Overshadowing the southern half of the country, a chain of volcanoes extends in an ominous arc from 4220m-high Tajumulco on the Mexican border to the frontier with Honduras. Depending on how you define a volcano – some vulcanologists do not classify lateral cones in the folds of a larger peak to be volcanoes for example – Guatemala has somewhere between 33 and 40. Three of these, Pacaya, Fuego and Santiaguito are highly active, regularly belching soaring plumes of smoke and ash. An ascent up Pacaya rarely fails to disappoint as it’s usually possible to get up close and personal with the orange lava flows, but there are myriad other incredible climbs.
Lago de Atitlán is actually the former caldera of a giant volcano that cataclysmically blew its top some 85,000 years ago. So much magma was expelled that most of the vast cone collapsed, and centuries of rainwater filled the depression, creating today’s lake.