Summiting one of the volcanoes South America countries have to offer is nothing short of a spiritual experience. Volcanoes are some of the most powerful natural phenomena, with incredible destructive and creative potential. When we think of volcanoes, we imagine a mighty mountain spewing ash and lava, decimating everything in its path. However, it is these seismic events that have created some of the most astonishing landforms on the planet. Summiting a volcano gives explorers a chance to encounter this power; once at the top, they can marvel at the view and witness the awe-inspiring sight of what lies beneath the Earth’s crust.
As part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, there are several volcanoes South America countries can claim as part of their geography. Many of these volcanic peaks are incredibly high – however, due to their gradual slopes, they offer a relatively accessible climb. Although summiting these peaks requires proper equipment and acclimatization, most adventurers with a good level of physical fitness and mental resolve can conquer one of the South American volcanoes. Here, read our guide to three of the best volcano hikes in South America.
El Misti, Peru
El Misti, Peru, is a good starting point for novice volcano climbers. The peak has the look of a classic story-book volcano – with its gently sloping sides and snow-capped peak, it’s sure to tick any intrepid explorer’s volcano boxes. Furthermore, El Misti is an active volcano with a bubbling sulfur crater at the peak, which last erupted in 1985.
El Misti is just outside Arequipa and is best accessed with a guide. After a short Jeep trip to the base, it’s a two-day hike to the 5822-meter summit. The best months to climb El Misti are July through to November when there’s less snow and clearer skies. It’s a fairly simple hike across scree and ash, although if you plan to go during the snowy season, you’ll need crampons.
Although not the tallest volcano by a long stretch, Villarica in Chile is not for the faint hearted. Of all the volcanoes South America countries boast, Villarica is the most active. The most recent eruption was in 2015 and hikers are likely to have the chance to see plumes of ash, sulphurous smoke, and even some lava.
What’s more, there’s plenty more incredible sites to see in the surrounding national park. Despite its comparatively low summit, Villarica’s southerly location means the mountain is home to the huge Pichillancahue-Turbio glacier. The cooler temperatures also facilitate excellent skiing and accompanying luxury resorts.
Ojos del Salado, Chilean/Argentinian border
Ojos del Salado is the mother of volcanoes. At an astonishing 6,893 meters tall, Ojos del Salado is the highest volcano on Earth. Erupting out of the desolate landscape of the Atacama desert, the last major eruption was in 1994. Now, trekkers are still likely to see fumes wafting out of the mountain’s summit.
The Ojos del Salado trek can be completed from either side of the Chilean/Argentine border. If you decide to depart from the Chilean city of Copiapó, a guide can drive you as far as 5,800 meters. From the Argentine side, treks can be organized with locals from Fiambalá village. Although the route is mostly a walk – and even the most hardened hikers should take it slow to stave off altitude sickness – Ojos del Salado is a demanding trek. Explorer can expect extreme weather ranging from blazing sun to biting cold, making Ojos del Salado one of the most extreme treks rookie mountain climbers can undertake.
More volcanoes South America countries have to offer
South America’s western mountain range, The Andes, is peppered with volcanoes. There are many more to explore besides our top picks, with summits in Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia. These include the mighty Ampato; the famous Cotopaxi; and the volcano twins, Parinacota. For the serious mountaineer, South America isn’t a continent you can visit just once – so start planning your first adventure to get these peaks off your bucket list.