Guatemala’s Pacaya Volcano

What a week!

At least three unrelated major erupting volcanoes — two of them located in the Central American Volcanic Arc and one in the Mediterranean region — boosted their activity and put on impressive, casualty-free shows (though many people have had to deal with ash fall).

First, Guatemala’s Fuego, located twenty-some miles southwest of the nation’s capital, Guatemala City (population just under a million), lit up the night on February 14th. I posted about it, but the linked video is a live stream and the volcano has quieted down some since then.

Fortunately, someone recorded a little of the amazing sight we watched that night:

Fuego erupts frequently, but this is unusually strong activity.

No evacuations were called, as far as I know, but everybody was on alert and local media reported that communities closest to Volcan de Fuego had been prepared by authorities earlier for self-evacuation whenever it might become necessary.

Meanwhile, over in Sicily (population five million), Mount Etna said 《tienimi la birra》 (“hold my beer”), and on the 18th, did this:

Now, Etna is one of the top volcano divas, unsurpassed when moods like this strike her.

But we do also need to mention Pacaya, since it, too, got in a huff this week and, like Fuego, is very close to Guatemala City (about sixteen miles south of town).

By the way, there is a third Guatemalan volcano eruption ongoing nearby, too — at Santa Maria’s Santiaguito dome complex, 140 miles west of the capital — but that one is staying at the same level so far.

Getting back to the star performer Pacaya, here are:

  1. A drone view of its rather thuggish and scary summit in 2017:

  2. A local news report (Spanish) from Friday evening, February 19th, with video of Pacaya’s new lava flow:

    Pacaya is in a national park, which they have closed because of the eruption. I’ve seen no confirmed reports of evacuations at this time.

    Besides pouring out lava, Pacaya is also having strombolian eruptions at the summit (the eruptions at Fuego and Etna shown above are strombolian, too, but they look more dramatic at night).

We have already met Fuego this week. Italy’s Mount Etna (and Guatemala’s Santa Maria, too, if you’re curious) are covered in my Decade Volcano book (for details, click on a store and “Continue”), so let’s check out Pacaya Volcano today.


14.382° N, 90.601° W, in Pacaya National Park, Escuintla Division, southern Guatemala. The GVP Volcano Number is 342110.

Nearby Population:

Per the Global Volcanism Program website:

  • Within 5 km (3 miles): 4,250
  • Within 10 km (6 miles): 53,579
  • Within 30 km (19 miles): 2,454,482
  • Within 100 km (62 miles): 7,033,094

Current Status:

Aviation Code Red. The national park is closed.


  • Eruption styles: Pacaya is a very complex volcano. Here is the GVP eruption history. The INSIVUMEH reference linked at the end of this post has more details.
  • Biggest recorded event: Several large eruptions (VEI 3) have occurred there, per the GVP website.

    Probably the worst eruption, in human terms, happened in 2010 when Pacaya went into VEI 3 “diva mode,” as you can see in parts of this video though not very clearly, because a tropical storm was moving through at the same time.

    It was a rough week.

  • Most recent eruption: Ongoing since 2015.


INSIVUMEH (Instituto Nacional de Sismologia, Vulcanología, Metereología e Hidrologia). Here is the February 20th update. (Spanish)

Their Twitter feed is very helpful, too, for both Pacaya and Fuego.

Washington VAAC issues ash advisories for all Guatemalan Volcanoes.

Edit, 8:25 p.m., Pacific: Just saw this impressive shot, posted with the hour:

Featured image: Jose de Jesus Churion Del/Shutterstock

AFP. 2021. Three volcanoes increase eruptive activity in Guatemala. (Spanish) Last accessed February 20, 2021.

INSIVUMEH. 2021. Pacaya. (Spanish) Last accessed February 20, 2021

Wikipedia (Spanish). 2021. Pacaya volcano.án_de_Pacaya Last accessed February 20, 2021.

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