Walking up the last part of El Misti, I could only hear the rocks crunching under my boots alternated with the sound of my own heavy panting. I could see the summit! So close, and yet it still seemed so far… I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it…
Climbing El Misti volcano was one of my favourite things I did on my trip through South America! It will be challenging and tiring, but the scenic view is unbeatable.
When walking around the nearby city of Arequipa, you can see the tall, steep volcano looming up in the distance. It’s right there, challenging you. How about giving it a go?
This article will provide you with the information to choose the right tour operator and bring the proper equipment so you can maximise your chances of reaching the summit.
Table of Contents Climbing Misti volcano
- Climb one of the highest volcanoes in South America
- 1,5 days
- Maximum altitude: 5830 m
- Difficulty: Difficult (non-technical), but doable if acclimatised
- Rewarding view of the crater and surrounding landscape
Why climb volcano El Misti?
Why climb Misti? Well, because it’s there! Also, it’s a great challenge and one of the most special things you will probably do during your trip!
But most importantly, it is one of the cheapest and least technical high altitude hikes in the world! El Misti does not have snow, meaning you don’t need crampons, ropes or technical experience.
If you want to summit a similar mountain in other countries, it will cost you much more.
- For example climbing the Kilimanjaro (5895 m) in Tanzania will likely cost you about 2000+ USD and will take you more than a week.
- In Bolivia there is a mountain called Huayna Potosi with similar altitude (6088 m) which will cost you anywhere between 150 – 300 USD. Huayna Potosi also requires some technical mountaineering skills for crossing the ice and snow (which you can learn the day before departure from your guides).
What about El Misti? It will only take you about 1,5 days and costs around 240 soles (65 euros / 72 USD)! Sounds pretty good right?
Acclimatise to altitude before attempting to climb El Misti volcano
Climbing an almost 6000m volcano is serious business. Make sure you are acclimatised and have done multiple hikes at high altitude (above 4000 m) in the preceding weeks. There are more than enough good preparation hikes in the south of Peru that you can incorporate into your travel plans. Without this preparation, don’t even consider hiking up El Misti. Having said that, hiking up El Misti is doable. Will it be difficult, tiring and strenuous? Yes! But if you are acclimatised to the altitude and have a healthy amount of perseverance, you are very likely of making it to the summit of El Misti.
How to organise your hike up El Misti
There are many travel agents in Arequipa that offer to take you up El Misti. However, there are only three companies that actually have the guides and equipment themselves and organise the tour (I will call them ‘tour operators’ from now on). The travel agents are just ‘middle men’ that get a commission for selling you the tour and you’ll end up going with one of the three tour operators anyway. It’s best to talk to one of the tour operators directly. They know the latest information about when groups are leaving and it’s also easier to negotiate a discount directly with them.
These are the three tour operators that organise hikes up Misti:
- Waiky Adventours has friendly reception, is easy to find and is just north of the city centre. Check out the Waiky Adventours website for more information on their Misti tour.
- Carlos Zarate Adventures is on the north side of the city centre. Check out the website of Carlos Zarate Adventures for the latest prices and information.
- Quechua Explorer Andeans Mountains is about a 15 – 20 minute walk north of the city centre but is a little hard to find. You can also have a look on the Quechua Explorer website for more information.
You will need a minimum of 3 people in order to departure (or pay for the open spot(s) if you can’t find enough people). It’s possible to organise this trip one to a few days in advance. In low season it will obviously be more difficult to find a group than in high season. If you are serious about climbing El Misti I would advise to leave behind your name and Whatsapp contact details so the tour operator can reach you when they have a group you can join.
When planning your trek up El Misti, plan at least one full rest day after you return. The last thing you want is to be sitting on a bus while suffering from the aftermath of altitude sickness. I was completely fine the day after, but I did run into multiple people in my hostel who were very sick for a few days. There really is no way to predict how your body will respond to the altitude.
Best time to climb Misti volcano near Arequipa
Misti can be climbed year round. The volcano no longer has a glacier on its summit, due to global warming.
How much should I pay for a guided trip up Misti?
Like I said, I paid 240 soles (65 euros / 72 USD) including everything (guide, driver, hiking poles, clothes, sleeping equipment, dinner and breakfast). I recommend giving your guide and driver a good tip if you are happy with their services. This way you know the money is going to the people you want it to.
How much water should I bring?
The tour operators will tell you to bring a minimum of 5 litres of water per person. You will need to give 1,5 litres of your water to the guide at base camp to make you soup or pasta and tea. That leaves 3,5 litres of drinking water for the +/- 30 hours the total trip takes. I decided to take 8 litres of water because I noticed I needed a lot of water on previous hikes in Peru. The 8L was exactly perfect for me! I finished the last of my water in the car on the way back to Arequipa. My two hiking buddies only took 4,5 litres of water per person (a little less than recommended), but this was perfect for them. You will need to decide what will work best for you! Do some (multiday) acclimatisation hikes beforehand and pay attention to how much water you drink. If you don’t have the urge to pee a few times a day, you are drinking too little!
What to wear hiking up Misti
Prepare for a wide variety of weather conditions. On the first day you will be walking through the desert. On the second day it will be very cold because you start hiking in the middle of the night. Travel friends who climbed El Misti a few days before I did told me the water in their water bottles froze because it was so cold! Keep this in mind when choosing your clothes.
The tour agencies offer clothing you can wear (included in the price). They offer jackets, trousers, gloves and walking poles. The clothes are pretty dated and it’s a bit of a puzzle to find the right size, but it’s fine. Ask to try on the clothes the day before departure. This way you can take your time to find something suitable. Otherwise you’ll only have a quick 30 minutes or so to pick out a set of clothes before driving off.
