Ok, settle in ’cause this ones a doozy. Daniel and I had NO IDEA what we were getting into when we booked a two-day trek to climb El Misti Volcano.

It sits only an hour outside of the city of Arequipa, Peru, so when I saw a sign for it in the tour agency I was like, “Why not?”

Oh man. I can now give you so many reasons why not, but I’ll start from the beginning…

Climbing El Misti is not for the faint of heart. If you’re planning on making the trek, it is essential that you not only vet your tour agency but also truly understand what you’re getting into. Hiking at this elevation can be dangerous so I hope this write-up of my experience climbing El Misti can help you decide if it’s right for you.



The Stats

Altitude: The peak reaches over 19,000 feet, which means the air had less than half of the oxygen than it does at sea level.

Time: We left Arequipa at 8 am, and returned at 3 pm the next day. Day one had 6 hours of hiking, and on day two we hiked for 13 hours.

Distance: The entire trek covered about 16 miles, most of them straight up or down. We also climbed 8,000 feet and descended another 8,000 on the trek.

Temperature: Temperatures ranged from 75 degrees Fahrenheit at their warmest at the base of the volcano down to 15 degrees at the coldest in high altitude. Pack layers.

Cost: Most tours cost about $70. This includes a ski jacket and ski pants, gloves and a hat, a tent, sleeping bag, mat, transportation, a guide, and dinner on the first night and breakfast on the second. You will need to pay extra for ski poles (absolutely necessary for the climb) and a tip for the guide. You also need to pack snacks and food for two lunches and pack 5 liters of water per person. In total, we paid about $100 each for the trip.

Popularity: Climbing El Misti Volcano is not a common tour. There were only four other people on the volcano with us during our two-day trek.

Difficulty: 12/10 I almost died multiple times. Not like, figurative died, but actual fall off the mountain died.


View of El Misti Volcano at the start of our climb

El Misti looking much more beautiful and innocent than she really is!


Day One – Reaching Base Camp at 15,000 ft.

Our trip began when we arrived at the tour agency in Arequipa at 8 am.

All we had in our bags at that point were 7.5 liters of water each. Here, they gave us our ski jacket and pants, gloves and a hat, sleeping bags, mats, and a tent. Luckily we had planned to only hike in what we were wearing because all of this and the water completely filled our packs.

Keep in mind, there are no horses or porters so we were stuck carrying everything on our backs up El Misti. Even packing light, we still had at least 20 pounds each in our bags.

After we met our guide, we jumped in a car and drove an hour to the trailhead.

We started climbing El Misti at an altitude of 11,000 ft. The trail began with a sloping incline, that steadily got steeper as we walked. The views were beautiful from the start, with the volcano rising in front of us, and the city of Arequipa laid out behind of us. We could also see the Pichu Pichu mountain range on the right.


view of Chachani while climbing El Misti

View of Pichu Pichu while climbing El Misti


We walked for 6 hours on the first day. It was tough climbing 4,000 feet with our bags, but definitely manageable. The trail was clear from the start and required some rock climbing but nothing too strenuous. Finally, we arrived at our campsite at 4:30 pm.

Me, Daniel, and our guide were one of only two groups climbing El Misti that day. We had the place to ourselves, and we set up our tent at 15,000 feet.

The views were so spectacular. We ate dinner as the sun set and we could see the city of Arequipa sparkling below us. It was an absolutely amazing night that I will remember for the rest of my life.


our campsite at 15,000 ft. on El Misti Volcano

Our campsite 15,000 ft. up on the side of El Misti


Day Two – The Trek to the Top

Day two of climbing El Misti Volcano starts out with a 1 am wake-up call.

Yes, you read that right.

This whole insane excursion that I’m about to relate occurs on only four hours of sleep.

We woke up, put on our headlamps, grabbed our bags, and had a quick breakfast of tea, bread, and cheese. One great aspect of this volcano being so sparsely hiked is that we could safely leave everything at our campsite, and only had to carry a bottle of water each up the mountain. Lighter packs made all the difference and I’m confident I couldn’t have made the summit if I had the same weight as the day before.

Altitude Sickness

We set off in the dark and cold around 1:30 am. Luckily, we had a full moon so the trail wasn’t too difficult to see. As we started climbing, though, I began to feel sick. Like, really sick. My head was pounding and dizzy, and my stomach was super nauseous. I had been to 17,000 feet before, but it didn’t matter. I wasn’t expecting to get hit with altitude sickness, but these were all the warning signs.

I began freaking out internally, knowing that if I couldn’t complete the climb I would either be stuck waiting all night alone at our camp or would have to turn back with the guide and Daniel and ruin his chances of summiting.

