World's Best Hike: Pacaya

Maya Trials

It has been active for at least the last 23,000 years, consistently brooding with steam, spitting out lava in pyrotechnic strombolian eruptions (see Stromboli), and occasionally bursting out in more major events. The most recent of these big blasts have sent lava rivers rolling down the sides of the mountain in 2006 and covered the capital city in ash in 2010. And in early 2014 Pacaya started to get ornery again—exploding in ash and gas plumes and belching lava bombs and rocks while new craters flowed with lava.Pacaya Volcano National Park, Antigua, Guatemala

Best for: Hikers who want to feel the heat of an active volcano

Distance: 3.2 miles round-trip

Looming in the skyline just 20 miles from the metropolis of Guatemala City, 8,373-foot Pacaya is one consistently moody volcano (it’s technically a complex volcano, a caldera with multiple vents within its summit crater circumference). It has been active for at least the last 23,000 years, consistently brooding with steam, spitting out lava in pyrotechnic strombolian eruptions (see Stromboli), and occasionally bursting out in more major events. The most recent of these big blasts have sent lava rivers rolling down the sides of the mountain in 2006 and covered the capital city in ash in 2010. And in early 2014 Pacaya started to get ornery again—exploding in ash and gas plumes and belching lava bombs and rocks while new craters flowed with lava.

So how about hiking up to get up close and personal with this beast? It’s not as dangerous as you might think, though of course your safety is not guaranteed when tempting the moods of a volcano. Several tour operators run trips up into the caldera, and some even let you camp out overnight, where you can perhaps watch fiery strombolian eruptions from your tent window and roast marshmallows over fumaroles or hot lava. It’s a quick and easy hike, but steep and at elevation so you may breathe heavy on the way up. You’ll certainly exhale once you get there and see rivers of molten magma at your feet.

Thrill Factor: The trail up is not necessarily scary, but you are playing around on an active volcano that last had a major eruption in 2013 and had a small paroxysm, or sudden eruption, in January 2014, so be aware of current volcanic monitoring (you can check on updates here) and be very careful inside the crater, especially around the hot spots and fumaroles. The payoff is you get to look at the workings inside an active crater, and it is one impressive show.

Take It Easy: You won’t have to worry about the fiery moods of Ma Nature, but you will appreciate the mandatory police escort (to protect from robberies) to the top of Cerro de la Cruz, the hill of the cross that overlooks the city of Antigua.

READ the story in the National Geographic

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