Chaitén is a volcanic caldera 3 kilometres (2 mi) in diameter, 17 kilometres (11 mi) west of the elongated ice-capped Michinmahuida volcano and 10 kilometres (6 mi) northeast of the town of Chaitén, near the Gulf of Corcovado in southern Chile. The most recent eruptive phase of the volcano began on 2 May 2008, and is ongoing. According to the Global Volcanism Program, radiocarbon dating of older tephra from the volcano suggests that its last previous eruption was in 7420 BC ± 75 years.
The caldera rim reaches 1,122 metres (3,681 ft) above sea level. Before the current eruption, it was mostly filled by a rhyolite obsidian lava dome that reached a height of 962 metres (3,156 ft), partly devoid of vegetation. Two small lakes occupied the caldera floor on the west and north sides of the lava dome.
The translucent grey obsidian which had erupted from the volcano was used by pre-Columbian cultures as a raw material for artifacts and has been found as far away as 400 kilometres (250 mi) to the south and north, for example in Chan-Chan.