Sabancaya – exciting active volcano in Southern Peru

The Nevado Sabancaya is located right between the major peaks Nevado Ampato (6.288 m) and Nevado Hualca-Hualca (6.025 m).
The general location is about NW of Arequipa, at a distance of around 80 km. It is located at 1547' S and 7151' W, elevation is 5.976 m.

Take either a Jeep and a guide (most recommended: Carlos Zarate mountain and tourist guide) from Arequipa, and be sure to get a 4x4, or take a bus from Arequipa towards the Colca canyon/Chivay. Bus takes approximately 3 or 4 hours then crosses a very high pass of 4.920 meters. Just as it starts to accelerate downhill, a long straight stretch of 'trocha' road (unpaved), watch out for a small road branching off to the left, where you see the three volcanos Ampato, Sabancaya, Hualca-Hualca (ltr) majestically rising into the blue morning sky. Get off exactly at this point, even if the bus driver wants to take you to Chivay (there are no people up here, and no water, and it is usually very cold, when you come up from Arequipa in an early bus).

Let the bus disappear in the dust and take some deep breaths, and some water too. Then grab your pack and hike westward, almost all flat, along a hardly used sand road towards the mountains. It zigs through the rocks spread across the sandy plains here, so do not hesitate to take the many short cuts. And do not bet to hit a vehicle, the Telefonica guys come to the antenna further up maybe once a month, and the Hazienda Sallali is frequented by truck usually twice a year. So you are on your own, and you will be on your own up here. The air is thin and bites into the lungs, and your pack is heavy the first days. So take rests as you want, and enjoy the remarkable solitude up here. The road winds up towards an antenna, but passes it in some distance on the left, South. You might see some guy guarding the antenna in a nearby building, so move over and have a coffee with him. Or a tea. If you give him a pack of Marlboro, he will be happy and you found a new friend up here. Half an hour, maybe a full hour might be suitable to get closer to the guardian, and let him tell you about what is happening up here. Usually it is safe to hike in this area.

From the antenna the trail moves lower, into a kind of huge basin, and the volcanos are very well visible ahead. You are even a bit wind protected here. Follow the 'road' until you hit some tracks coming in from the right. That is a path towards Achoma, upon the Colca valley. If you do not feel happy out here, you might switch North here and get back to civilisation and limited comfort. If you feel at home out here, get left through the small pass, and then keep right. The road now descends into the valley in the South, and you can save a half hour if you take this short cut. Further down you find plenty of water, and the road descends slowly along the valley.

Hazienda Sallali
As the valley opens more and more, you keep right when the road branches ahead. Cross some creek, pass a small, decaying but lovely cemetery, and along a fence the road leads you over an other creek, almost a torrent, and you are right near the Hazienda Sallali. If you are polite, stop and have some talk with Sr. Celso, the guardian of the Hazienda. He might be beyond, and ask him for trucha or vegetables – he might have some for you, and be generous. If you encounter difficulties, he might be the one to help you. He has two kids at school in Arequipa. And he likes Marlboro, so offer him a box. Beyond the Hazienda is a small and deep creek with excellent water, right from the volcanic lava, and somewhere up there you might pitch your tent. Come back to Sr. Celso for dinner together, it is worth the fun.

From the Sallali you hike uphill now. Take PLENTY of water, you will not find any potable water until you hit the snow or ice from now on! Move towards the Ampato, keep left as you have to get around the corner of a huge, high, dark lava field. The terrian here is changing dramatically during the rain season, so it is useless to describe you some deep canyon, which moved half a mile away now. Generally the area is flat, but ascending steadily towards the Ampato, from 4.300 m to over 5.000 m where the slopes reach up. You aim for the Sabancaya, so you might keep near the huge lava field, that once was spewn out from mighty Sabancaya, and you should reach a plain at maybe 5.100 m beneath the Ampato and beneath the Sabancaya. There you camp, and if you are lucky, some tiny frozen snow can be found beyond some rocks. Just do not bet on this! You have to spend the night with the water supplies you brought up from the creek near the Sallali. And keep them from freezing in the night...

Crater trip
Next morning, go almost straight up towards the nearest peak of the Sabancaya, and nowadays it is white, so you might need crampons or at least an ice ax. The ash freezes quickly when moist, and when I was there, I hiked either in ankle-deep black soft ash, or on black ice solid as a rock. Get to the higher peak and enjoy the view over to the nearby crater. You might like to hike around the caldera, which is a very exciting adventure, with spectacular views into the deep crater. The way down is not easy at all, so move cautiously down the steep slope and stay clear of any possible crevasses on the glacier below. You might like to walk around it, as you should have plenty of time this day. I recommend another camp down there, and the next day hike down to the Hazienda, relax, and plan two more days along the known trail back to the Patapampa and Arequipa.

If you did the trip, let me hear from you, please, and tell me how it looks right now. If you like to add some pictures to this site, I will be happy to publish them.
most recent update: 8. September 2004
copyleft by r.zahner