It is hypnotic, spectacular and costs just 87p to watch but tourists flocking to the lava rivers of Guatemala‘s Pacaya volcano could end up paying with their lives.
Authorities have warned gawkers hiking up the slopes to see a destructive wonder of nature that they risk being caught in a similar eruption to that which killed a TV reporter.
The 2,552-metre (8,373ft) volcano exploded on 27 May, showering burning rocks onto villages, closing Guatemala City’s airport and prompting President Álvaro Colom to declare a state of calamity in surrounding areas.
Authorities have evacuated nearby villages and shut Pacaya national park but for 87p-per-head local guides are leading tourists to the blackened mountain via a private farm in the village of Los Pocitos.
“Just this weekend 2,000 people or more came by,” Lourdes Barillas, who oversees the collection of funds intended to help rebuild the hundreds of homes destroyed by the eruption, told AP.
Visitors said they felt safe because the volcano did not seem on the verge of another eruption and because locals still lived on the slopes. “Before, I was worried,” said Alexandre Cagne, a Canadian. “But now I’m calm. It doesn’t look like something violent that can explode.” People threw sticks and plantain leaves on to the lava, which immolated them instantly.
Emergency officials said such treks were perilous and appealed to guides to stop. “This is dangerous,” said David de Leon, an emergency response spokesman.
A shower of burning rocks killed Anibal Archila, a reporter for Canal 7, during the initial explosion. The last images broadcast showed him in front of a lava river and burning trees, describing the heat.
The volcano, which sits 15 miles south of the capital, has erupted more than 20 times in the past 500 years and has rumbled almost continuously since 1965.
Travel books say the phenomenon should not be missed. “One of the highlights is surfing down the scree at high speed as the sun sets,” says the Footprint central America guide. “The sulphurous gases … are chokingly disgusting but the yellow, green and red colours blotched on the crater lip are striking.” It advised that visitors should go only with authorised guides.
Some residents of Los Pocitos have fled but others have stayed, sung hymns and carried an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, praying that the lava flow will stop.
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