Our Experience Hiking Misti Volcano (Volcan Misti) in Arequipa, Peru
Our decision to hike Misti Volcano (Volcan Misti) during our time in Arequipa, Peru was not well thought out. In fact, it was the result of sporadic Googling towards the end of our time in Cusco as we begin to tentatively figure out what we wanted to do at our next stop.
As I sit here typing this nearly 24 hrs post-descent, I thought it would be good to idea to document the experience – the biggest part being that Misti is not an easy hike.
Don’t get me wrong – we are not novice trekkers – both Kristine and I have done extensive hikes in the US and Asia.
But this is Misti, and she tops out at 19,101 ft (5,822 m) meaning the altitude is the biggest enemy for this hike.
What is the Misti Volcano in Arequipa, Peru?
Misti is one of 3 active volcanoes (the others are Chachani & Pichu Pichu) surrounding Peru’s second largest city: Arequipa. She is visible from nearly every window, featured on countless menu covers, and one of the biggest attractions for both tourists and adventurists.
While technically active with her last official eruption was in 1985, the last time Misti made any significant noise was in the late 1400s.
The long and short of it is that she is very safe and nobody is predicting an encore eruption anytime soon.
About Our Hike of Misti
We signed up for our trek via the agency Del Solar Travel, though it’s pretty clear any agency around the Plaza del Armas can help you out
If you’re interested, their address is Calle Santa Catalina 112 and they are open from 9am to 1 and then 4pm – 8.
Note that this agency is simply the middleman – the trek was led by an experienced trekking/adventure company that provided all gear, food, and a guide (shout out to Jose!).
The hike was billed as a 2-day 1-night affair with 5 hours of hiking the first day and 7 the following (not including the descent).
Trekkers are responsible for carrying all gear + supplies and they recommend 5 liters of water per person with 1.5L of that going to the camp for food prep. To be honest, we could have used more water and I’d suggest bringing at least 6L per person to be comfortable – it was not fun having to ration water during the descent and hike out. Additionally, water can be helpful in combating altitude sickness as well as those headaches you’re sure to experience once you’re up there.
The guide carries all the food, prepares the meals, and does his best to keep everyone healthy and strong (more on this later…).
What did it cost?
We paid 300 soles per person (about $100 USD) for this trek – it was broken out as follows:
- 220 soles each for the trek + guide + basic gear (includes transportation, food, sleeping bag, mattress, hat, jacket, pants, gloves)
- 75 soles each for extra gear (boots, trekking poles, 60L pack, headlamp)
Obviously, you can do it for less if you have all your gear, but as we had been traveling for a while we didn’t have decent pants, boots or any of the extra gear.
A note on using a guide for Misti vs going solo:
You can absolutely hike Misit without a guide or company – the trail is well marked and any driver/taxi can get you to the trailhead.
The issue is finding a ride out once you’re done – the trailhead is located at least 3 miles past a private property gate and away from any major street. We saw 2 different couples, both of whom did the summit with us, have to hike out the last 3 miles to the street in order to catch a ride as no taxi would come get them and both the agency cars were full.
Unless you are super hardcore or on a ridiculous budget, take my advice and hire a guide with a car – or at the very least reserve a car at a set time to meet you at the trailhead – the last thing we wanted to do after the hike was have to walk with our gear 3 more miles when we’re tired, thirsty, and just downright ready for a good, hot shower.
The morning we were set to leave, I made the mistake of doing a bit of research about hiking Misti. I came across blogs describing near-death experiences, people slipping and catching themselves before sliding down a steep volcano. But since we had already booked our trip and our driver was headed our way, all I could do was just push those reviews to the back of my head for the moment.
Our driver picked us up at 8:30 am and in the car was the guide + the 3 other people who we be our hiking partners (our group was 5 total + 1 guide). Everyone was young, in their early to late 20s, and seemed fit enough to do the trek.
We went to the hiking office to distribute gear, check for fit & functionality, and then pack the car.
We stopped once on the way out of Arequipa to get last minute supplies (we bought more water + batteries for our headlamps) and then drove the 30-45 min to the trailhead.
After a brief by the guide, we finally started hiking around 1:30pm with a scheduled time of 4-5 hours depending on pace.
The hike here was very basic and quite hot compared to Misiti – you don’t make any real gains in altitude until the last 2 hours and I’d recommend wearing shorts instead of the insulated pants you should have for day 2. I slathered myself in SPF, as we recently had learned that the sun is especially lethal in Arequipa due to a large hole in the ozone layer just above the city.
One of the best things the guide did was set the pace – he was very adamant that you focus on getting in a rhythm (especially for the summit with far less air) and strict about the breaks. We were literally taking baby steps as we made our way towards camp, simply one foot in front of the other, which made the trek seem completely achievable and helped ease my fears that I was not going to be fit enough to complete this arduous trek. I believe the first 2 hours of the hike was in 1hr increments and the rest was done in 30 min spurts as we started to climb.
As you get closer to camp the terrain starts to change and you transition from packed earth to loose rock and sand mixture, known as scree – this is extremely slow going as every step is sliding out from under you.
We reached camp about 5pm and our guide Jose promptly went to work cooking dinner while we all set up our tents + equipment. As the sun was beginning to fade out, it got significantly colder to where I was putting on all of our warm clothing that I’d packed for tomorrow’s summit.
Dinner consisted of a ramen soup vegetable medley followed by spaghetti (with optional tuna) + tea and to be honest, at that point I was so hungry I would have eaten anything. Because we were carrying everything up ourselves, there was not much room for any additional helpings or cups of tea. One of our companions asked for another cup of tea and our guide simply replied “one for one.”
