Cono de Arita, Argentina’s Cone-Shaped Mountain

Cono de Arita, nestled amid the expansive salt flat of Salar de Arizaro

photography by: rodoluca88/ Wikimedia Commons

Reading time: minutes

Located 600 kilometres from Salta in Argentina, there lies an unusual volcanic pyramid which has long captivated geologists and thrill-seekers alike. Steeped in ancient history and with strong cultural significance, Cono de Arita is a unusual natural structure that towers over the surrounding salt flats, high in the Andes mountains.

From its violent birth to its current, calmer present, our planet experienced an ample tectonic activity that shaped much of its geography, sometimes yielding a plethora of strange-looking structures, one of which can be found in the far reaches of Argentina’s northern tip.


Aptly named Cono de Arita for its tapered shape, this natural formation is relatively young – only 9,000 to 10,000 years old. Stemming from the late Pleistocene geological activity that reshaped the area, it is believed to have been created by a distinct process known as a maar; in essence a small volcano that didn’t have the strength to create a path for its lava to erupt and therefore never developed a real crater.


Instead, the impact of groundwater meeting ancient magma flows caused an explosion and the resulting depression filled with water over time. The molten lava transported black salt all around it and gradually formed the conical shape for which it is known today.


Prior to the arrival of the Incas, the area was populated by aboriginal people. They commonly referred to the mountain as Arita (meaning “sharp” in the Aymara language) and periodically climbed the 200-meter hillock for ceremonies, considering it to be a place of worship. These pilgrimages have fascinated historians for centuries given the lack of accessible routes, the steep, rocky slopes of the peak and the difficulties of climbing at an altitude of over 3,690 meters. Foreboding as the crag’s exterior may be, the interior is even more mysterious and largely undiscovered because of its impenetrable core.


Located in the Andes mountains, between the cities of Caipe and Tolar Grande, the 800-meter-wide mountain is at the southernmost tip of the Salar de Arizaro, a 1,600 km2 salt flat and the world’s third-largest after Bolivia’s Uyuni and Chile’s Atacama. Brown in color, it creates an optical illusion from a distance as it rises from the surrounding white salt plains, earning it the nickname “The Floating Volcano”.


Rising from its generally flat surroundings, Cono De Arita has become a well-renowned landmark and a symbol of the country’s Northwestern region. Its uniqueness and cultural importance all make it a source of discovery and adventure. Getting to it and around it can be challenging, especially during rainy season, but catching a glimpse of this quirky formation is well worth it for the intrepid explorer.