However, when you’re in Peru, do as the locals do. Luckily, Daniel had thought ahead and brought a bag of coca leaves on the climb. Coca leaves are the dried leaves from cocaine plants, and they’re used to combat altitude sickness and give energy. I took a handful of the leaves and chewed them up even though they have the most bitter, disgusting taste and I almost threw them up right there on the side of the volcano. Thank God I didn’t though because they did exactly what they’re supposed to do.

Immediately, my headache disappeared and my stomach felt fine. I pushed the chewed up leaves into my lower lip and sucked on them for the next thirty minutes. They solved my problems and I didn’t have any more trouble with altitude sickness after that.


view of Arequipa from El Misti at sunset

Arequipa at sunset from our campsite on El Misti


Certain Death

I’m not being dramatic here when I say Daniel and I almost died multiple times while climbing El Misti. The first couple of hours on day two were fine. We were making good time and feeling up to the challenge. We watched the full moon turn orange, then red, and finally sink behind the mountains in a display rivaling any sunset. The night got darker, the stars got brighter, and the temperatures got colder. Even in my ski coat and pants, I was freezing and my hands were numb. However, I was still enjoying the climb.

But when the sun came up, everything changed.

Four hours into our hike it was light again, and I could see just. how. high. we were on the volcano. I could also see that on the sides of the trail were sheer drops, running thousands of feet down the volcano, with only super sharp rocks to break them up. I was sleep deprived and the air was thin. Not great conditions to be in when a strong gust of wind or a single misstep can mean the difference between life and death. We still had hours of climbing ahead of us, and no choice but to keep going.

As we climbed, the trail seemed to disappear below our feet. There were times we had to put our ski poles aside and climb up boulders and rock piles on our hands and knees. As we got closer to the top, we began reaching patches of ice and snow.

I’m not exaggerating when I say at one point, I was climbing a sheer rock wall covered in snow and ice with a 5,000-foot drop below me… and no ropes or equipment. I was terrified. I was fighting back tears and telling myself over and over in my mind something our scuba instructor told us on our first day of diving classes: “If you panic, you die.”

Somehow, by the grace of God, I made it up that rock face intact. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end of the dangers on our trek. On the final push to the crater, we crossed a path of gravel and sand. It was thin, slippery, and sideways on the edge of the mountainside. I was taking the tiniest, most careful steps of my life, and slamming my ski poles into the sand and dirt as deep as they would go. The only solution was to keep walking, swallow your fear, and don’t look down.


guide climbing El Misti Volcano at sunrise

Our guide looking epic af during sunrise on day two of our trek


Summiting El Misti

Our small group finally, finally, reached El Misti’s crater at 8:30 that morning.

We sat down to rest and enjoy the beautiful view of Arequipa and the surrounding valleys. I was dizzy and had absolutely no appetite, but I forced myself to eat a sandwich and some peanuts because we still had a long day ahead of us, including making the final push to the summit.

From the large crater, it’s still a 45-minute climb to the highest point on the volcano, where a stark metal cross marks the summit at 19,110 feet. We walked up on the gravel and sand trails along the mountainside, avoiding the places where snow and ice still covered the ground.

As we climbed higher, we could see inside Misti’s still-active central crater. The smell of sulfur was strong, and smoke rose in puffs from her inner core.

Finally, we reached the summit.

Now that I’m safe here on solid ground, I can almost say the climb was worth it. We had 360-degree views for miles into every direction. The city of Arequipa, the large salt flats, the Picchu Picchu and Chachani mountains, El Misti’s craters, and Peru’s many green valleys and lakes spread out below us. It was absolutely stunning and one of the best views I have ever seen in my life.


active crater of Misti Volcano

El Misti’s still-active crater spewing sulfurous gas 


Ski Poles, I Love You

All too soon, though, it was time to begin our descent. At this point, my energy was completely depleted, and I was worried because we still had hours of hiking ahead of us.

I have to say, as we climbed down from the summit back to the base of the crater, I was the most scared I have ever been in my life. We were on the slipperiest slope, covered in gravel and sand.

We were slipping and sliding down it as we descended, and I firmly believe if I hadn’t had my ski poles for balance I would have slipped and fallen… right off the edge of the volcano.

I think the tour agency was irresponsible for allowing us to climb the volcano at all, but they were downright malicious to not include or at least insist that we rent ski poles for the hike – they had been completely optional!

The ski poles really were the only reason I didn’t slide off the path and down 8,000 feet to the base of the volcano. If you are somehow still planning on doing this hike absolutely DO NOT attempt it without them.


