherwise I have read that guides are available for hire near the entrance.


Please keep in mind if you arrive at Pacaya Volcano without your own hired guide you do so at your own risk!


How Long is the Pacaya Volcano Hike?


The Pacaya Volcano hike is 3.2 miles (or about 5 km). While relatively short, the trail steepness and altitude will make it more challenging.


At an elevation of 8,373 ft (2,552 meters) the air will be thin. Visitors who haven't hiked at high altitudes before should be careful not to over exert themselves and be aware of altitude sickness.


Is The Pacaya Volcano Hike Safe?


Yes! Our guide said the government (or some local authority) monitors for seismic activity in the area and would be able to alert hikers if something were to happen.


The trail is well maintained and there aren't any dangerous drops.


The length should prevent too many issues, but be careful not to over exert yourself since you'll be hiking at high altitudes. Don't let altitude sickness ruin what should be a bucket list worthy adventure!

 

Looking for hiking gear recommendations?


Finding hiking gear that's functional, not overpriced and still looks good can be a challenge.


For your convenience I've laid out some of my favorite hiking apparel below. All of the gear I link to below are items I personally own and have tested out on the trails.


  • Hiking day pack - If you're in the market for a hiking day pack I'd suggest browsing REI's selection. If you've never owned one before you can go into a retail store and they'll ensure you find one that fits properly with any of the bells and whistles you may require!

  • Water reservoir - I have reservoirs from Platypus and Gregory that I really like. While these come in a variety of sizes I wouldn't bother with those smaller than 3L. You can always just fill up the larger ones part way if you're concerned about weight since they collapse to the same size.

  • Moisture wicking t-shirts - Patagonia makes really great hiking t-shirts that keep you dry all day long. They also perform well under multiple layers of clothing.

  • Hiking socks - I absolutely love the FEIDEER brand of hiking socks. I've tried some other hiking sock brands, but I think these take the cake! They make great socks for women and men.


There's nothing worse than missing out on a great hike because you didn't come prepared, don't be that person!



Be sure to read our guide on reducing airfare costs if you haven't already


One of those most unavoidable and dreaded travel costs is airfare.


Even if you budget carefully for food, accommodations and find budget friendly activities the cost of airfare can make many destinations prohibitively expensive.


But if you're a savvy traveler like me then you know there are ways to beat the airlines! I have a full post dedicated to all of the tips and tricks I use to pay the absolute minimum for airfare when I travel.