When our tour group arrives, we are immediately surrounded by horses and their owners, each speaking rapid Spanish asking us if we want to ride to the top of the mountain overlooking Pacaya Volcano.
Our Bella Guatemala Travel guides, Jose Antonio Gonzalez and Emilio Faillace, have already arranged for our horses, so we politely make our way past the eager salesmen and their beautiful horses to the Pacaya Volcano National Park headquarters building. Here, we learn that Pacaya is one of the country’s 36 volcanoes, and one of three currently active. Pacaya is actually the most active volcano in Guatemala.
The park was established to monitor and protect the 8,373-foot volcano that has been erupting continuously since 1965. Most eruptions are small, but a 2010 eruption caused the La Aurora National Airport to shut down, and villages near the volcano were evacuated.
Soon we are paired with horses, and their owners gently encourage them up the steep path. The horses use rocks and tree roots as steps as they pick their way up the slippery incline. We stop halfway up for a beautiful view of the valley before heading once again toward the top.
Although we could ride the horses back down after taking in the scenic beauty from our vantage point at the top of the mountain, we decide to walk down; not the easiest feat as cinders roll underfoot. It turns out that our cautious decent is worth every step. We can see where the volcano’s lava has reached as we look out over acres of blacked earth.
We trek past wildflowers miraculously growing up through the cinders, and a tiny makeshift shack where jewelry made from the cinders and ash are sold. The jewelry is made by Guatemalan artists in local communities to be sold in the park.
The experience is dramatic; the views are beautiful. Our journey down is long and arduous, adding to the drama of our surroundings.