Volcán Chico: A Natural Volcanology 101 Lab

About Galapagos Islands, Isabela Island, Things to Do

Survival of the fittest, is a quote you might associate with Charles Darwin, who formulated his theory of evolution during his visit to the Galapagos Islands in 1835.

Now almost two centuries later, it was certainly on my mind as we reached the shade of a jaboncillo tree. “We can rest here and turn back, or we can continue on to Volcán Chico,” our guide said. The fittest went on to Volcán Chico.

The unfit perished in the wilderness, making sure their genetic material was not passed on (OK, actually that didn’t happen, they just headed back to the comfortable lodge!).

Our small group continued to Volcán chico, and got an amazing  first-hand lesson in volcanology, seeing weird lava landscapes and learning how they were formed.

Why to go to Volcán Chico

During our Galapagos tour, we had the choice to visit Volcán Chico, a choice surprisingly few people took. The ones that passed up this opportunity missed out on seeing endemic cacti, bizarre lava formations, and colorful moon-like landscapes.

The round trip, a hike to Volcán chico is just 16 km, or a smidge under 10 miles. There is a small incline as we ascend the Sierra Negra volcano, and then an easy flat section of the trail that goes around the border of the magnificent caldera (the 2nd largest in the world!). After a rest stop, the trail becomes somewhat rocky and descends into a valley where the amazing lava formations begin.

Volcanology 101

Here is some of the vocabulary our guide taught us, which we were able to see first-hand during the hike, as we asked about the weird structures formed by the lava.

  • Caldera—formed by the collapse of a magma chamber in a volcano, such as the top of Sierra Negra Volcano

    The caldera of Sierra Negra Volcano

  • Shield Volcano—a volcano built from fluid lava flows, usually wide and low profile.  Sierra Negra Volcano is an example; even the town is technically sitting on part of the volcano.
  • Lava tunnel –when lava flows over a surface, and the outer shell hardens, forming a tunnel. There are lava tunnels on Volcán chico, and larger ones on Santa Cruz Islands.
  • Hornitos – “little ovens” in Spanish, these are hollow structures in the lava where high pressure causes the lava to ooze and splatter out. There are many hornitos on Volcán Chico.
  • Aa lava—rough lava made of jagged fragments, almost impossible to walk on and formed by a viscous flow of lava

    Lava flows, the new black lava on the right flows over the old lava (left)

  • Parasitic cone — a cone shaped eruption formed by a fracture in the flank of a bigger volcano. Volcán chico is a parasitic cone on the Sierra Negra Volcano.

    Volcan chico, a parasitic cone of Volcan Sierra Negra

Getting back up the hill after we had seen Volcán chico was the hardest part, but when we were done we headed to a local farm where there was a huge meal set out for us. The Volcán Chico hike worked up our appetite, and we easily downed three large courses!

Have you ever hiked a volcano? Please share by commenting on this post.

Meet the Author

Lisa Cho is an expat living in Ecuador, originally from San Francisco, California. She writes about the Galapagos Islands on this site and about her mainland Ecuador adventures on CuencaCultureShock.com

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