Pocos lugares en el mundo se nos muestran en un estado tan salvaje e imponente como es la zona del volcán Ojos del Salado. Estar aquí es transportarse a épocas anteriores a la aparición de los seres humanos y los dinosaurios. Es como regresar al origen de todo.

Few places in the world are still in such a wild and impressive status as the area of the volcano ‘Ojos del Salado.’ Being here is like being transported to times before human beings and dinosaurs appeared on earth. It is like coming back to the origin of everything.

The Cordillera of the Andes is not already formed by mountainous ridges, but by volcanic cones reaching more than 6,000 meters above sea level. It is the Chilean area with the highest concentration of ‘seismiles’ (six thousand). Some of them are still active, such as the volcano ‘Ojos del Salado’, the highest active volcano of the world. Near its top (6,500 meters above sea level), there is a belching fume.

The Surroundings

We also find lagoons of an intense deep green, contrasting with the color of the ground and the volcanoes. In these lagoons, it is possible to find big flocks of flamingos, horny coots, ducks and some guanacos approaching to drink water. The adaptation capabilities of nature to survive in this environment is incredible, with night temperatures reaching –25º C and winds of more than 130 k/h.

Among the most remarkable lagoons, we find the beautiful Verde Lagoon, located at 4,200 meters above sea level, with delicious thermal baths on its banks; apart from the charming Santa Rosa Lagoon (3,700 meters above sea level) and the Lagoon del Negro Francisco (3,700 meters above sea level).

The National Park ‘Nevado Tres Cruces’ (three crosses) is located in this area, and its name comes from the great volcano ‘Tres Cruces’ (6,750 meters above sea level).

Climbing the Volcano

The biggest attraction of the place is the climbing of the volcano ‘Ojos del Salado’. The trip takes about 10 – 13 days. This climbing has no technical difficulties, but the height, so it is recommended to become acclimatized to it. There are several alternatives to do that, such as climbing some of the smaller volcanoes (between 5,600 and 5,900 meters above sea level). Once ready, it is necessary to approach the mountain through a road in very bad conditions, which requires a 4x4 vehicle.

There are two refuges in the way to the top: Universidad de Atacama (5,100 meters above sea level), and the refuge ‘César Tejos’ (5,750 meters above sea level). The final climbing is carried out from this point, and it takes approximately from 6 to 9 hours. All the efforts from the previous days are widely rewarded. The feeling of being on the top of the world, with incredible landscapes, lagoons, colors and volcanoes around, where silence is felt everywhere, inviting to be with oneself and to rejoice with the wonder of the creation.

To Visit and Practice

Mountaineering is not the only attraction of the place. Here, it is possible to drive along interesting 4x4 circuits, taking us through completely unexplored salt deposits and lagoons. These trips may take between 8 and 15 days. Due to the fact that these places are hardly visited, nature still maintains its original aspect, allowing us to behold animals in a natural way.

Another attraction is the Mountain Bike Circuits, because there are few places in the world where it is possible to ride a bike at 5,000 meters above sea level. It is possible to carry out interesting and intrepid descents from 5,500 to 4,200 meters.

After so many days of stay, a kind of magnetism with the place develops. When it is time to go, there is only one feeling: the desire to come back to discover all and every corner protected by this desolate and wonderful land.

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Text & photos: Kenneth Lein