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If geography classes never used to excite you, Guatemala will change all that. Sitting on the boundary between two tectonic plates, the country is host to over 30 volcanoes of all shapes, sizes and states of activity. If you ever wanted to see what the inside of our planet is like and what happens when it decides to make an appearance, Guatemala is for you. From the thrill seeking adrenaline junkies that want to stand next to flowing lava to those wanting to see the lush tree-covered volcanic slopes rising above the gorgeous Lake Atitlan, there’s something for everyone.
Active volcanoes – Bubbling Hot
If you want to feel like you’re inside a National Geographic Channel episode, you couldn’t go wrong with a visit to the following active volcanoes.
Pacaya is an active volcano located within easy reach, just 30 kilometers (20 miles) south of Guatemala City. A short hike brings visitors to the summit, where they can observe eruptions of ash and lava at close range. Some even return with stories of how walking over the upper slopes melted the soles of their shoes…
Constantly spewing small ash clouds, this monstrous volcano’s last major eruption occurred in 1974. To hike up barren slope is grueling, and most visitors will be content to admire Fuego’s beauty from the safety of Antigua’s cobblestone streets.
The most dangerous volcano in Central America, Santiaguito first erupted on Volcano Santa Maria’s southern flank in 1922. It constantly spews spectacular ash clouds and lava, and may be safely observed from nearby Santa Maria’s summit. The hike to the top of Santa Maria takes about 4 hours and camping on the summit is recommended, to witness a spectacular nighttime lava show from Santiaguito below.
Dormant volcanoes – Keeping Us Guessing
They can’t promise booming gas eruptions or spewing lava, but these volcanoes are just as impressive to visit.
Acatenango’s last eruption was in 1972, so you can climb all the way to the summit without dodging lava flows. One of the most beautiful and varied hikes available, you’ll pass through entirely different ecosystems on the way to the summit. First farmland, then cloud forest followed by high alpine forest and finally the volcanic zone to the very summit.
Looming over the pretty colonial town of Antigua, a climb up this volcano is recommended for spectacular views. Hiking time is about 5 hours from Santa Maria de Jesus, or 2 hours from the end of road that climbs partway to the top.
The tallest of the three volcanoes dominating the stunning lake with which it shares its name, Atitlan’s summit takes about 8 hours to reach; the reward is a breathtaking view of the world’s most beautiful lake and Guatemala’s Pacific coast.
Extinct volcanoes – Just Big Hills
Their glory days as unstoppable forces of nature may be gone, but the volcanoes left by ancient activity still have plenty to offer the visitor, especially in the way of flora and fauna left undisturbed by any activity.
1) San Pedro
Perhaps the most frequently photographed of all Guatemala’s volcanoes, San Pedro’s beautiful cone seems to rise from the waters of Lake Atitlan. The hike to the top takes about 4 hours, and while visitors will not get great views due heavy vegetation on the summit, the crater serves as refuge for rarely encountered species of plants and animals.
One of the three volcanoes, along with Atitlan and San Pedro, that forms the natural dam holding in Lake Atitlan, Toliman has its own delights to offer. A small group of rare Horned Guans survives in the forest near the summit and hikers should plan on camping out for a good chance of sighting the birds.
3) Cerro de Oro
A smaller volcano on the south side of Lake Atitlan provides an interesting mix of geography and history, having once contained a Mayan fortress in its crater.
Getting to know the varied and spectacular geography of Guatemala will undoubtedly be an adventure, but that doesn’t mean you should take unnecessary risks. If the lure of the active volcanoes should take your fancy, ensure that you book a tour with a reputable and responsible agency that provides you with a professional guide. This way you’ll make sure that you will have nothing but incredible memories and photos of some of the most incredible and unique experiences that Latin America has to offer.
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write by patel