The local Kaqchikel people have always called the volcano Hunapú "place of flowers". The Spanish conquistadors also called it Hunapú until a mudflow from the volcano in 1541 destroyed the original capital of Guatemala (now known as Ciudad Vieja) and the city was moved to the current Antigua Guatemala following this disaster. As the lahar produced a destructive flood of water, this prompted the modern name "Volcán de Agua" meaning "Volcano of Water", in contrast to the nearby "Volcán de Fuego" or "Volcano of Fire". The Kaqchikels call Volcan de Fuego Chi Gag, which translates to "where the fire is".
Though the volcano has not been active since the mid 16th century, it has the potential to produce debris flows (watery flows of mud, rock, and debris — also known as lahars when they occur on a volcano) that could inundate nearby populated areas.
The Volcán de Agua has been declared a protected area in 1956 and covers an area of 4,450 Ha.