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.

Adventure Travel in Peru

I have driven from Arequipa to Cotahuasi many times and have been interested in some of the side roads that we pass. One of them has a sign that says it goes to Cabanaconde, on the rim of the Colca Canyon. Another one goes in the direction of Colca Canyon around the backside of Nevado Coropuna. I have always wondered if it is possible to drive directly to Colca Canyon from Cotahuasi, where I live, rather than going all the way around through Arequipa, which is the normal way. I have a map that shows a road there, but it also shows roads in my area that I know do not exist.

I had been told that this road doesn’t exist either, but then a friend of mine, Marcio, who is a guide here, said there really is a road there. Now that I have my 4×4 van, we, along with Frank, who is doing research to update his Peru Travel Guidebook, decided to check it out and see if we could drive all the way to Chivay, at the entrance to Colca Canyon. We started in Arequipa on Friday morning, and on the way to Cotahuasi, we stopped at the Majes River Lodge, which is just a few minutes off the main road. They have a number of bungalows, a pool, outdoor eating areas, and very interestingly, a parking area that is in an old bull-fighting ring. Julio, the owner, is a major promoter of tourism in the area, and he took us to see a hillside that was covered with pre-Inca graves. Vandals and erosion have uncovered many of them and there are pieces of clothing, straw baskets, and pottery, as well as bones and even complete skulls laying all over the place. I have seen many gravesites here in Peru but none as extensive as this. Julio said there are thousands of graves, which I didn’t believe, until we saw them, they are everywhere. There are also dinosaur bones and petroglyphs but we didn’t take time to go see them.

We told Julio of our plans to drive from Cotahuasi to Chivay and asked him if he knew anything about the condition of the road. He mentioned a number of towns on the route, including Andahua, where we wanted to stop, and others I didn’t recognize. He said the road is good to Andahua, fair to Orcopampa, and very good from there to Chivay, because there are mines in Orcopampa and they have fixed up the road. We later found out that the Reyna bus line also goes all the way to Orcopampa and the ticket agent confirmed what Julio had said about the roads.

After spending a few days in Cotahuasi, we left at 8:30 am on Tuesday, and arrived at the cutoff to Andahua two hours later. From here we were on a road that was new to us, on the high plain at just over 14,000 feet. I was surprised at the number of houses we saw near the road, which belonged to llama herders. We saw a number of both llamas and herders, walking on paths along the road. We also had a great view of the north side of Coropuna, which I had never seen before. As I looked ahead, I could see some loaded burros, and a few people walking down the road. I assumed it was some of the local herders, however as we got closer to them, it looked like they had large backpacks, like hikers or climbers would use. We could soon see that there were two gringos, a very rare sight in such a remote location. We stopped and talked to them for a few minutes, and found out that they were archeologists, doing some geological studies of Coropuna and the ancient ruins in the area.

After two more hours of driving, passing above 15,400 feet, and taking many more photos of Coropuna and other sights, we arrived at Andahua without any problems. We did have one more surprise though, we picked up a hitchhiker in the middle of nowhere, he was a schoolteacher on his way to Andahua. He teaches in a one-room school and said he has 14 students in grades one through six. He told us a lot about the area, including the fact that there wasn’t a gas station in Andahua; the nearest one is in Orcopampa, about an hour and a half away. Fortunately, we have enough fuel to get there, but I still hate driving around on these roads with less than a half of a tank of fuel.

After we reached Andahua, we stopped and looked at best looking hostel, the rooms weren’t too bad but the bathrooms left a lot to be desired. Although they do have fresh air, the back is wide open, facing the building next door. No one answered the door at the next hostel, which was still under construction, so we went back to the first one. After checking into the hostel, we decided to go for a hike up one of the volcanic craters outside of the village. We met a young man named Antonio, at the base of the crater, and he joined us on the hike to the summit, which is about 12,000 feet. We found out he used to live here, but now was just visiting from Arequipa. We took many more photos and were about ready to leave when Antonio took out a cell phone and to our surprise told us there was a signal there, as there was a clear line of sight down the valley to Aplao. I needed to make a call to Arequipa about my car, and just happened to have my cell phone in my daypack, so was able to make the call from there. The village does have regular phone service, but no cell phone service. I had some free minutes left on my phone, so was happy to be able to use them before they expire.

