Pacaya Volcano is the most frequently climbed volcano in Guatemala. It is relatively easily accessible and commonly 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.
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 entrada to San Vicente forks off down to the left the road continuing straight on up through the village of Cedros to the hamlet of San Francisco de Sales and Pacaya Volcano is dirt. It is rough, but passable all year round, unless blocked by a landslide or mudflow. As you head toward the village, you will see a hill with lots of radio towers on it. Park your car somewhere in this area, preferably in someone's driveway or yard, and be sure to hire a local kid to keep an eye on it.
Lava flow beneath the old Cerro Chino cone.
This trail starts from the complex of radio towers on the flank of Cerro Chino and is a bit tougher, but is perhaps more rewarding for its photographic views. If you decide to hike this trail, you should still pay your admission fee at either the ranger station at the park entrance or at San Francisco de Sales. This route is not patrolled by park rangers and there have been occasional robberies on this trail in past years, and cars parked below the radio towers have been broken into.
This trail begins at the base of the steep climb up to the radio towers (about 1895 meters). Hike up the road to the radio tower cluster. When you run out of road you're close to the ridgecrest. Follow the trail up the steep climb until you reach the rim of the old Cerro Chino crater, at about 2265 m (7430 ft). Here you have a terrific view of Pacaya's cone. The trail continues to the left along this rim, gradually climbing and circling around to the base of the Pacaya cone.
Below the rim trail, you can see the ancient Cerro Chino crater partially filled with recent flows. As you continue around the rim, the main trail from the park entrance joins from the left. You will see an information sign near this trail junction.
Plenty of water, walking Stick, sun block, good shoes, and a snack or lunch. You may also want to bring a light jacket or vest and some rain gear.
A Word of Caution
In addition to the possibility of being hit by a falling bomb during explosive eruptions, visitors to the rim must also be cautious about volcanic gases. When inhaled, sulfur dioxide combines with water in the lungs to form sulfuric acid. The burning sensation is very unpleasant, and high doses could be harmful. Becoming trapped in a cloud of sulfurous gases could be fatal. It is best to stay on the up-wind side of the vent, where you can drop down below the rim when blasts of sulfurous gases swirl your way. Also, keep an eye out for a quick retreat route if the wind direction shifts and more than just a momentary swirl of noxious gases heads your way.