The unexpected dangers of a live-wire volcano
near Guatemala City, Guatemala
Guatemala City has a front row seat to volcanic activity that rivals any Cineplex. Pacaya, just south of the capital, is one of several active volcanoes in the nation. Last year, it erupted spectacularly in an earth-shaking, fiery display of molten lava visible from the city. It is still active, with small, frequent explosions.
Until recently, tour operators offered guided, beginner-level hikes to the peak of Pacaya at 8,371 feet. Ironically, it is not the continuing volcanic activity that has stopped many of them from taking groups to the top; these days, armed bandits are considered a much greater risk than lava.
"This isn't Knott's Berry Farm," says Kenneth Johnson, the owner of San Francisco-based Guatemala Unlimited tours. "I don't send people up there right now [because of bandits]. It is more than a perceived danger."
Johnson advises that anyone who plans to climb Pacaya very carefully assess the risks before going. He suggests contacting an American-based tour operator to find out whether it's considered safe, and not climbing if the answer is no.
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