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Bizarre, unusual, fantastic family travel experiences #3 Volcan Pacaya, Guatemala

Ilani in adventurous pose

I’m actually not such a big fan of volcanoes. I mean they’re okay but there are so many adventures I look forward to on vacation that I don’t think much about volcanoes. But Pacaya is the ultimate family adventure: accessible, challenging, fun, dramatic. An amazing place.

This is the real thing

We’re on a group trip with other students from our Spanish school in Antigua. On arrival, we have a choice of hiking up to the lava fields or going on pony. The boys of course will hike, and the girls decide to go on horseback. So we slog uphill, a hard 45 minute  climb and although I’m in good shape, besides my boys everyone else is in their 20’s so the pace is quick. There’s horse poop everywhere so I have to look down to watch my step and up to see how far I’m falling behind. Now and then when I get the chance, I notice beautiful, lush vegetation all around us.

Dani takes the easy way up

At the top, drenched

Green all around us

Near the top it starts pouring and so we’re drenched when we reunite. Visibility is poor and we’re very, very wet. Now follows a thirty minute trek over the lava fields to reach the actual volcano. This is not an easy walk : first, because of the rain, we’re holding umbrellas, but the wind is strong rendering them useless and too great a challenge to hold. Second, we have to be very careful not to slip or fall because a slight brush with the lava field can cause a lot of cutting and pain. And third, we’re jumping and skipping from one large boulder to the next and Benjy’s too small to do this himself so I’m helping him negotiate this terrain.

Benjy getting in on the action

Still wet, but not for long

We reach the volcano (technically we’re on the volcano all the time but now comes the active, exciting part) and it’s hot, hot, hot. There’s flaming lava everywhere, and although we’re drenched, we’re soon dry. We roast marshmallows while more intrepid (stupid?) types light cigarettes or by mistake catch sweaters on fire by standing too close. There’s very little supervision. If you want to step in fire and sacrifice yourself to the gods, you can go right ahead. It’s thrilling stuff.

Darkness descends on Pacaya


It begins to get dark so we head down. Dani and I lose our group for a while – the visibility is about zero – so we shout for them until we find them. We head down the slopes in the dark and although our shoes smell pretty bad at the bottom, it’s been an incredible adventure!

wet boys

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