Volcán Ubinas is currently the most active volcano in Peru and one of the most active in South America with several eruptions dating back to the 1500’s. It is a symmetrical strato volcano and sits out in the middle of the desert (northern Atacama) in a barren and remote area of stark beauty.
If you are lucky, climbing to the crater rim offers a very spectacular view of the impressive crater. The active crater is said to be 1.6 kms (1 mile) wide with vertical walls and 150-200 meters (500-650 feet) deep. If you really want to try your luck, supposedly you can even climb into the active crater, but make sure to have a good life insurance policy and do it when the volcano is in a calm state.
If the mountain is not in a calm state, you can view the eruptions from the nearby hills and peaks and from a safe distance. Do not climb the peak during an eruption.
Shot of Ubinas taken from a safe distance and on the way out. We were camped high on the mountain, left side, when the volcano erupted.
Due to an eruption on our planned summit day, we never did reach the summit of this volcano, but we were only 500 meters from the crater rim when the volcano erupted (which was the first time it erupted in a few years). Here is an except that I wrote the day of our retreat.
We´re back from Ubinas. We only made basecamp. Last night was about the longest night of my life. No sleep.
Anyway, we made basecamp at around 2pm in a raging snowstorm with thunder. It was snowing hard, sometimes in blizzard conditions so we just had to sit in the tent the whole time. Had to shake the tent off several times to shed the snow. It finally stopped snowing at 11pm under a star filled sky.
More "thunder" at 2 am. It was noticed that there was a layer of dirt over the snow around the tent. I thought the wind must have blown it there since it was strong at times. More thunder and a strong smell at 2:30 am that made us all sick. It finally occurred to me what was going on. I don´t know why it didn´t dawn on me before until the smell hit us. This was neither thunder nor blowing dirt. The volcano was erupting. Ash was falling from the sky. The fumes made us all sick and Kessler vomited several times. I went outside to find a layer of ash over everything including the new snow. It was definitely falling from the sky. It stung the eyes and filled nostrils, ears, etc. Unfortunately, there was nothing we could do. The way off the mountain couldn´t be found in the dark with all the new snow and new ash all over. I heard the truck have trouble starting and then it was parked a bit downhill. We had to wait until it got light. Luckily it begins to get light at 4:30. We secured every nook in the tent as good as we could to keep the ash out.
As soon as it began to get light we began to pack up to get the (fill in the blank) out of there. Kessler was still sick and I covered him with everything I could to filter out any ash and fumes.
Like everything else, the truck was covered with ash. We haphazardly threw everything in (including Kessler whom I hurried and carried) and got out of there. As we were leaving we saw the eruption from a safe distance.
There were still some positive things about this long and no fun night. I guess we have to look at the bright side.
1. Other than getting sick from the fumes, no one got injured in any way nor were there any other mishaps.
2. While packing up, I still managed to shoot the whole thing on film (still camera). We should have some amazing photos as we were only 500 meters (1600 feet) below the crater rim. We got photos of the ash covered tents and truck with the exploding volcano behind. We were very close to the eruption. Since the sun wasn´t up yet, they will be only fair to good quality, but I was going to hang around for better lighting. I also got several good photos with good lighting from a distance.
3. Kessler is going to have one heck of a story to tell to his kindergarten class. Probably to his children and grand children as well.
Our attempt on Ubinas ends with an eruption in the morning and a hurried exit and packing up. Notice the ash covered vehicle and the erupting volcano.
The peak can either be climbed with a guide, independent by hiring a vehicle, or independent by using public transportation. Renting a vehicle and going independent isn’t going to save that much money unless you have a big group since hiring a guiding service is only marginally more. Riding the bus may be the best option of you opt to go independent and have several days to spare. The peak is in a remote area, but is still pretty easy to reach, at least when compared to other peaks in the Atacama. Other than dodging eruptions, getting to basecamp is the hard part. The climb itself is very easy for a mountain of this elevation. No guide is needed for the climb, but they are useful in finding the correct road to the trailhead.
Even if you don’t use a guide, you may want to check with them for current road and eruption status, though they don’t always have updated conditions. Not many outfitters head out to Ubinas, but one that does is Zarate. You can also book around Arequipa at places like Tambo Viejo. Some links are below:
is a good tour operator to use for this climb.
is a well known and reliable guide service.
Independent by Driving
Finding the correct road to basecamp can be a real challenge in the desert with few landmarks. You had better also have a good map and a 4wd.
The road to the village of Ubinas starts at Arequipa Peru (which is served by several buses and flights daily). You will head north out of town and on the “highway” between El Misti and Pichu Pichu. Once you leave Arequipa, its dirt roads all the way. Make sure to have a full tank of gas!
The main road goes past the village of Chihuata and to Laguna Salinas which is a salt flat, a mud flat, or a lake depending on the year and season. There are often flamingoes all over the place if you are there the right year/season. There are many roads all over the place, but luckily there are signs pointing the way to the town of Ubinas. Follow the signs to the town.
The road to near basecamp is on the north side of the mountain. It can be hard to find, so you are mostly on your own here (ask for directions in the village of Moche at the Laguna Salinas). Head towards the mountain and try to find it. Good luck. If you know the way, it’s about a six hour drive from Arequipa.
Independent by Public Transport
Your destination will be the village of Ubinas, which is reached from Arequipa (see above). The bus currently leaves at 7am from Arequipa. The bus office is at Espinar 204 Sepulveda 101 and the name of the bus is Empresa Municipal Ubinas. The bus takes most of the day to reach the village of Ubinas. From there, it’s a two to three day round trip climb on foot and unless there is fresh snow, there is no water.
The climb itself is easy, at least to the crater rim. From the “basecamp” at 4800 meters, simply climb the easy but often sandy (ash) to the crater rim at 5500 meters. There is a faint path and the climb to the crater rim usually takes most people about three hours.
The crater is very impressive, but reaching the true summit can be difficult or even impossible due to the unstable rocks rimming the active crater.
If you do climb to the main summit expect to pass over several false summits and some exposed sections (see Vic's Trip Report
Trying to climb to the true summit is not recommended unless the volcano is quiet and if conditions are good (and conditions change often since this is an active volcano). The descent to basecamp from the crater rim usually takes one hour.
This was taken from the road that accesses the volcano.
There is no real red tape, but it is possible that during certain times there can be an evacuation order for this and surrounding areas due to possible volcanic activity.
We were camped on Ubinas 500 meters/1600 feet below the crater rim. Early in the morning the mountain exploded. Notice how close we were and the ash falling from the sky.
If the volcano is quiet, there are good campsites at 4800 meters on the north side of the mountain. There are many campsites in the area, but none of them have water.
The campsite at 4800 meters. These are our ash covered tents from the volcanic eruption.
When to Climb
This is a dry area, so the peak can be climbed year round. Mid April through October is considered the ideal time to climb the peak with normally good weather, though night temperatures June through early September can be pretty cold.
November, early December, and April are in between times with mostly good weather, but more frequent cloud and snow. January through March are the wettest months.
November snow storm on Ubinas.
Volcanic activity can be more concerning than the weather, so check on the activity of the volcano before heading out. If the volcano is going off, by all means go, but climb a nearby peak or view the peak from a safe distance rather than climbing to the summit.
Mountain ConditionERUPTION UPDATES #1
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There are no weather links available. Arequipa is the closest city that has a weather link, but the climate there is different.