A near-constant plume from Pacaya, one of Guatemala's most active volcanoes, can be seen from nearby Guatemala City. The last major eruption in 2010 saw ash fall on the capital as well as the towns of Antigua and Escuintla.
Guatemala – Been There

A volcano worth dancing on

Photo by Ton Koene

Guatemala – Been There A volcano worth dancing on

En route to Guatemala City, I decide to climb the 2,500-meter summit of Pacaya Volcano to take in the view and the experience of flirting with danger.

Kieran Meeke
Kieran Meeke Travel Writer

The smell of sulfur wafts from gaps in the earth that give forth steam and enough heat to toast marshmallows. Near the summit stands an unlikely craft shop selling exquisite jewelry. “People don’t understand what a store is doing next to an active volcano but that is what makes it unique,” says David Flores, who was born in California but has come back here to embrace his Guatemalan roots.

“The shop was inspired by an eruption in 2010, after which a group of artists decided to do something to help those people affected. We recycle the lava stone that fell into the pieces we produce, which are all hand-made. The proceeds help educate Maya children.”

I ask him why people live so close to a volcano that could erupt at any moment. “They have owned their land here for hundreds of years but the volcano did not become active until the 1960s,” he says. “Their cows used to graze here where you see the lava field. They are not going anywhere.”

His love for the land of his ancestors is evident and I ask him what it is that makes it so special. “I feel so much warmth here,” he says. “It is a country that has so much tradition and is so authentic. You have the Caribbean, the Atlantic, the culture, the Maya ruins and Spanish colonial history. It is a hidden treasure. The downside is that it is a country still trying to find an identity for itself. It is still coming out of its legacy of internal warfare but the potential is incredible.”

David comes up the volcano at 6am and leaves at around 5.30pm in high season. The store has moved about four times as the volcano erupts. “We get some warning of when it will erupt but they cannot gauge how large it will be,” he says. “I’ve witnessed a few things most people wouldn’t see but you gain lots of respect for the volcano. It gives you enough time to evacuate.”

In Guatemala, it seems that even the volcanoes are friendly.

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