One of the top things to do in Antigua, Guatemala, is evident from wherever you are in town. Not only area there volcanoes surrounding this iconic town, but every tour, hostel, or traveller will be advertising, or talking about the volcano hikes.
Now, the actual volcanoes you see right in the town of Antigua, are not the actual volcanoes you hike, but this area of Guatemala is speckled with these beautiful yet ferocious mountains, most still very active. The two main hikes are Acatenango and Pacaya. In all honest, upon arriving in Antigua, and even Guatemala for that matter, I had no real idea about these volcano tours, in fact, like a lot of places I visit, I did not know of the things to do in Antigua. I usually go on a passionate recommendation from a fellow travel I get along with, and plan my route accordingly, and as for my stop in Antigua, a trip through Guatemala is not complete without a visit here.
As far as booking these tours, you can basically stumble into it. They are advertised everywhere from every tour operator, to hotels, hostels and even some restaurants and they go out what seems like every day. The Acatenango trip is the more demanding one. This one will leave in the afternoon one day, and take you overnight to the following morning and you are responsible for carrying everything that is required on the journey.
Travellers Tips: This is not the one I did, but if you are not into hiking, or really roughing it, even if it is for one night, don’t do this one.
I met numerous people the following morning, after watching the sunrise and Acatenango erupting, who looked like they had just returned from war. Limping, slouching, dragging themselves, it is a short but demanding night. At the time of selecting the hike, a group of Kiwi’s who went up 2 nights before, had mentioned that it was very foggy and unfortunately not much was seen. I collaborated this with some info from another Aussie couple, and decided since I would be leaving the following day, to El Salvador, I decided upon the Pacaya Volcano tour.
Pacaya is an active volcano a short distance away south of Antigua, but due to the terrain, winding roads and slow traffic will most likely take you a couple hours. We approached the switchback road up to the base of the hike hitting the banked corners as if we were carrying a lady in labour to the delivery room! Finally, we stopped and everybody piled out. We split into 2 groups, signed into the logbook, paid the entry fee and began on the rocky road.
With a few guys on horses bringing up the rear, and trying to sell us a ride up on the horses, we meandered our way on the easy slope of rock, dirt and ash. Each bend or corner seemed to offer a good little view, sometimes over distant small villages, lakes and rolling hills on the horizon. As we started to reach the top, the ground started to change to a very fine black powder, due to the recent eruption. The final portion of the hike starts to become a straight shot to a large opening that gives you an incredible view of the steaming volcano of Pacaya to the left, a 270 degree view of what seems like all of Guatemala to your right, and with our timing, the glowing evening sun, right in your face. Arriving at the top was a special moment. Time at the top to take photos, or in my case video, and we descend down the back side of the mountain to a shifty path that looks like we are walking through the Elephant Graveyard in The Lion King.
Watch your step on the way down as the ground gives way with every step. Being that Pacaya last erupted only a few years ago, when we got to the bottom, our guide moved some rocks aside and poured some water onto the newly exposed land. With a hissing sound, steam shot up! The ground was still hot! In fact, the guide pulled out a bag of marshmallows and only a few minutes holding the candy near the rock would get it to change shape, start to melt, and be perfect to eat. A nice little shot of sugar to power us through the final bit of the hike, as the sun started to set behind the horizon.
Talk about a special place to enjoy a sunset.
Quickly after the sun sets, the warmth leaves as well. Now being completely pitch black, we headed down by torch light, or now being 2017, the torch application on people’s phones. With people’s tired legs and minds, there was a few slips on the way down but at one point, through an opening there was a light in the distance. It was too small to be a village and was moving slowly. We waited, and after the glowing grew, we realized that it was the other volcano erupting! There was no real explosion but a few sprays of glowing molten lava, and a trickle of orange glow rolling down the side. A beautiful sight.
Finally, we arrived at our cramped minivan and we left the parking lot laughing, which started to slowly fade as the vibration of the road put a lot of us to sleep.
Again, fittingly, on my final night, just as I had arrived, the cobblestone streets woke me up and notified me that we had arrived back in Antigua.