In the past few days, quite a few readers have been sending me emails expressing their worries about traveling to Guatemala. The questions usually go like this:
“Hey Rich, I (or ‘my son/daughter’) will be traveling to Guatemala soon. Will they be safe despite the recent eruptions of Volcan de Fuego and/or Pacaya Volcano?”
Wait… Pacaya Volcano too?
Most of you have heard about Volcán de Fuego’s deadly eruption, but Pacaya Volcano, a popular tourist attraction and a volcano 30 miles south of Guatemala City (Antigua is even farther away) has also increased its activity lately. A larger than usual cloud of ash expelled from Pacaya on Wednesday 13, led officials to close La Aurora International Airport in Guatemala City for a few hours, just to be on the safe side. Pacaya did spew a bit of lava, but nothing that even remotely threatened nearby communities like the pyroclastic flow from Fuego Volcano.
As it happens with any natural disaster that makes news around the world, it’s natural to be apprehensive about traveling near the affected area. But if your concern is whether you should cancel your trip to Guatemala due to the events that happened with Fuego Volcano earlier in June, here’s my short answer:
No. You should not cancel your trip to Guatemala because of Fuego Volcano’s recent or future eruptions.
If that’s all you needed to know, great! You can stop reading right here.
However, if you’re still side-eyeing your computer/phone as you read this, allow me to give you three reasons you should continue your plans to visit Guatemala, so you can reach your own conclusions.
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#3 – The area affected by eruptions is relatively small
Fuego Volcano is close enough to Antigua Guatemala that it’s possible to see eruptions on a clear day, and if it’s spewing lava, enjoy colorful fireworks at night. But if Fuego Volcano has ever threatened Antigua with any of its eruptions, I’ve yet to read about it during my research of the city’s history.
For your reference, here’s a map I shared earlier of where Fuego’s eruption took place:
#2 – Popular tourist destinations were never in danger
I realize that readers that are not familiar with Guatemala may have a little trouble placing the eruption in a geographical context, especially if traveling to other destinations in Guatemala, such as the Tikal pyramids, near Flores, or to the Lake Atitlan area and beyond.
Here’s how the area affected by the eruption looks when compared to a broader view of the country:
In popular tourist destinations, such as Lake Atitlan and Xela, ashes from Fuego never reached them, as the wind pushed ash clouds south and east of Fuego Volcano. Flores and the Mayan Tikal pyramids are just too far away due north.
The only road affected by the eruption was RN-14, a two-lane road that connected Antigua Guatemala to Escuintla and the Pacific Coast. This two-lane road can be easily bypassed with a somewhat lengthy detour via Villa Nueva.
#1 – If you cancel your trip, you’ll be hurting working Guatemalans
Your priority is your well-being and that of your family, which I’m totally on board with. But unless your travel plans included visiting the towns directly affected by the eruption, Fuego Volcano will not change your travel plans one bit.
If I’ve convinced you that you’ll be fine and you’re still on the fence, just know that Guatemala depends heavily on tourism to sustain its economy.
Most Guatemalans affected directly by the tragedy will receive ample support from relief organizations. But when tourists stop coming, it also hurts a lot more working people in the hospitality and food industries, shops, street vendors, handicrafts vendors, and generally anyone that benefits from having more visitors like you around.
The people of Guatemala are still waiting for you
I’ve heard directly from business owners in Antigua that they’ve experienced 25% drops in income last week – not great, especially since May is the start of the rainy season and tourism dips enough at this time as it is.
Spanish schools in Antigua have reported cancellations from student groups heading to Guatemala. Even far-off hotels in Petén, where the Mayan pyramids are located, have also reported cancellations.
I’m 99.9% confident that these cancellations were totally unnecessary based on the facts we have right now, and the projections for future volcanic activity.
If you still don’t believe me that everything is fine in Antigua, here’s a picture I took yesterday while walking about.
Guatemala is just as beautiful as ever, here waiting for you.
Still thinking of skipping your trip?
Share your concerns below!