A note on supplies + snacks:
In addition to the 5L of water per person, they recommend bringing snacks for extra energy, especially during the hiking breaks.
While we brought lots of nuts + cookies, what I really missed were apples + oranges – if you have the space I’d suggest tossing a few into your bag. It sucks carrying all these extra foods, but the good news is, as you eat them, your bag will ultimately get lighter and lighter.
After tea it was time to hit the sack around 7pm – we had a 1am wakeup call and while it seems odd to be able to go to sleep that early, we managed out of pure exhaustion with minimal tossing and turning. Some others in our group did not sleep well because they weren’t used to going to bed so early, saying they got one to two hours of sleep that evening. When it comes down to it, however, you pretty much had to accept that nobody got a full night’s rest and the next evening we’d have our own beds to go back to.
As promised, day 2 started early – our guide was beating on our tent at 1am so we could have bread, jelly, and tea and then start hiking at 1:30am. It was super cold outside of our tents and we were in full gear as we were sipping on our coca tea to keep warm. If you are coffee drinkers and rely on that to get up in the morning (like we are), then you should pack your own instant coffee, as hot water and tea bags are all that is provided. Once we had a final safety briefing we were on our way!
A note on safety + staying healthy:
I’ve read a few accounts of hiking Misti where the author or someone in the author’s group had to turn around because of the altitude. However, it wasn’t until watching someone in our group try and battle the altitude and lose that it really struck home – this person prolonged every part of the hike (including the descent by at least 2hrs) because he needed frequent breaks, couldn’t walk straight, etc.
Our guide tried multiple times to get this guy to return to camp but he refused – while I admire his persistence I found it incredibly selfish, especially when his friend had to carry his bag because he could not.
Be safe and take responsibility for your health – no mountain is not worth endangering yourself or others. The reason we believe we did not suffer from much sickness is that we had already spent a few weeks in Cusco and an additional two weeks in Arequipa. Most people who got altitude sickness that we had met on our journey had arrived in Peru just recently and were already taking on the huge task of climbing a 19,000-foot volcano. Albeit not everyone can take an extra week of vacation to get acclimated before doing a tough physical activity, I would strongly recommend this before hiking Misti.
Day 2 was absolutely brutal – 7 hours of ascending (including breaks), most of it in the dark with limited oxygen due to the altitude.
The terrain varied between rocks needed to be stepped on or climbed over and the loose volcanic sand and scree rock that would shift under your weight.
Our guide, Jose, was no less incredible on day 2 than the day before – he set an excellent pace and we did the first 3 hours with a break each hour and then breaks every 30 min.
To say I struggled would be an understatement – in the beginning, I didn’t even want to eat or drink anything during the breaks (but did force some water down) and towards the end I had a headache due to the altitude (ibuprofen helped). I hoped that every break would be the one before the summit and found myself begging for a few more breaths while seated before hiking again.
Even maintaining the slow pace was a struggle and having to alternate between the different types of terrain was an effort. We were quite thankful that our bags were much lighter for this second day (as we were able to leave anything we didn’t need for the ascent back at camp). All we had in our bags were snacks, water, cameras, and sunscreen.
The Summit of Misti
There are basically 3 parts to the Misti hike: the summit, the first place where you can see the summit (also serves as the second to last break) and everything else.
I remember reaching the place where you can see the summit (there is a huge metal cross on the top) and thinking how close it was. And then when we reached the last break and wondering if we actually had to walk up to the summit. And then finally finding the strength to walk up to the summit and being absolutely amazed. My girlfriend prematurely threw in the towel at our last break, refusing to make the final 15-minute trek to the top. Our guide, Jose, had to go back down to get her and coach her up that last little bit of hike. Because of the steepness of the volcano summit, the last bit of the trail was just an etched path alongside a steep span of the dirt/rock mixture. She later told me she was nervous about slipping down the side of the gravel path but had a bit more confidence with the guide standing guard as she worked up the last bit of the volcano.
Seriously – I had no idea how incredible the view from a 19,000-foot window would be. To look down upon other mountains, to squint and try to make our where we were living in Arequipa, and to view the entire path we hiked to reach that point was absolutely surreal. When we were at the top, we could see parts of the volcano smoking out fumes, which smelled like hot tar and sulfur. You could view the other volcanoes and our guide pointed out the other nearby active volcanoes.
For me, I sometimes dread the descent of hikes more than getting up them. Thankfully, Misti has some paths you can take that make getting down much easier and faster. Our guide took us to a new set of steep paths that were made of sand and rock. We simply skied our way down the mountain with our feet and were able to make it down to camp in a quarter of the time.
Once we arrived back at camp, we packed up our tents and sleeping bags and the rest of the items we had left there while hiking. It was an additional 2 hours of skiing down sand and a final hour of hiking until we reached the road where our driver came to pick us up.
Was Hiking Misti Worth It?
When I first sought out to write this recap I really struggled with the tone to take. One one hand, the experience was unforgettable – this was by far the highest I had ever been and the effort my body put forth to make it happen surprised me.
On the other hand – it was brutal and I wanted to turn around multiple times.
So was it worth it? Would I recommend it to other travelers?
I’d say yes – but I wouldn’t hold anything back from my recommendation. I’d tell them about the 1 am wakeup call in sub-freezing conditions, the toll the altitude takes on your mind and body, and the agonizing route to the top where you’ll struggle to put one foot in front of the other. And then I’d tell them if they want to do something unforgettable in Arequipa while pushing your body to its limit, then do it.