El Misti Volcano Trek (Arequipa)
Duration: 2-3 days
When to go: Best from May-November. Rain and snow often prevent this trek during Jan, Feb & March
Altitude: 3000m to 5830m
Difficulty: Moderate (if well acclimatized)
If you visit Arequipa on a clear day you cannot help but notice the El Misti volcano (5830m) towering over the city. The two or three day climb to the top can be hard work due to the thin air but any relatively fit, acclimatized trekker should be able to do it without too many problems, it is certainly not a technically difficult climb. The El Misti climb, in fact, one of the easiest ascents of any mountain of this size in the world. There are great views from the top. Although El Misti is an active volcano it has only erupted four times in the last 500 years. Best to acclimatize at higher altitudes such as Cusco or Lake Titicaca before attempting this trek. In 1998 an expedition found 6 Inca mummies high on the mountain. Visit the Museo Santuarios Andinos in Arequipa for more information.
It is highly recommended to hire an experienced guide for the climb. Less experienced climbers should buy a package from a travel agency in Arequipa which should include guides, transport to and from the trailhead, all camping and safety equipment, cook and meals (an all inclusive 2-day group tour should cost around US$80-120 per person.
There are several routes to the summit but the easiest begins from a new road that takes you up to 3400m. From here climbers ascend to make base camp at around 4700m (6-7 hrs). At dawn you can climb up El Misti's snowy south side to the summit. It if possible to descend and make it back to Arequipa by late in the afternoon. An ice axe and crampons may be necessary depending on the conditions and time of year. Trekking poles are particularly useful and can be hired in Arequipa.
Independent climbers should note that many of the areas at the base of El Misti are very poor and crime is a serious risk that should be considered. Best to take a guide or an organized tour.
Trekking in the Central Andes (Lonely Planet)
contains detailed day-by-day trail descriptions and maps. 1st Edition published June 2003. ISBN 1-74059-431-2