Relatively speaking, the Andes Mountain Range that forms Chile’s crooked spine is something of a young upstart, having formed only a modest 25 to 30 million years old. You need only take a quick look at this craggy chain of peaks to see that it’s still emerging from a tempestuous adolescence, occasionally prone to volcanic outbursts and fits of trembling earthquakes. But whilst this can be problematic from time to time, it does mean that Chile is a naturally sculpted adventure playground for outdoors enthusiasts looking for an extraordinary challenge. There’s just something about a softly steaming volcano that makes us want to hike up to take a look (and maybe ski back down again!). Not all of them can be hiked, climbed or skied at all times (i.e. if they’re erupting or look like they’re about to!) but for when the going is good, here’s our rundown of Chile’s best volcanoes to visit!
1. Ojos del Salado
We kick off our list with the daddy of all active volcanoes, Ojos del Salado. At a whopping 6,891 metres (22,615 feet) high, this is not only the highest active volcano in Chile, but the highest in the world. The volcano sits on the border of Chile and Argentina and can be climbed starting from either country, however it’s generally agreed that the Chilean side holds the easiest route to the summit and also features basic mountain lodges along the way, which the Argentinean side does not. In spite of its immense height, the climb up to the summit of Ojos de Salado isn’t considered particularly difficult or challenging, except for a stretch of loose rock near the top, however the extreme altitude can make the physical challenge more daunting. You also won’t find any skiing on this volcano, as its location near the Atacama Desert makes it too arid for snow during most of the year.
We move from the largest volcano to one of the most popular volcanoes to visit in Chile. Although it is also one of the most active volcanoes - and has an open lava lake in its mountain-top crater - visitors from around the world flock to take the challenging hike to the top in summer and to ski its slopes in winter. The Villarrica Volcano is one of the icons of the Chilean Lake District in the south-central area of the country and benefits from its proximity to the town of Pucon, which is already well set up for visitors. The hike to the summit is challenging and you’ll need to go with a reputable guide and hire extra equipment such as ice axes, crampons and boots since the upper part of the volcano is permanently covered in snow. Many people say the best part of the hike is sliding down again on your behind!
This 6,348 meter (20,827 feet) volcano is another of Chile’s giants. It lies in the very far north of the country on the border with Bolivia and stands alongside the Pomarape Volcano, it’s picture perfect twin, with a matching cone shape and snow cap. This adventure is more suited to the amateur climber than the weekend walker, both as a result of it’s more remote location and its more extreme weather. Technically speaking, it doesn’t pose any great difficulties but it is subject to very strong, cold winds and snow. It also features curious spiky snow formations called ‘penitentes’ that can make the going more difficult. Most people choose to climb the Parinacota starting from the Bolivian side and establish a base camp on the way up. From there, it can be as much as an 11 or 12 hour round journey to the summit where you can stand proud with one foot in Chile and one in Bolivia.
For our final volcano we’re back in the Chilean Lake District at the Osorno Volcano. Whilst the volcano can be climbed - although it gets a bit technical near to the end - the Osorno Volcano is most popular with skiers and snowboarders. In a good year, the snow clings to the gentle slopes for long enough to allow winter sports all the way until the end of October, since even though it isn’t particularly high the region’s moist climate keeps the volcano in plenty of snow. The Osorno Volcano ski runs have the advantage of being less crowded than the resorts around Chile’s capital Santiago. They also boast spectacular views with an outlook over the picturesque Llanquihue Lake and vistas as far as the Pacific Ocean on a clear day.