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Volcan Pacaya, near Antigua, Guatemala (Lava roasted marshmallows anyone?)

We’d heard the rumors.
We’d even seen the pictures.
And, yes, it is true.
There is a place where you can hike to the top of a volcano and see the lava pouring down over the side.
How can you pass up an opportunity like that?
Sure, it has its dangers…Vesuvius anyone?
We knew that it would be safe for us, and something we just had to do. So, at 2:30pm, we were off.
Pacaya Volcano near Antigua Guatemala

We booked transport there and back with a group.
The information they gave said that when we got to the volcano that there would be a 1.5 hour walk/hike to the top. That doesn’t sound so bad…
The shuttle is met by children selling big walking sticks, and locals offering a taxi ride. (In other words, you could rent their horse to ride to the top).
At first I thought that this was silly. Who would really need a horse to get to the top of one little volcano?
Certainly not us. We’re from Colorado. We’ve climbed Kilimanjaro for goodness sake.
We start hiking. Not walking. This is genuine hiking.
At first it’s not so bad. But, then I start to feel it.
Pacaya Volcano near Antigua Guatemala
Have I mentioned that I have some sort of massive head cold? I don’t know how I managed to catch a “cold” since it’s been over 90 F since I can remember.
But, I’ve got one and have had it for a couple of days. My ears haven’t adjusted for elevation in a couple days, and I was already having trouble breathing.
Maybe hiking to the top of a volcano wasn’t the best idea I’ve ever had.
I make it roughly half way up the mountain. But then, I break down. I just can’t breathe anymore. I need a taxi.
Pacaya Volcano near Antigua Guatemala
Jonathan finds me a horse. (Yes, the locals have followed us up, leading their horses in case anyone changes their mind.) Clearly, they knew more about this “walk” than we did.
To be honest, I feel like I took the wimpy way out. I mean seriously. I’m in good shape and decent health. I shouldn’t need a horse to carry me.
But, without it, (and with my cold) I wouldn’t have made it to the top. That’s for sure.
(Alyssa – aren’t you proud of me? I rode a horse! I wish I’d had your lessons BEFORE this trip… it was a very steep climb, I could have used some riding lessons.)
With my trusty stead, I am quickly at the top. Or so I think.
Pacaya Volcano near Antigua Guatemala
Soon everyone else joins us, and we start taking pictures…wondering where the lava is.
Then, we find out that there is still another 45 minutes to go. It’s just too steep for the horses to go up.
Man, I’m happy for that horse.
When we finally do reach the top, it’s hot. I mean, really hot.
We’re literally walking on top of cooled lava, with hot lava flowing inches below our feet.
Pacaya Volcano near Antigua Guatemala
At one point I check the bottom of my shoes to see if they’re still there, or if they’ve melted.
There are so many people up here too. There are 4 groups of 20… that’s a lot of people on the tippity top of a live and flowing volcano.
It’s difficult to get pictures, let alone walk, with that many people up there.
Jonathan wanted to go right to the edge, but I didn’t want to. So, I waited for him.
I’d forgotten something VERY IMPORTANT though. Jonathan had bought marshmallows at the bottom.
As I was waiting for him to come back, the guides started telling everyone that it was time to leave. I tried to keep waiting for Jonathan, but the guides kept pushing me further away.
Pacaya Volcano near Antigua Guatemala
Jonathan kept toasting marshmallows to bring to me. But, he couldn’t find me.
By the time we’d met up again, the guides had started to actually physically nudge me back down the volcano. So, there was no more lava to roast a marshmallow over for me.
This means that I missed out on lava roasted marshmallows.
This is probably my biggest regret of our last three months of living and traveling through Central America.
(That’s not so bad. If I can say my biggest regret is not eating a marshmallow, then life is pretty good.)
Well, I rode the horse back down the mountain. I was really thankful for my new friend.
(Who unfortunately had no name. Her name was just “horse”.)
But, remember how steep it was going up? It was that steep going down too.
Did you ever see that movie “The Man from Snowy River”? (Or maybe it was “Return to Snowy River”.)
But there’s this scene where the man rides his horse down a really steep hill. He’s leaning back really far, with his hat off, and waving it behind him.
I really needed a hat, because that’s how I felt coming down. (That’s the first time in my life I wish I’d had a cowboy hat.)
About 1/3 of the way down though, the guy leading me and my trusty steed takes us down a different path.
He tells me that my tourist group of 20 (Los Toucanes – the toucans) is taking a different path. OK that’s great, but Jonathan is way behind us and in the Toucanes group. Does he know this?
I start to get nervous, because it’s just me and the other horse riders who are taking this path.
I can’t see anyone else taking it. It’s a completely different path. It’s nowhere near where the other path is.
I start to get a bit nervous. Here I am, in Guatemala, being led down a strange path on a strange horse, with a “stranger”. My mind is reverting to my 5 year old self and thinking “Stranger danger, stranger danger!”
It’s amazing what tricks your mind can play on you.
(On the other side, awareness is good. it’s just that the mind likes to go way beyond awareness in it’s imaginings of what could happen.)
I was never scared, but I was a bit nervous that Jonathan and I would be separated and not able to find each other.
We finally arrive at the end of the trail, and it’s somewhere very different from where we started.
The horse riders arrived there about 20 minutes before any of the hikers showed up.
But, they started to trickle in. And finally, there was Jonathan! YAY!
We bought some more water, and paid for my “taxi” (a whopping US$20 round trip).
What fun, but I was definitely exhausted by the end of the day.
Pacaya Volcano near Antigua Guatemala