You will need to make your own decision what to wear depending on the weather conditions and how cold you usually get. I was quite comfortable to warm during the climbing, but quite cold during the breaks. Below is the list of clothing items I wore on my climb.
- 2 thermal shirts
- 1 fleece sweater
- 1 synthetic down jacket (which was in my backpack for the majority of the climb)
- 1 thin wind breaker
- Thermal pants
- Quick dry hiking trousers (I wore zip-off trousers so I could wear them as shorts on day 1)
- Thick ski pants provided by the agency
- Thin pair of sports gloves
- Thick pair of gloves provided by the agency
- Thin hat + thick hat
- T-shirt for hiking in the desert on day 1
- Good hiking boots (make sure you have hiked on them before so you know you don’t get blisters)
What to bring
Besides the clothes as mentioned above, you should bring the following:
- Big backpack to carry all your stuff (65 – 80 litres)
- Small foldable day pack to carry some stuff on day 2
- Head torch
- Sun screen (don’t forget to pack it when starting your summit attempt in the middle of the night)
- Sleeping bag, sleeping mat, tent & cutlery (which you get for free from the operator, but you will need to carry yourself)
What is not included in the Misti tour?
Lunch on both days is not included, so take some sandwiches or snacks with you. Tour operators often say you have to pay extra for the hiking poles, but you can negotiate them for free. Normally I do not hike with hiking poles, but here I would highly recommend it!
General itinerary for hiking Misti (near Arequipa)
Day 1: Hiking to base camp
- 08:00 – Meet at the tour office in Arequipa and pack the last items into your bag
- 09:00 – Leave Arequipa
- 11:00 – Arrival at the base of El Misti volcano, start hiking from 3400 m
- 16:00 – Arrive at base camp (4500 m), set up camp
- 17:00 – Dinner
- 18:00 – Bed time!
Day 2: Summit day
- 00:30 – Wake up and breakfast
- 01:00 – Start hiking
- 07:00 – 09:00 Summit at 5830 m (depending on how fast you hike)
- 1,5 h later – Back at base camp, clean up
- 12:00-15:00 Back in Arequipa, depending on how quick you hiked in the morning
Misti hike: What to expect
The trip will leave Arequipa in the morning around 9AM. After about 45 minutes you will turn off the tarred road and drive for another hour or so on very bumpy dirt road (luckily the car is a 4×4). From there (3400 m) the southern route is about a 5 hour walk to base camp (4500 m). Then you will set up your tent while the guide prepares dinner. Don’t eat (too much) if you aren’t hungry. If you force yourself, you might vomit it all back up due to the altitude.
At 6 PM it’s bedtime! I didn’t really sleep, only dosed off. This is also a symptom of the altitude. We woke up just after midnight to start our summit attempt. When I unzipped my tent: Wow! I was so impressed by the beautiful lights of Arequipa! The city already looked so far beneath us, as if we were in an airplane! We had a quick breakfast with some bread, jam and tea. Again, I barely ate anything. After literarily two bites I stuffed the piece of bread in my pocket to keep for later. Then it was finally time to start the really tough part!
At 1 AM we started our summit attempt in the pitch black! The guide explained to us that he would divide the hike up into 8 segments. He would decide the pace based on our abilities. If one of the group members did not feel well before the third break, the whole group would have to turn back because it would be too dangerous for the person to go back by themselves. This also meant the summit attempt would be over for all group members. If one of the group members felt ill later on, it was okay for that group member to turn back alone. Consider this when joining a group! Luckily we were all feeling fine and we continued our way up the volcano.
All you could see was darkness and the few rocks the head torch was shining on. Luckily I was only carrying a light day pack with some water, a camera, sunscreen and some extra clothes. For hours and hours we followed the guide, one foot in front of the other. Mentally cutting up the hike into smaller segments really helped! All I thought about was the next break. Stopping was not an option in my mind because the guide kept walking. When he finally announced it was break time I was so happy. Immediately I sat down, leaned against the steep incline and cherished the amazing feeling of resting. This repeated itself until the sun came up! The daylight revealed the beautiful scenery around us. Pichu Pichu was looming in the distance and the barren desert landscape reaches as far as the eye could see.
The summit of volcano El Misti: views of Chachani volcano and Arequipa
The guide pointed out a small speck far in the distance. It was the cross on the summit! We could see it! Though it seemed really far, I knew for sure I was going to make it. The last few hundred metres were tough!
The view from the summit was just incredible. Wow! The double crater of Misti was finally revealed to use. Small smoke plumes were rising out of the crater. On the other side of Misti we could see the majestic Chachani volcano next to us and the city of Arequipa below us.
When standing on the top I was so happy we all three had made it to the top! I was sure this is one of those adventures I’ll remember for a really long time.
Was it worth hiking Misti?
YES! It was so worth hiking Misti! The hike was really difficult at some points, but it was do able. When in doubt, just give it a try! Even if you don’t make it to the top, the general experience is so special. It will be one of the coolest experiences on your trip, I promise!
Summary: the most important tips to maximise your chances of summiting El Misti
Didn’t manage to read through the whole article? Here are the most important tips:
- Acclimatise before attempting El Misti by doing (multi day) hikes at altitude (above 4000 m) in the weeks prior.
- Book with one of the three tour operators (not tour agencies) who actually organise the trek themselves
- Pick out your clothing from the tour operator the day before instead of the morning you depart
- Bring enough water based on your previous trekking experience. This really varies per person!
- Don’t force yourself to eat during the hike if you’re not hungry
- Plan at least one rest day after the hike to recover
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