Back down in the village, we stopped at the local Internet, which had agonizingly slow satellite service for about 28 cents for 30 minutes. It was really starting to get cold by then as the sun was about to set, the village is at 11,450 feet, and it is fall here. I found a sidewalk vender selling french fries for 56 cents, which with a banana, was my dinner. While I was eating, Marcio went and looked at the other hostel that was now open, and found out that it has a very nice bathroom. At least we know for next time! It’s now 7:25 and my hands are getting too cold to type much longer, but I have to quit soon anyway as the outlet in our room doesn’t work and my laptop battery is almost dead. Tomorrow we plan on doing some more hiking, maybe to a waterfall, and then in the afternoon we will drive on to Orcopampa.

The restaurant selection isn’t too good in Andahua, so we bought some fruit, bread and jam, and ate in our room this morning. It was cold when I got up at 6:30 but the sun rose soon after that and the sunlight coming in the window took the chill off the room. I went next door to the city office, where we had gotten some tourist brochures yesterday, to check on a guide to show us some of the sights. I met the mayor and he said one of his workers would show us around. We drove on a poor winding road, up, down, and around some craters and, then hiked down to see a waterfall. It was a very poor trail and I was thinking that it wouldn’t be too popular with the average tourist, but then found out that there is a much better trail on the other side of the river. That is a longer hike, all the way from the village and we didn’t have time for that, which is why he took us on the poor trail. The waterfall was nice, and quite interesting, as the water was also coming out of the mountain in various places from an old canal, which was actually a tunnel in the rocks.

The Andahua River cuts through a number of narrow and very deep slot canyons, so deep that we could hardly see the river because it was so dark at the bottom, even though it was a bright sunlit day. We crossed the canyon in one place on what looked like a natural bridge, but when we walked upstream a ways, we could see that there was an old stone bridge underneath the dirt path, which must have been 400 or more feet above the river. Actually it wasn’t really dirt; most of the area is covered with fine black volcanic sand, which was very tiring to walk on. We also went to see some pre-Inca ruins, which seem to be everywhere around here.

At 3:00 in the afternoon, we left Andahua for Orcopampa, and were delighted to find out that the road was in quite good condition, in most places better than the road to Cotahuasi. For much of the way, it follows along (and once through) the Andahua River, which was now flowing through a wide flat valley, between two mountain ranges. Orcopampa is a busy mining village, and we had trouble finding a hostel with rooms available. Finally on our fourth try, we found one, supposedly with cable TVs and hot water showers, and even an enclosed garage for my car. The rooms are small and dingy, no reception on the TV, there is no water at all, not even cold, and a couple of miners tried to get the only parking spot from me (they didn’t succeed), but we have beds to sleep on, so we are thankful for that.

Last night before I went to bed, I added an extra blanket from the empty bed next to me. I still got a little chilly during the night so took one more blanket and then slept better; except for when the bus honked it’s horn long and loud at about 3:00 am! That’s when it arrives from Arequipa and then continues on to Orcopampa. Tonight I got my sleeping bag out of the car and am using that, as we are even higher up, about 12,490 feet. We walked around for a bit and found a nice restaurant, where we had dinner. On the way back to the hostel, we passed one of the three Internet signs we had seen when we were looking for a gas station. I almost didn’t stop, after the bad experience last night, but when I got close to the sign I saw that it said “Speedy”, which is the telephone company’s high-speed service here. It wasn’t as fast as in Arequipa, but better than the dial-up service I have at home, and a huge improvement over last night.

Tomorrow we go to Chivay and Cabanaconde on the other side of Colca Canyon, and again we have received varying reports of the road’s condition, from bad, due to the recent rainy season, to very good, because of the mines. The road today, which passed a mine, was in great shape for the last few kilometers into Orcopampa, so that gives us some hope for tomorrow as well, as there are many more mines along the way.

We had planned on leaving this morning (Thursday) at 7:00, and I was concerned that my car might not start because of the cold. I didn’t start it until 10:00 am yesterday, after the temperature had warmed up quite a bit, and it didn’t start very quickly, it took a lot of cranking. There was a good layer of ice on the water container outside when I got up at 6:15, but thankfully it did start, again after much cranking. I had planned on going back to Cotahuasi tomorrow, but have decided that I better return to Arequipa and get the cold starting problem checked. By 6:45, we were on the road, which after a climb up to the high plain, remained above 13,000 feet for the next five hours, reaching 14,980 feet at the highest point.