Descending El Misti

We reached the crater and began our descent down the volcano at 10:30 am. Although it was early, at this point, we had already been hiking for nine hours. In comparison to climbing Misti Volcano, though, getting down was a breeze.

It took us 15 hours of hiking over two days to reach the summit of El Misti, but only four hours to get down. How? By sliding down the scree.

A scree is a mass of loose dirt and stones that cover the side of a mountain. El Misti is a volcano, so a portion of her side is covered in black volcanic sand. We literally jumped off the top of the crater, 8,000 feet off the ground, and onto the sheer mountainside into the thick sand.

Everyone had their own way of managing the scree. Our guide chose to run down it, but I preferred a skiing method. After some trial and error (and a couple falls) I figured out how to move my feet exactly as if I was skiing under the sand, and used my ski poles as, well… ski poles.

We went down the mountain in this way for over an hour until we got back to camp. Here, it was time to clean up, pack up, and remove our warmest layers before we continued down to the bottom. Once we were done, we hopped back into the scree again for another hour of sliding down the mountain.

Finally, we reached the sloping walking trails at the base that led back to the trailhead. Each step was like torture and I have never felt more exhausted. We reached our car at 2:30 pm, after hiking for a total of 13 hours that day.


view from our campsite on El Misti

Another view from our campsite on El Misti


Home Sweet Home

What more can I say? It was an hour drive back to Arequipa, with us finally feeling like we could laugh and joke about the experience after getting our feet back on flat land.

We returned our gear to the tour agency, got some tacos, and headed home. I passed out at 6 pm and slept for 13 hours to recover from the whole ordeal.

Am I happy we climbed El Misti?

Yes. It was extremely difficult, but a feat I feel extremely proud of – I doubt I will find myself at 19,000 feet again in my life. Would I recommend this experience to a friend, though? Hell no!

Unless you are an experienced hiker or truly have no fear of heights, death, or the unknown, stay far away from this trek! There are plenty of less life-threatening choices to do in Arequipa, like visiting Colca Canyon or Lake Titicaca, so do yourself a favor and skip this one… or at least go in way more prepared than we were!


PS looking for more adventure travel in Peru? Learn how to climb Nevado Mateo in Huaraz or complete the 4-day Santa Cruz trek without a guide!


  1. Would love to hear more about your el Misti time
    I’m doing it in April 2018

    • Ah good luck! I’m sure if you know what you’re getting into, and most importantly go with a good agency, you will have a much better time! But if you have any more questions or want to know more shoot me an email at slightnorthblog@gmail.com

      • Hi there
        I have done 200 meters past Everest base camp and that was hard enough!
        I have a feeling this is going to really hurt

        Do they take oxygen?
        And did you go with an agancy yourself?

        Renn ?

        • I only hiked to Tengboche on the Everest Trek and thought that was tough enough haha, base camp is definitely an awesome achievement! It’s also good that you know going in that 19,000 ft is definitely nothing to take lightly.

          The agency we went with did not take oxygen on the trek. There are no donkeys or anything so everything you need is going up the volcano on your backs… oxygen tanks seem like they would be impossible to carry.

          We went with an agency and I recommend doing so for a couple reasons. First, it’s dangerous to try the climb on your own, someone died just a few months ago making the attempt alone. Also, there are extra permits you need and it’s easier to just let the agency take care of it. Look online and read reviews of the agencies in Arequipa before you book.

  2. It’s good to read an honest review of this trek.
    I climb Misti volcano in April 2016 and I didn’t know what I was getting into. I’m Peruvian, and no one I know had done this trek before. My brother told me that it wasn’t that hard. He wanted to do a brother-sister bonding thing and I thought why not.
    I found on many websites that it is one of the world’s easiest ascent for a mountain that high and to climb it doesn’t require great skills. That’s not true. You have to be mentally and physically prepared. I was 42 at the time, I had never been above 4500 m (15000 ft) before, and I didn’t train for this trek. Of course I didn’t make the summit nor the crater. I stayed alone at base camp. I heard a lot of weird noises and steps. They say there are ghosts… I was too tired to worry about paranormal phenomena, but in the morning I realized that there are crosses near base camp for all the people who died there. We arrived in Arequipa at 3 pm. Two hours later a storm began. The morning after the Misti was nearly 2/3 covered in snow.
    Having said that, the view of the city and the mountains around, the changing colors as the sun set… everything was breathtaking (literally). Was it worth the suffering? Yes, but I will never do it again.

    • Sounds like we had pretty similar experiences, right down to the noises and steps around our tent at night… we kept jumping out expecting to see an animal or something, but there was never anything there. I’m glad you guys made it off the mountain before the storm hit!


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