Colombia sits in the “Ring of Fire,” a horseshoe-shaped ring of volcanoes that surround the Pacific Ocean. The imperious volcanoes of Nevado del Ruiz, Nevado de Santa Rosa, and Nevado del Tolima loom ominously above the Andean mountains of the Central Cordillera. In 1985, Nevado del Ruiz (the “sleeping lion”) violently erupted, and lava and mud spewed down the mountain from its three massive craters at a speed of 50km (30 miles) per hour, wreaking havoc for more than 96km (60 miles). More than 23,000 people were killed and more than 5,000 homes destroyed. The town of Armero bore the brunt of the devastation; more than three quarters of the town’s 28,700 inhabitants were killed within 4 hours.
Day tours of Nevado del Ruiz, which involves a glacier climb from 2,200 meters/7,200 feet to 5,100 meters/16,700 feet in a day is no mean feat. Multi-day hikes and climbs are also offered that combine Nevado del Ruiz with overnight camps at Paramillo de Cisnes and Laguno Otún. At the time of writing, Nevado del Ruiz was closed to climbers and hikers due to volcanic activity; if it’s on your bucket list, always obtain up-to-date, on-the-ground information from a reputable outfitter before you sign up for a hiking trip.
Nevado del Tolima, the most scenic but also the most strenuous climb to the summit (5,215m), is also still active, but in recent years, there has been no evidence of seismic activity. El Rancho (2,600m/8,500 ft.) is a popular base for climbing Nevado del Tolima, and here you’ll find several hot springs. This climb is recommended only for advanced climbers; always go with a reputable guide and the requisite equipment. The inactive Nevado de Santa Isabel, the lowest of the three volcanic peaks, can also be climbed and the summit (5,000m/16,400 ft.) is famed for its transcendent views south to Nevado del Tolima and north to Nevado del Ruiz. Captivating Laguna Otún (a 4-hour drive from Manizales) is a popular base camp for taking on Nevado de Santa Isabel, and you could spend hours relaxing and fishing for trout here.
The premier outfitter in the region with knowledgeable, expert guides, Páramo Trek (Calle 5 no. 1–37; www.paramotrek.com; tel. 311/745-3761), offers challenging multi-day hiking/climbing trips in Parque Nacional los Nevados, which require a high level of fitness, agility, and some climbing experience.