5 thoughts on “Volcan Pacaya, near Antigua, Guatemala (Lava roasted marshmallows anyone?)

  1. Marty Renee

    Great pictures of you & all!! I had a pinto house like that one through high school.
    Lava composition-broadly classified into 4 compositions. If the erupted magma contains a high percentage (>63%) of silica, the lava is called felsic. Felsic lavas (dacites or
    rhyolites) tend to be highly viscous (not very fluid) and are erupted as domes or short, stubby flows.
    Viscous lavas tend to form stratovolcanoes or lava domes. Lassen Peak in California is an example of a volcano formed from felsic lava and is actually a large lava dome.
    Because siliceous magmas are so viscous, they tend to trap volatiles (gases) that are present, which cause the magma to erupt catastrophically, eventually forming stratovolcanoes.
    Pyroclastic flows (ignimbrites) are highly hazardous products of such volcanoes, since they are composed of molten volcanic ash too heavy to go up into the atmosphere, so they hug the volcano’s slopes and travel far from their vents during large eruptions.
    Alaska’s Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, formed by the eruption of Novarupta near Katmai in 1912, is an example of a thick pyroclastic flow or ignimbrite deposit.
    If the erupted magma contains 52-63% silica, the lava is of intermediate composition. These “andesitic” volcanoes generally only occur above subduction zones (e.g. Mount Merapi in Indonesia).
    If the erupted magma contains 45% silica, the lava is called mafic (because it contains higher percentages of magnesium (Mg) and iron (Fe)) or basaltic
    They tend to be hotter than felsic lavas.
    Some erupted magmas contain 45% silica, the lava is called mafic (because it contains higher percentages of magnesium (Mg) and iron (Fe)) or basaltic
    They tend to be hotter than felsic lavas.
    Some erupted magmas contain <=45% silica and produce ultramafic lava. Ultramafic flows, also known as komatiites, are very rare; very few since Proterozoic. They are (or were) the hottest lavas, & more fluid than mafic lavas.

  2. Gaylene

    What is the legend about taking Lava from the site… I was given some lava from a volcano in Guatemala . In prayer I keep getting that they were not supposed to take such a thing. Can you give me some feedback on this as I need to have closure on this. Thanks so Much

    1. carrie

      Hi Gaylene,

      I feel completely unqualified to interpret what you might be hearing from God in prayer.

      However, if you’re asking for my personal opinion, here it is.

      I don’t know of any legend about taking lava from any volcano anywhere in the world.

      When Carrie and I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in 2006 (in Tanzania, Africa), I brought home some shiny lava from the top of the volcano as a momento of having summitted the mountain.

      I think that all of nature, including molten or dried lava, is God’s creation. By having some of the lava, and realizing that it is a part of the beauty of nature, you are actually appreciating and valuing God’s creation.

      All evidence in my life would point to the idea that valuing this gift is a good thing for both the person who gave it to you and for you.

      You’ll have to make your own judgment based on what you think is best, but I think having a bit of lava from Guatemala is actually pretty cool.

      Hope that’s helpful.



  3. Sue Zamora

    Had forgotten about this post (did read it in Jan.) You really are traveling the Pacific Ring, aren’t you.
    Carrie, about the horse named, “horse”, I just saw the new Shrek movie (yes, there is yet another, but it is fun) Anyway, w/ your horse named horse, it makes me think of Shrek’s donkey named, “Donkey”

  4. Fred @ American Mamacita

    Hey! Loving finding other bloggers who have also climbed this thing. My wife and I took our boys (native Guatemaltecos) to Guatemala this year. We added Pacaya to our list. Things have slowed down since the eruption in May. They said they used to get 300+ tourists a day, now its down to 170 or so… and honestly, the day we went, it seemed like probably less.

    Here’s our Pacaya Pics:

    Your lava shot looks much cooler. We had to look down into a crevice to see the lava… mostly we just felt the heat and saw a slight red glow. We also visited a bunch of other sites in Guatemala — Chichicastenango, Antigua (as did you, it looks like), Tikal and Yaxha (up north in the tropics). More of our Guatemala adventure here:

    Great pics… thanks for sharing the experience.

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