The road started out about the same as yesterday, fair with enough potholes and curves to keep our speed down to 25 to 40 kph most of the time. However once we got up on the high plain, it turned into a good gravel road, which was nice and wide as well. After being able to go 60 to 70 kph for a half hour or so, we came to a fork in the road. The map we have showed a road going straight and one angling off to the left. They both arrived at the same place, but the left fork was quite a bit longer.

The good road continued straight ahead, which we were going to take, but the road sign said that it went to a vicuña reserve, and the left fork went to our destination. Because the maps here are often not correct, we regretfully took the left fork, which was a much poorer road. It meandered all over the place, finally meeting up with a good road again, coming from the direction of the previous junction. Sure enough, when we looked back at the sign on that road, it said “vicuña reserve”. Why the previous sign said to go around I don’t know, but next time we will know better and go through the reserve on the good road. Less than an hour later, the road turned real bad, full of holes and washboard, and we were back down to 20 to 30 kph again.

A couple of hours later, I could see what looked like road construction in the distance ahead of us. It was, and when we reached there, we had to wait about 10 minutes for three dump trucks to unload and a bulldozer to spread out the gravel. After that, we were able to continue, on a much-improved road. It stayed good all the way to the bottom of Colca Canyon, where we crossed a bridge and continued on our way. However we soon realized that we were going the wrong direction, when Frank looked back at an intersection and saw a sign that said Chivay was the other way. We turned around and headed back, and soon found the correct road back on the other side of the river. There was only a sign for Chivay if you were coming from Arequipa or Cusco, there wasn’t one coming from the back way like we did. We noticed this numerous times on our trip, so we got pretty good at looking back at intersections, but this one we missed.

From Orcopampa, we arrived in Chivay in about six hours and 10 minutes, which we were pleased with, considering that from what some people had told us, it could have taken much longer. Twenty minutes later, after taking our first showers since leaving Cotahuasi, we were relaxing and soaking in the popular hot springs just outside of Chivay. It really felt good after three days of dust filled driving, much of it on rough and tiring, high altitude roads. I don’t think I am ready to take the trip again soon, but at least now I know that it is possible and I know the correct route.

Understanding the Role of a Naturalist Tour Leader

Dedicated wildlife holidays offer an exciting opportunity to experience flora and fauna thriving and interacting in its natural environment or habitat. Itineraries can take you to steamy jungles and inhospitable tundra, to the rolling grasslands of Kenya or the breathtaking glaciers of Greenland. But even the most extensive wildlife holiday can be made or broken by the quality of the guidance and instruction of a professional naturalist tour leader.

Leading by Example

When you book a holiday with a reputable specialist wildlife travel company, you should expect to be led or accompanied by at least one naturalist tour leader, depending on the size of your group. This guide may accompany you on the flights to and from your destination, or they may meet you upon your arrival. Your group leader/guide is the most precious resource you’ll have, as he or she is responsible for the logistics of the trip, coordinating group activities, sorting out any questions and problems, and sharing their in-depth wildlife knowledge and expertise.

Understanding the Role

The most important part of the job of a naturalist tour leader is being out in the field, helping wildlife enthusiasts identify the various plants, birds, and mammals that live in the region the tour is visiting. Your guide might lead you on a search for the elusive Red-fronted Macaw in Bolivia, or point out the cheeky lemurs hiding in the treetops in Madagascar.

First and foremost, a professional wildlife holiday guide is an expert naturalist. A naturalist is a person who studies or is an expert in natural history – that is, the sciences that deal with all things in nature. They are likely to be an expert in zoology or botany, or perhaps both. The expertise of your professional guide (who may even be a local of the region) will help you to understand the plants and animals that you see and also ensure your safety.

Do Your Research

When you’re looking into booking a trip with a dedicated wildlife holiday travel company, ensure you also research their guides, if possible. A reputable company will employ guides who are carefully matched to the destinations in which they are working. A good guide should have foreign language skills, a deep knowledge of the area, and specialist knowledge of the flora and fauna you can expect to see.

With an experienced, knowledgeable, and energetic naturalist tour leader, your wildlife holiday can be one of the most eye-opening and awe-inspiring experiences of your life – whether you’re in the rainforests of Borneo or the highlands of Scotland.

Marissa Ellis-Snow is a freelance nature writer. If you’re looking for a holiday with a focus on wildlife, lead by a naturalist tour leader, Naturetrek specialises in expert-led natural history and wildlife tours worldwide. Naturetrek brings over 25 years of experience to polar expeditions and tours to other spectacular regions on Earth.

