Although Antigua was surrounded by towering volcanoes, it was a couple of days (after our arrival) before any of them were actually visible to us from within the city itself.
Fear not, we solved that problem by taking ourselves to the volcanoes… well one of them at least, Volcan de Pacaya (Pacaya Volcano).
We made inquiries at a few hostels where the prices to get to the volcano alone were around the $100.00 Quetzal mark (or sometimes higher), so we began to canvas the many tour operators throughout the town.
There’s no way we can profess to have visited them all, but we eventually found a price we were happy with, booked our tour, and the following morning (whilst it was raining), 6am found us huddled in the doorway of our hostel as we awaited collection.
Approximately 15 minutes later than anticipated, we were finally collected and on our way, a breakfast of banana bread en route to be our sustenance for the climb ahead.
A large diesel spill as we neared Pacaya slowed our progress, but eventually we pulled into a small village where we were met by a local guide named Carlos, as well as several touts attempting to sell walking sticks and the services of their horses to make the climb less taxing (the horse option was eventually opted for by two young Canadian/Peruvian girls).
Aside from the odd slip on the fairly loose volcanic gravel, it wasn’t the most difficult ascent, even punctuated by some fairly flat patches, especially when we entered the jungle like forest on its slopes.
There was something very satisfying hearing the crunch of our footsteps break up an otherwise quiet morning (something a bit like crunching fallen leaves in Autumn/Fall).
It certainly wasn’t long before we’d crested a small rise, the foliage cleared, and there before us stood Volcan de Pacaya.
The effort expended to reach this point was certainly more than we’d needed to get a look at our first volcano (back on Tanna Island in Vanuatu), and we were still a fair distance from the volcano itself!
Some minutes were spent here as people posed for photos before this behemoth, and it was quite an impressive view of the smoking volcano (which erupted as recently as March of 2014) and its still steaming lava field.
Continuing along a ridge line we soon came to an even higher elevated point that granted us even more impressive views of Pacaya, as well as the distant volcanoes, Volcan de Agua, Volcan de Fuego and the camel like (two humps) Acatenango.
Our position on this ridge incredibly also gave us views of the capital, Guatemala City, whilst in the opposite direction the Pacific Ocean, complete with merchant ships, could be seen on the horizon!
Given how clouded the weather had been for the previous week, we felt at this point, pretty lucky indeed.
We continued along the crest, our views of the lava field below only improving as the vapour caused by the moisture in the area creating quite the spectacle.
It was down towards this field that we were now headed, at times it proved a bit of a scramble down the loose volcanic incline.
But for the odd slip, we made it down okay and as we approached the cooling lava itself it felt like we were in a scene out of the Lord of the Rings!
There was already another tour group down here, however they were often lost (to our eyes, I don’t believe they were struggling to find their way back) in the ever present mist.
Surprisingly, much of the once molten rock felt cool to the touch, but dig only a short way beneath this jagged surface, and it quickly became pretty hot.
Perfect for, if you hadn’t guessed already, toasting a few marshmallows!
It may seem clichéd, but it was certainly a nice little sweet treat with a little of the novelty factor thrown in for good measure.
Wandering amongst the jagged rock formations with vapour swirling all around was pretty cool, and being much lower than our earlier vantage points certainly made the volcano look even larger again!
A slightly more difficult scramble out of the field was our final challenge for the morning before it was all downhill (literally) as we made our way first to the village where our van awaited, and finally on to Antigua.
As we did make this return journey, the clouds began to shroud many of the views we’d earlier enjoyed, making us feel extremely lucky for our timing, whilst at the same time feel a little sorry for the new arrivals we now passed during our descent…
* We shopped around for our tour to Volcan de Pacaya and found Lanquin Travel to be the most competitive at $60.00 Quetzales per person (the $50.00 Quetzales entrance fee was not covered by any of the tour prices).
* A guide (who spoke only in Spanish) was included in our trip to Pacaya, however if that was included in our entrance fee or in our tour price, we were unsure.