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Volcanoes near Antigua

There are a handful of both dormant and active volcanoes close to Antigua. You can see several of them from almost any vantage point in the city. A couple are popular destinations for day hikes. Your best bet for hiking any of the volcanoes is to sign up for an organized tour. All of the hotel tour desks in town can set you up, or you can contact Lax Travel Antigua, 3a Calle Poniente, #12 (tel. 502/7832-1621); Sin Fronteras, 5a Av. Norte, #15A (tel. 502/7720-4400; www.sinfront.com); Rainbow Travel Center ★, 7a Av. Sur, #8 (tel. 502/7832-4202; www.rainbowtravelcenter.com); or Old Town Outfitters ★★, 5a Av. Sur, #12 (tel. 502/5399-0440; www.adventureguatemala.com).

Volcán Pacaya

About an hour-and-a-half from Antigua is the country's most popular volcano destination, Volcán Pacaya. Rising to 2,552m (8,370 ft.), Pacaya is in a near constant state of eruption. Tours tend to leave either very early in the morning or around 1pm. I recommend the later tours, especially in the dry season, as you may get to see some of the lava glowing red against the night sky. Still, more likely you'll be treated to the sight, sound, and smell of volcanic gases and steam.

Most ascents of Volcán Pacaya begin at San Francisco de Sales, where you must pay the Q30 ($4/£2) national park entrance fee. From here you'll hike for about an hour-and-a-half to reach the base of the crater's rim, where the steep hiking trail gives way to a solid slope of loose debris made of lava rocks and ash. This final stretch is a steep and arduous scramble, with loose footings and many mini-rock slides -- don't climb directly behind anyone else in your group. On the way down, more adventurous and athletic hikers can "ski" down.

Those who make it to the summit will encounter an otherworldly scene of smoke and gas, with the occasional volcanic belch. Some of the rocks will be very hot to the touch. Very infrequently, Pacaya will let loose with a spectacular eruption. When the skies are clear, the views are amazing.

Be sure to come well prepared. Sturdy, closed-toe hiking shoes or boots are necessary. You'll also want to bring water, a warm sweatshirt, and (if it's in the forecast) rain gear. Finally, if you're coming on one of the later tours, be sure to either bring a flashlight or make sure your tour agency provides one.

Before you go, get current safety information, in terms of both volcanic and criminal activity, from your tour agency, INGUAT, or the Antigua tourism police. It's sometimes possible to camp here, which is your best chance of seeing the nighttime lava show. If this interests you, many of the tour agencies listed above also offer camping options.

Tour prices range between Q75 and Q225 ($10-$40/£5-£20) depending on the size of your group and whether or not lunch and the national park entrance are included. Some of the cut-rate agencies around Antigua will offer the trip for as little as Q45 ($6/£3), but I'd recommend going with a reputable agency and paying a few extra dollars.

Volcán De Aqua

Although higher than Pacaya, the 3,760m (12,333-ft.) Volcán de Agua is actually an easier ascent. It's also decidedly less exciting, in large part because Volcán de Agua has been dormant since the mid-16th century. Called Hunapú in the local Kaqchiquel Mayan language, its Spanish name traces back to 1541, when water and mudslides from the volcano wiped out Guatemala's then-capital city, today known as Ciudad Vieja. The hike to the summit of Volcán de Agua leaves from the town of Santa Maria de Jesus. The hike is relatively gentle and should take about 4 to 5 hours from Santa Maria to the summit. The hike down is somewhat quicker, but be careful and don't push it.

Other Volcanoes

Acatenango

The tallest of the volcanoes ringing Antigua and the third tallest in Guatemala, Volcán Acatenango has two main peaks, Pico Mayor and Tres Marias. Pico Mayor is the taller of the two and peaks out at some 3,975m (13,040 ft.). Tres Marias, which is also known as Yepocapa or Tres Hermanas, rises to 3,880m (12,730 ft.). Acatenango is dormant, although it does have several small craters spewing sulfur gases. Acatenango is very close to Volcán Fuego, and the two are actually connected by a high ridge. This is the best volcano hike in the area for your money, providing spectacular panoramic views on clear days. However, the ascent is long and arduous, taking most climbers between 5 and 6 hours. Overnight trips are common here, and can sometimes be rewarded with a nighttime show from Volcán Pacaya.

Fuego

Volcán Fuego is very active, and ascents here never get very close to the crater and are entirely dependent on current volcanic activity. Fuego's last major eruption was as recent as 1974. Fuego stands some 3,760m (12,350 ft.), although its exact altitude often changes due to volcanic activity. The Kaqchiquel called this volcano Chi Gag.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.