Check out these three Guatemalan volcanoes

Jürg Widmer Probst - Guatemalan volcanoes

Guatemala may be famous for everything from its extraordinary history, Mayan cultural heritage, fantastic indigenous art, great food and fascinating cities, but there’s another reason to visit – to explore its volcanic landscape.

There are an astonishing 37 volcanoes in the country, with three still very much active. Most of the volcanoes in Guatemala are easy to get to and straightforward to visit, which is an amazing opportunity for tourists and visitors to the country.

Chances are, you’ve probably never seen a real live volcano up close, and if you choose to holiday in Guatemala, you’ll get the opportunity to do just that. Even for seasoned volcano hunters, Guatemala offers some amazing experiences. Here’s my pick of the best volcanoes to check out while you’re here.

3 Guatemalan volcanoes you can easily visit

  1. Acagtenango

If you’re in Antigua, you can visit the nearby volcano Acatenango. Antigua itself is fascinating in its own right. It used to be the capital city of Guatemala and is full of historically important and often beautiful Spanish colonial buildings.

A UNESCO World Heritage site, Antigua is a great place to visit. You can expect a beautiful location, fascinating historical information and a town full of cobblestone roads, beautiful baroque churches and chilled out charm.

And when you’re finished with gentle sightseeing and strolling, you’ll be in the mood for something a bit more dramatic. Luckily, near to Antigua is the stratovolcano called Acatenango. It has two separate peaks – Yepocapa at 3,880 metres high and Pico Mayor, which is the highest peak. The former is also known as the Three Suster (Tres Hermanas).

The volcano is joined with another, called the Volcan de Fuego (volcano of fire) and altogether the whole area is known as La Horqueta. The last recorded major eruptions were between 1924 and 1927 from Pico Mayor and in December 1972 from the area between Pico Mayer and Yepocapa. However, more recently the Fuego Volcano erupted again. So, this area is still active and the safest way to see it all is to trek up Acatenango itself. It’s a climb of more than 13,000 feet but the views when you get to the top are stunning.

  1. Pacaya

Less strenuous to access, the Pacaya volcano is close to Guatemala City, relatively speaking. If you’re staying in or near Guatemala City, then it’s an easy 75-minute drive to the volcano, making it easily accessible and a much calmer region to visit than Fuego.

While it’s not an easy walk up the volcano itself, you can break up the climb by toasting marshmallows on the rocks on the way up! However, it’s far easier than hiking up Acatenango, so it’s easier for people who aren’t used to hiking so far to visit.

A couple of hours of walking and you’ll reach the top where you’ll find a village called San Francisco de Sales. Time your climb right and you’ll find the views absolutely beautiful.

  1. Santa Maria

We’re back to full on climbing with the Santa Maria volcano. You start out from the city of Xela (you may also see this city referred to as Quetzaltenango). Xela is a former Mayan city, previously called Xelaju, and today it’s the second biggest city in Guatemala.

While climbing the Santa Maria you’ll see plenty of locals on the way up and down the volcano. You will probably see some Mayan locals praying at the top too. The active part of Santa Maria is called Santiaguito, and when you reach the summit you’ll be able to see this part.

If the weather is clear, then you will be rewarded with stunning views of the lava dome of Santiguito and the city of Zela. However, the weather changes very quickly at this altitude and you may find the clouds close in before you can see everything. However, even if it’s misty, it’s still an experience that you shouldn’t miss.

I can’t say that it’s an easy climb, but it’s still less strenuous than Acatenango although more so than Pacaya. Ideal if you want to challenge yourself but don’t want to go all out.

If you do decide to visit any of Guatemala’s fascinating volcanoes, I would recommend always hiring either a local guide or going on a tour with a verified operator. Whether the volcano is active or dormant, it’s always a dangerous environment and shouldn’t be treated lightly. So, always travel with people who know the area and can guide you safely.

Paying a local guide is also a great way to contribute to the local economy too. You’ll be getting the experience of a lifetime and supporting the community living in the area. It can be a difficult existence for people living in these regions, so tourists who are respectful and choose to pay locals are always welcome.