Witness the erupting lava from active Volcano Pacaya outside of Antigua, Guatemala through an HD adventure travel video from 2 Backpackers, Jason and Aracely Castellani. In Travel Video Episode 6, we book a tour out of Antigua with OX Outdoor Excursion that has us roasting marshmallows in the lava, camping overnight, and watching the sun rise over several nearby volcanoes. Enjoy the show!
I’m sure the idea of camping overnight on the side of an active volcano may sound like a suicide adventure to some folks, but trust me, it sounds much more suicidal than it really is. Pacaya is one of the most active volcanoes in Latin America but its activity is not extreme enough to keep most daily visitors away. It’s proximity to Antigua makes it an ideal adventure for many travelers in Guatemala.
OX Outdoor Excursions was the only outfitter running overnight trips to Pacaya, and they organize multiple trips each week. The cost was $59 USD which includes guide, shuttle, all camping equipment, warm clothing if needed, a tasty dinner with beverages and breakfast with bagels coffee and tea.
Base Camp Hostel
Our tour was scheduled to meet at the Base Camp Hostel (where we were staying) at 1:30pm for a brief introduction and overview of our adventure. Our group was small; there were two German girls, Jason, our guide and myself. We headed out at 2 o’clock in the afternoon. The drive from Antigua to Pacaya’s park entrance was about an hour and half long. After paying the entrance fee our shuttle began to ascend up a steep dirt road, along the way we passed local houses, tiny stores and children playing in the street. We soon arrived at the location where our hike would begin. Our shuttle was greeted by many local children offering the passengers walking sticks for 5 Quetzales each (61 cents) to use during our hike. Everyone in our group bought one and we were all glad we did.
We spent a few minutes at the entrance to use the restrooms and gather our things. Once everyone was organized we each strapped on our backpacks, grabbed a hold of our walking sticks and began our trek. Immediately after crossing the entrance there is a steep stoned walkway that leads to a dirt trail higher and higher up the mountain. The terrain was rocky, muddy and adorned with horse dung. Our tour guide was Sophie; she has extensive experience in Pacaya, having managed many tours. She knew the trails very well and described to us what laid ahead. Upon reaching the first rest stop Sophie gave our group the option of two different campsites. The first, she explained, “is a true campsite with benches for us to eat our dinner but it’s an hour and a half walk to the lava. The second is a simple a spot on the side of the mountain that is only a twenty minute walk to the lava. There are no benches there.” We were expecting rain for the night; if we decided on the more comfortable campsite we would have to walk in the rain, potentially to the lava and back, which would mean a three hour walk in the rain. The group unanimously decided on the second campsite. We continued up the trail.
An Eery Feeling
As we ascended further up the mountain we were engulfed by clouds of mist which collected as droplets in our hair. It was very refreshing for us, since the physical activity was overheating our bodies a bit. At times you couldn’t see more than 5 meters in front of you, and then before you realized the clouds had dissipated and it was clear again. Overall, the hike was very manageable for our group. The trail did have sections of steep inclines but they were quick and followed by flat terrain that allowed us to regain our energy and comfortably continue on. We arrived at our campsite after an hour and half of hiking. We all quickly set up camp. Jason and I had brought our own tent, but the others shared a tent provided by OX. Soon after we erected each tent, we headed to the lava just as the sun was setting.
The hike to the lava was more exciting than our hike up to the campsite. As we approached the volcano, we could see the lava glowing beautifully in the distance. We realized then that there is no better way to see an active volcano than at night. As we approached, the ground beneath us was of black sand and it turned into larger lava rocks with sharp edges as we walked. We continued up the mountain to get a closer look of the flowing lava. The climb became a bit more challenging. Now, the ground was loose and when we stepped forward our feet would sink into the ground and slide down about half the distance. It became difficult to make the least bit of progress. Determined, we continued into the darkness in the direction of the orange glow.
Suddenly, we began to feel the heat of the lava that was above us. We could hear the rumbling of the burning rocks falling down the side of the volcano. We continued to hike. Finally, we arrived to a ‘safe’ spot very close to a flowing river of fire. The ground sizzled below us.
Roasting Marshmallows & Hot Dogs
One of the German girls brought sausages and Sophie had marshmallows. With a long stick that we found near our campsite we roasted them with the heat of the lava. It was a surreal experience. Shortly after, we began to feel a light rain but were not bothered by it. Sophie asked the group to not follow her; she went further up the volcano to see if there was a better view. She returned just a few short minutes later and told us that there was a great view from up top, but the climb was tricky with large sharp rocks. At this point it was pitch black with only the lava and our head lamps providing any light. We all went up to take a look at the view. After everyone had taken pictures, eaten a sausage and a marshmallow we headed back to camp.
Camping in the Rain
We arrived at our campsite and Sophie began to make dinner under the light rain. We all sat around the fire talking and drinking some wine as we waited for dinner to be ready. After dinner we changed into some dry clothes and went into each of our tents.
After a sleepless night of listening to wild dogs roaming around us and the wind flapping at our tent, we awoke at 4:30 am to go watch the sunrise. Everyone grabbed their walking sticks and followed Sophie up a trail that was directly above our campsite.
This too was a steep and slippery walk full of loose lava rocks that led all the way to the top of the mountain ridge. When we arrived at its peak, we had an amazing view of Pacaya and its radiant flows of lava that lit up the darkness. The group patiently waited for the sun to rise.
When it did, the lava disappeared as it was overpowered by the brightness of the sun and we all got a new appreciation of seeing the active volcano at night. The light of the day also illuminated the amazing view of three other volcanoes in the horizon: Agua, Acatenango and Fuego (the other active volcano near Antigua). The descent from the ridge was much more exciting than the climb up. It was a very tall hill of loose gravel and we all ran down laughing the entire way. We returned to our campsite for breakfast. Again, we sat around the fire and enjoyed bagels with coffee and tea. Once we were full of carbohydrates we began our trek down the mountain.