Volcano Climbing in Arequipa, Peru

Arequipa, the attractive “White City” in Southern Peru, is surrounded by three volcanic mountain ranges: the Cordillera Volcanica, the Cordillera de Ampato and the Cordillera de Chila. The volcanoes have provided interesting findings for archeologists as it has been discovered that the Incas used to climb some of these volcanoes and use them to perform rituals in various sanctuaries, leaving human sacrifices near the summits. Some of the special Inca offerings that have been discovered include Juanita, the Ice Maiden, who in 1995 was discovered on top of Ampato. The geography of the area lends itself to volcano climbing with summits of between 5000 and over 6000 meters.

There are various organizations that provide guided volcano climbing in Arequipa. For example some tours climb to the summit of Picchu Picchu (plus many others) in two days. The first day involves reaching the base camp, firstly driving in a four-wheel drive vehicle and then climbing to 4700 meters to camp. The second day involves a four to five hour climb to 5664 meters at which point, El Misti, Chachani, Ubinas volcanoes and the lovely colors of Picchu Picchu itself can be admired.

Another popular tour climbs the famous El Misti cone in two days. A Quechua name, El Misti means the gentleman. This volcano is 5825 meters high and sits between the Chachani mountain and the Picchu Picchu volcano. There have been some random eruptions of the volcano since written historic records began and between 1438 and 1471 the last really strong eruption is thought to have occurred.

Inca inhabitants living near the volcano reported other smaller eruptions dating from the mid-fifteenth century but the year 1870 saw the last major eruption of this volcano. A large quantity of white volcanic stone from El Misti (sillar) has been used as construction material for most of Arequipa’s colonial buildings and gives the historic center of the city a lovely appearance.

In common with climbing of Picchu Picchu the first day of the El Misti climb is taken up with hiking for five hours to the base camp at 4500 meters and then the second day requires hiking for another five or six hours to reach the summit. At the top the crater can be seen which is still active pumping out sulfur as well as affording great views of the beautiful surroundings.

At a height of 6075 meters, Chachani is another popular volcano to climb. The altitude is the biggest concern to climbers, who really need to spend time to acclimatize, but no special equipment is needed to climb the mountain as it has no remaining glaciers. It was first ascended by Biggar in 1889 but it was also climbed in pre-Columbian times shown by the existence of archeological remains near the summit. Although it is not climbed as often as El Misti, many people still attempt it.

The first day of the ascent of Chachani involves a 4×4 excursion through the National Reserve of Aguada Blanca to see wildlife such as vicuñas, guanacoes, eagles, viscachas, deer and sometimes condors. Following this is a hike to the base camp at 5200 meters with its sandy slope, reddish colorations and volcanic ash. The next day is a two step approach to the summit with a stop at 5800 meters to view the other nearby peaks of Coropuna, Ampato, Hualca Hualca, Sabancaya, El Misti, and Ubinas. Then it is a push onwards to the summit to enjoy the superb views and spectacular scenery. Then climbers descend to the base camp and take road transport back to the city of Arequipa.