A Journey to Experience the Natural Beauty of Peruvian Amazon

Occupying almost two-thirds of Peru, the Amazon Basin is home to a mystifying mosaic of people, birds, wildlife and plants. Approximately 8,000 distinctive animal species, 280 species of exotic birds, 700 classes of butterflies and 64 indigenous tribes live in harmony within this fascinating region. In fact, there’s so much to discover, that some people embark on Peru Amazon tours at least once every few years. From catamaran sails, to canopy tours and visits to parrot clay licks, there’s so much to learn, see and do!

Welcome to the Lungs of the Planet

Close to 20 percent of the world’s plant species grow within the Peruvian Amazon rainforest. Some of these plants even have medicinal properties, which you will learn about on your tour. By coincidence, the rainforest also produces 20 percent of the world’s oxygen. Here’s why. The vast array of green plants within this region triggers a significant amount of photosynthesis activity. Photosynthesis, in turn, allows the plants to continuously recycle carbon dioxide into oxygen. Now you know why people refer to the Peruvian Amazon as the “lungs of the planet.” This is just one of the many intriguing facts you will learn on the Peru Amazon tours.

The Divided Jungle

Two distinct eco-regions – the high selva and the low selva — divide the Peruvian Amazon Jungle. The high Selva also called the ceja de Selva or fringe of the mountain, sits at the eastern foothills of the Andes Mountains. The varying climates and temperatures within this region produce a colorful diversity of flora and fauna.

The vegetation increases its density in the low selva. Here lies the iconic Amazon rainforest. Monkeys, colorful birds, snakes and butterflies live within this region. Since the density of vegetation makes parts of this region difficult to explore, some anthropologists speculate that tribes of indigenous people live within these jungles, and make no contact with the outside world.

Fruits of the Forest

All of Peru offers an unparalleled culinary odyssey, but the Peruvian Amazon produces some extraordinary fruits. When you sit down for a meal, the cook might have added some of these indigenous fruits to the recipe.

  • The Camu Camu has an acidic taste, similar to a blend of a sour cherry and lime. Some cooks add it to juices, jams, ice creams and yogurts. Its high Vitamin C content will help you stay healthy during your Amazon tour.
  • Cocona, sometimes called the “Amazon Tomato” is often prepared with aji and mixed with salads. Rich in iron and niacin, they taste like a cross between a lime and a tomato. Refugio Amazonas, our lodging venue, serves Pork Chops in Cocona Sauce. You will see it live in the field when you visit the farms that work with the lodge.
  • Moriche palm trees produce fruits called Aguaje, which have a reddish-purple-brown tough skin with a texture. Enjoy it raw, or experience its use in desserts, juices, jams, ice-cream and alcoholic beverages. Refugio Amazonas uses this fruit in a luscious desert called Aguaymanto Bavaroise.

Peru Tours

A Peru tour is a great option for vacationers. The sweeps of scenic Andean mountains and Amazon rainforests in any Peru tour is more than enough reason why you should travel to this western South American country. With Peru’s rich cultural anthropology and total population of 25,662,000 inhabitants, this country has been touted as the cradle of the Inca Empire.

Some High Points of Peru Tours

Peru tours will take you to fascinating destinations in Peru like Lima and Machu Picchu. Tours to these places vary from agency to agency, which is why you have to conduct thorough research before settling on one.

Lima is not only the capital of Peru but also the gateway to many travel destinations in Peru. It will be a nice experience to explore this city which is bustling with living history and movement. This city is home to many superb architectural structures such as the Casa Aliaga or Palacio de Torre Tagle mansions as well as many fine churches and convents such as San Francisco and La Merced. Aside from the sights, you can also enjoy lots of outdoor activities because Lima City is surrounded by every aspect of nature such as the sea, islands and mountains.

The Machu Picchu in Cusco is another must-see in Peru. The ancient citadel of Machu Picchu is considered the star attraction of Cusco. This citadel was discovered in 1911 and is deemed as one of the world’s finest examples of landscape architecture. The Machu Picchu, which is situated on top of a mountain, is both a center of worship and astronomic observatory.

These are just some of the most visited places in Peru. There are a lot of places to add to Peru’s list of attractions such as the Nazca Lines, the Kuelap Fortress, Choquequirao and Iquitos. All these, including Lima and Cusco, will sure make your tour of Peru an adventure of a lifetime.