Mid-hike up Pacaya, outside of Antigua, Guatemala. It’s an active volcano with recent eruptions in 2004-2010 and 2012-2014. The white at the summit isn’t a cloud, it’s steam. It may sound scary but the biggest danger I faced that day wasn’t from lava, it was from the sun. I stupidly didn’t bother to bring a hat. As you can imagine, my head felt a little cooked after a five hour hike in the Guatemalan sun.
The landscape here tends to change a lot. Our guide said the rock is from 2006, the ash from 2010 and the red patch at the top from 2014. The weather changes quickly too. The day before, I tried to get in on a hike but it was fully booked. Turned out to be a good thing, because the whole area ended up being socked in with mist and clouds. The morning I started this hike, it looked like more of the same, but it started clearing after a couple hours and we ended up having a beautiful day.
Seeing if I can fit inside a lava tube because, well, I’ve never been in a lava tube before. There were spots along the hike where you could put your hands into thermal vents and definitely feel the heat simmering under the surface. There was even one place where you could toast marshmallows. Fortunately, this tube left my marshmallows untoasted.
The home stretch, with the rim of the caldera a couple hundred yards up. We were allowed as far as where the people at the front of the group are in the photo and could hike around (carefully) in that cooled lava field. The rocks in that field were black, glittery and very sharp. Tripping and falling there could be quite painful.
Horses are available in the event that the hike in the heat proves to be a bit more than you can handle. There was one rather hefty woman in our group who I would have bet money was going to end up on a horse. She was obviously having trouble and the guide kept trying to talk her into it, out of concern for her health as well as because she was slowing the group down. Have to give her credit though, she stuck it out and hiked the whole thing.