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Trekking - Miscanti Volcano

Miscanti (5640 m / 18,504 ft.)

Guardian of two Andean lakes

The Miscanti volcano is fascinating, first of all, due to its magnificent location on the shores of the mountain lake of the same name and its neighbor, Meñiques lagoon. Vicuñas (Vicugna vicugna) graze on its foothills, while red-gartered coots (Fulica armillata) build nests in the shallow water. Early in the morning the mountains are often reflected on the lake's waters. The new mountain shelter of the Lican Huasi network at the lakeside is at more than 7 kms from the Miscanti, but still the best starting point for the ascent. The lake is visited daily by tourist minibusses from San Pedro; nevertheless, going in your own vehicle is an advantage because of the remaining distance to the mountain.

Starting Point

San Pedro de Atacama.

How to get there

The Miscanti Lake is situated 115 km southeast of San Pedro and has a relatively easy access from the route 23 towards the Sico pass. However, it is still 7 kms from the foot of the mountain. Many people underestimate the distances here! In fact, it’s impossible to the tour in a single day – not even in two. Furthermore, if there is no snow, you must carry all your drinking water.

In your own vehicle, take the track that goes round the lake on its eastern side and drive as far as possible up the narrow track that cuts across the valley southeast of the volcano.

Ascent: 1300 hm, 6 km, 6 h / 3 h

You start climbing shortly above the lakeshore at 4190 m. Follow the wheel tracks for approximately 1 hour until they end at approximately 4400 m. Then climb the ridge in front of you from southeast; after another half hour you reach 4530 m. Follow the ridge for two more hours walking up to a large granite ribbon which breaks off sharply to the east at 5100 m. Struggle up another 300 m –about an hour and a half­ and you will reach an area strewn with large boulders. From there only a steep 180 m separates you from the crater border. However, when you reach it you are at 5580 m, so this may not be the simplest hour of your life!

But you are almost there now: follow the inner part of the eastern crater rim up to the summit in front of you, and after another strenuous 30 minutes walking you get to the top at 5640 m. From there you will see the gigantic Atacama salt lake spreading out beneath your feet and countless volcanoes all around.

For the descent you should estimate around 2-3 hours and another 1 hour back to the lake.

Maps for this tour


Descabezado Grande
After unusual snowfall in May



Sunset at the camp



Sweaty climb



El Caminante