With recent volcanic eruptions in Ecuador, Chile, and Guatemala, volcano-trekking in Latin America just got much more extreme. Climbing mind-bending ridges to hunt lava flows atop the world’s highest active volcanoes is not for the faint of heart, but the reward—adrenaline-pumping experiences that bring you face-to-face with Mother Nature’s unpredictable fiery side—is well worth it.
German explorer Alexander von Humboldt dubbed Ecuador’s string of volcanic peaks from Imbabura in the north to Chimborazo in the south the “Avenue of the Volcanoes.” Eco-adventure companies Tropic and Tierra del Volcan offer sustainable lodge-to-lodge treks that tackle three towering giants in the Central Andes: Pasochoa, Rumiñahui, and Cotopaxi, the second highest active volcano in the world. Daily climbs showcase the region’s diverse scenery from pristine native forests and highland páramos to sublime river canyons, waterfalls, and lagoons. The multi-day journeys culminate with glacier-hiking and an overnight summit of Volcan Cotopaxi’s 19,000-foot zenith, which offers a magnificent sunrise view of the mighty peaks that form the Avenue of the Volcanoes.
All-inclusive luxury lodges Alto Atacama and Hacienda Hotel Vira Vira have paired up to offer a six-day experience that provides travelers the rare opportunity to volcano-hike Chile’s rocky desert landscape of San Pedro de Atacama and the lush Lake District of Pucón. Alto Atacama organizes volcano treks, ranging in difficulty, that spotlight sweeping views of salt flats, lagoons, and geysers. Rising 19,420 feet, Volcan Licancabur is the region’s most majestic volcano, as well as the most challenging to climb. Hacienda Hotel Vira Vira offers epic excursions to Volcan Villarrica's inner lava tubes at the base of the volcano and all-day hikes to reach its peak and marvel at the famous steaming crater with its lake of red-hot lava. A post-trek soak in the area’s natural thermal baths rounds out the journey.
Twenty-eight volcanoes form the backbone of the Guatemalan highlands, with several scalable peaks looming over the historic city of Antigua. Premier outfitter O.X. Expeditions recommends the three-day TRIDENT “The Devil’s Pitchfork” expedition for thrill-seeking climbers. The triple-volcano trek and camping adventure starts off with a gentle hike to the lava fields of Volcan Pacaya. Day two gets significantly more intense with a steep six-mile trek up Volcan Acatenango through four temperate zones, but hikers are rewarded with a 13,000-foot sunset view over neighboring volcanoes. The journey is capped off with a crater-rim hike down Volcan Acatenango towards the smoking peak of Volcan Fuego—one of the most active volcanoes in the world—to climb its formidable “knife-ridge,” named for the 1,600-foot precipitous drops on either side.