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Hot Footing it in Guatemala: And the Invention of ‘Bum-Sledding’

by Jane McLellan

Volcan Pacaya (Pacaya Volcano) is one of the most climbed volcanoes in Guatemala. Rising to an altitude of 8,371 feet, the Pacaya Volcano is still active and last erupted in May 2010, spewing clouds of black ash across the sky for miles around. At the time, Guatemala’s capital was under a state of emergency and even the airport had to close.  As a result, Pacaya was temporarily closed to tourists until it was considered safe again. Luckily by the time I visited it had reopened and tourists were allowed to scale its slopes once again.

A volcanic ash path led me through a forest and then up and around the volcano. When I climbed Pacaya, the scenery was dominated by a shroud of black volcanic ash. It was noticeable how much damage the last eruption in May had done to the land.  Fortunately, the earth is incredibly fertile and is regenerating quickly, with new plants and crops beginning to sprout. Despite the damage, the area is still really beautiful.

Along the tour, my guide was excellent, divulging a whole wealth of information about the history and geography of the volcano.  As I climbed, the rain continued to pour, which was a real shame because not only was I getting soaked, I couldn’t see what should have been some spectacular views. On a clear day you can see out for miles with unobstructed panoramas of the surrounding volcanic landscape. I didn’t mind, I was content just being there and it was an incredible experience, despite getting very wet.

When we reached the top of the volcano it was like stepping onto a completely different planet. The landscape was eerily beautiful, with volcanic rocks, ash and boulders strewn about in all directions. Thick trails of smoke spiralled up from the volcano and, at times, I could see no more than a metre in front of me.  We picked up some rocks and started throwing them to one another; they were too hot to hold for more than a few seconds.

After inelegantly jumping over some boulders, we found part of the volcano that was still a bit lively. We could hear impatient rumbling underground and the heat escaping from the large hole in front of us was scorching. My wet clothes were instantly bone dry. I had to step away because it was so hot and I kept lifting my feet off the ground because I was concerned that the soles of my trainers would melt!   The lads on my tour were lighting cigarettes from the heat from the rocks. It was incredible and I’ve never experienced anything like it before.

The descent was steep in parts and the ground can get really wet and slippery. At one point I gained a bit too much momentum and was practically skiing down the slope in my trainers, I even overtook my group for the first time… It was funny right until the moment I fell flat onto my bum! There was just time to grab a refreshing drink and a snack at base before shuttling back to Antigua.

A volcano trip is definitely one of the best things to do in Guatemala, and you only need half a day to do it!  Just make sure you don’t end up doing some impromptu bum sledding on your way down!

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