The closest volcano to Arequipa is Misti (5,830 meters), and is generally climbed in two days/one night. There are a few routes, but the easiest begins from a new road that reaches 3,400 meters. From here climbers ascend 6–7 hours to make base camp around 4,700 meters before climbing at dawn up Misti’s snowy south side. It is possible to be back in Arequipa by the afternoon.
The easiest 6,000 meter peak—perhaps in all of Latin America, maybe in the whole world—is Chachani (6,095 meters). Three hours of driving from Arequipa brings climbers to 5,100 meters, from which they ascend two more hours to base camp. The summit is another 5–6 hours away the following morning, though a new road may put future climbers within four hours of the summit. Though it’s possible to climb Chachani in a single day from Arequipa, it seems safer (and more enjoyable) to plan on at least two.
Another popular mountain, which can be combined with a trekking circuit through Colca Canyon, is Ampato (6,312 meters). A car can be driven to 4,900 meters, from where climbers ascend for two hours to base camp at 5,200 meters. Summit is then another six hours.
Another route from Cabanaconde, in the Colca Canyon, begins at an Inca ceremonial center at 5,000 meters near the northeast side of the volcano. The summit is about seven hours away from here, and the neighboring volcanoes of Sabancaya (5,995 meters) and Hualca Hualca (6,095 meters) can also be climbed from this same camp. Colca is also the launching point for Mismi (5,597 meters), the source of the Amazon.
Coropuna (6,425 meters), Peru’s second-highest peak, is rarely climbed because it is 10 hours from Arequipa. But its slopes are gentler than those of many of the other volcanoes, and it is sandwiched by and on the way to both Cotahuasi and Valley of the Volcanoes.
Most of Arequipa’s volcanoes are gentle and relatively free of ice, so few climbers rope up, though crampons might be required for the summit push. Although not as technical as the mountains around Huaraz, any mountain near 6,000 meters demands caution and experience. Only go without a guide if you have climbing experience and have done your homework ahead of time.
Along Santa Catalina Street in Arequipa there are at least a dozen adventure agencies. We recommend Zárate Expeditions (Santa Catalina 115A, Window B, tel. 054/20-6314 or 054/997-1535), founded by the legendary mountain climber and guide Carlos Zárate Sandoval. It offers guided expeditions to all the local volcanoes, along with a range of treks, and its services include food and transport. The agency offers trips to Misti, Chachani, and Colca/Ampato. Miguel “Miki” Zárate, who discovered the Juanita mummy atop Ampato in 1995, is one of the guides.
Naturaleza Activa (Santa Catalina 211, tel. 054/959-822-436 or 958-681-486, naturactiva [at] yahoo [dot] com) is a highly recommended option for Colca treks or mountain biking. Owner and guide Lalo Sánchez Bendezú offers excellent treks in Colca for three days/two nights (US$75 pp) and a bigger loop of four days/three nights (US$95 pp) that include more sites than other agencies.
Another recommended agency that has been around for a while is Colca Trek (Jerusalén 401-B, www.colcatrek.com.pe). Traditional customized treks to Colca can be arranged, as well as part-biking, part-trekking expeditions or a biking countryside tour. The shop has the best range of camping gear (for sale and rent) in the area, and it also rents bikes and usually has white gas.
© Ross Wehner and Renée del Gaudio from Moon Peru, 3rd Edition