Pacaya is by far the most popular volcano to climb in Guatemala (I have been up six times!). It's about a 45 minute drive from Guatemala City, fairly easy to climb, and very dramatic. The volcano is among the safer peaks in Guatemala as there is now a permanent police presence as well as full time park rangers to assist tourists. All guides must wear official identification badges. The trail is extremely well marked and well maintained. There is a small fee to enter the park which is well worth the money considering the park's safety and cleanliness. Guides are not necessary for this climb but if you do hire one, he or she will take you as far as the base of the cinder cone and into the active lava flows. They will not take you to the crater rim as it is too dangerous. That you will have to do on your own and the trail up changes regularly because of lava flows. If you do go into the lave beds, be careful! Sometimes the crust you are walking on can be paper thin and you do not want to fall through! The first time I went wandering about I melted the bottoms of my new hiking boots.
If you plan to climb to the crater, be aware that the peak is often enveloped in noxious gases and that Pacaya has a reputation for spitting out lava unannounced. I made it to the top only once and had to race down at a full sprint because Pacaya started to rumble, belch, pour out hot steam in profuse quantities. Helmets do not stop liquefied rock and 50 pound boulders.
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