Towering above Laguna Verde In the Southwest Antiplano of Bolivia is Volcan Licancabur. Actually located on the Bolivia/Chile border, the crater lake on the summit of Licancabur is said to be the worlds highest lake. Incas may have used the mountain to preform sacrifices and ruins can still be found on the top. While not the most technically challenging climb in the Andes, the sheer altitude and impressiveness of this volcano make it a very worthwhile climb, especially if you are trying to acclimate to high altitudes. When climbing Licancabur, you will be sleeping at approx. 14,500' and climbing to over 19,000'.
Independent travel in SW Bolivia is difficult for forigners. most people get to Licancabur on a tour of the Salar de Uyuni and SouthWest Antiplano, which is very worthwhile in it's own right. There are also primative busses to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile from Oruro and Tupiza. Transportations options change frequently in Bolivia, check at the time of your trip. From Laguna Verde, the mountain towers on the other side from the road (SW) . The trail up begins near some small ruins in the draw to the south (Left) of the mountain as you look at it from the lake. You will have to go to the "Campament Secundario" office to get a permit for area and more information is available there provided you speak adequate Spanish. You can also hire a guide if you would like. Macario Berna (Senior Licancabur) has summited over 341 times and would be glad to take you up, he is very competent.
As mentioned above, you need to buy a permit for the area at the Campament Secundario office in Laguna Verde. We were told that it is required to have a guide, for which we were charged the outrageous (for Bolivia) fee of $30. We got a great guide, Macario, and had a great climb, but I'm not convinced that there really is such a requirement. You need to feel this out for yourself. Certainly the climb does not warrent a guide.
When To Climb
Since Bolivia is technically in the tropics, the seasons are not as pronounced as in higher latitudes, but summer is dec-march, also wet season. We were there in late January and it was very nice, though not warm. The high antiplano is "high and dry" and the sun is intense and the nights can be cold. Put on lots of sunscreen everyday and be prepared for temps down to the 20's F for January, colder in their winter.
I think you could camp about anywhere in the area, however, the refugio is very cheap and I'll always take a bed and a roof if one is available, I would recomment this . On the west end of Laguna Blanca, there are some nice hotsprings, Go there after your climb as opportunities to get clean on the Southwest Antiplano are few and far between. A little ways up the trail to the summit of Licancabur is a rock shelter (no roof) where some NASA scientists did some altitude research, I think you could camp there if you were clean and did not ask but there is no water.
Check locally for conditions, Bolivia does not really have this kind of information avaliable and if you find yourself local to the mountain, ask several people because culture dictates that they give you an answer, even if they don't know, which can be confusing to people not familiar with Bolivian culture.