Pacaya is the most frequently climbed volcano in Guatemala. It is easily accessible and often puts on a good show for volcano enthusiasts. Pacaya's current active phase began in 1965, and the volcano has been almost constantly in eruption since then. Eruptions range from minor gaseous emissions and quiet steam eruptions, to explosions powerful enough to hurl bombs up to 12 kilometers.
Pacaya is located in the Departments of Escuintia and Guatemala, very close to the capital, Guatemala City. Pacaya is actually a small mountain range or volcanic complex with several peaks in the system. Among these peaks are: Hoja de Queso (Slice of Cheese), north of the actual cone, Cerro de Agua (Hill of Water), to the northeast; Cerro Chiquito (Little Hill) and Cerro Chino (Chinese Hill). Toward the Southwest is what is more properly known as the active part of Pacaya, which does have an active cone. Pacaya makes up the southern border of a large volcanic caldera which includes Lake Amatitlán.
Getting ThereMost guided tours leave from Antigua (see below). From any of the bus stations in Guatemala City, take a bus to Antigua. There are buses leaving every fifteen minutes. From Antigua locate any of the numerous travel agencies for a guided trip.
If traveling independently, take a bus along Carratera Pacifico towards Palin. Get off the bus at km 37. From km 37, there 3-4 buses a day to Calderas. Get off the bus at San Francisco. This is the trailhead.
If you are driving, leave the capital, heading south on CA-9, the highway to Esquintla. Turn off on the road and head toward the town of San Vicente Pacaya and Pacaya Volcano National Park before reaching the town of Palín. Watch carefully for the sign...it's not very prominent.
The road up the mountain to San Vicente was paved in 2001. But from where the entrance to San Vicente forks off down to the left, the road continuing straight on up through the village of Cedros to the village of San Francisco de Sales and Pacaya is dirt. It is rough, but passable all year round, unless blocked by a landslide or mudflow.
There are two main trails up Pacaya Volcano (see route descriptions for detailed descriptions). The more gentle trail, Ruta Normal, followed by most of the tour groups from Antigua, starts at San Francisco de Sales. Here is the official entrance to the park, and where you need to stop to pay admission (Q50 for foreign visitors in 2008). The trail from here is well maintained, with rest stops, trash receptacles and simple restrooms. This route is patrolled by guardabosques (rangers). There is safe parking for your vehicle in San Francisco. You can also buy refreshments here.
The second trail, Ruta Cerro Chino, which starts from the complex of radio towers on the flank of Cerro Chino, is a bit tougher, but perhaps more rewarding for geology students and great views. If you take this trail, you should still check in at the park headquarters in San Francisco de Sales and pay your admission. This trip is not patrolled by park rangers and there have been some robberies in past years. Cars parked below the radio towers have been broken into. If you choose this trail, you should hire a local kid to watch your car while you are gone.