Mountaineering in the Andes: 5 Summits for Beginners

People often associate the Andes with the Aconcagua mountain (6,960 m) in Mendoza. The highest peak in America —and also the highest in the world, outside Asia— is a pretty challenging climbHowever you don’t need to climb Aconcagua to peak the Andes. What you do need is a good fitness level, good gear, a good guide, and picking the right mountain. That’s of course where we come in. If you are just starting out in the mountaineering world and want to tackle one of the stunning Andean summits, then we say you can. Below are our five picks for you to start!

All the guides that we recommend will be there to help you every step of the way in order to make your experience all the more safe and enjoyable. And when you reach the top you will definitely feel like a hero!

1.  Villarrica Volcano (2,847 m) in Chile
andes villarrica
Villarrica Volcano, Chile PH: Nicolás Palma Meyer

The Villarrica Volcano, still alive and kicking, is located in the Villarrica National Park in the Chilean Araucania region.  Also known by its Mapuche name, Rucapillan (strong spirit), it was regarded as a volcano related to nice dreams and good weather. Perfect for first timers who want to try mountaineering in the stunning Andes, and who want to take back home a picture of lava! The ascent of this 1400-meter peak takes approximately 5 hours which means that you can tackle the summit in either a one day Villarrica ascent, or a two day climbing excursion. Not only will you get a chance to put your mountaineering skills to practice, you will also get a chance to see both snow and lava coexist.

Best time of the year to climb the Villarrica? The warm months that span from November to April.

Check out our mountaineering trips in Villarrica.

2.  Lanin Volcano (3,747 m) in Argentina/Chile
Andes Lanin
Lanin Volcano in the Andes, PH: Luis Fabra

The Lanin Volcano (3776m) is accessed via Argentina but is located on the border with Chile, also in the Villarrica area. Because it is a higher peak, and the terrain involves walking through a forest, over volcanic rock and in deep snow, the ascent is a little longer than to the top of the Villarrica Volcano. Ascents usually take two days. For example you can try this 2-day Lanin climbing trip, or this 3776 meter ascent to the Lanin Volcano. Whichever you choose, you are bound to have a great guide that will help you make your mountaineering experience in the Andes unique as you climb up the beautiful Lanin!

Best time of the year to visit Lanin? The warm months between November and March, although winter ascents can be combined with skiing as well.

Check out our mountaineering trips in Lanin.

3. Nevado Pisco (5,752 m) in Peru
andes nevado pisco
Nevado Pisco, Peru. PH: Octavio Salazar Obregon

The Nevado Pisco mountain in Peru is part of the Cordillera Blanca, which translates to “white range”. As can be expected, this segment of the Andes is covered in ice and snow!  The Pisco, of course, is no exception, and at a height of 5753 meters, it proves an interesting challenge for those starting out and looking to work their way up!  Of course, it requires a few days of hiking and a good guide to get to the top of this exhilarating terrain.  This 3-day Nevado Pisco climb expedition is a great option, as is this Nevado Pisco climb with base camp. In both cases, the professional support of a trained mountain guide will make the climb enjoyable and safe even when it gets challenging. Plus, you will get the chance to explore some stunning landscapes that include waterfalls and glaciers! We also recommend that you consider some previous acclimatization time.  A good idea would be to try some short hikes from Huaraz before going for the Nevado Pisco.

Best time of the year for Nevado Pisco? April through September.

Check out our mountaineering trips in Pisco. 

4. Illiniza North (5,126 m) in Ecuador
Illiniza North in Ecuador, PH: Fernando Iza

A little further up the Andes are the stunning Ecuadorian Illiniza twins. Located near Quito, these two volcanoes attract mountaineers year round, with Illiniza North being the lowest and easiest of the two to climb. It is 5126 meters high and ascents usually take at least two days with an overnight stay at the lovely Nuevos Horizontes hut. Going with a good guide who can show you the ropes is ideal, especially since one part of the ascent involves some fun scrambling! On this 2-day guided trekking program you get some great tips for your ascent. Otherwise, this 2-day Illiniza challenge is the best option for beginners looking to take their mountaineering skills to the next level! Whichever way you decide to get to the summit, the Illinizas are sure to dazzle you.

Best time of the year for Illiniza? Year round, but dry months of December, January and February are best.

Check out our mountaineering trips in Illiniza.

5. Huayna Potosí (6088 m) in Bolivia
Andes, Huayna Potosí
Huayna Potosí, Bolivia. PH: Eduardo Mamani Quispe

Huayna Potosí is one of the jewels of the Cordillera Real region in the Bolivian Andes. At 6088 meters, it is the highest mountain on our list, and also the most challenging. Some people climb it in two days, we recommend doing it in three. In fact, we suggest you spend some time acclimatizing before your trip. A good idea would be to try out some day trips from La Paz or at least spend a few days there! Then you can set off on this Huayna Potosí 3-day ascent, for example, where you’ll also get the chance to practice some skills at a nearby glacier before the actual ascent. Otherwise, this Huayna Potosí excursion can be arranged to fit either a 2-day or 3-day schedule. Whichever your choice, trained mountain guides will make sure this mountaineering trip is worth every second of your time! The stunning views of the altiplano, Lake Titicaca, La Paz and more, are not to be missed.

Best time of the year to visit Huayna Potosí? May to September.

Check out our mountaineering trips in Huayna Potosí. 

Ready for a unique challenge to the top of one of the Andes summits? Start training, start planning, start packing, and get ready to run out of breath as the stunning landscapes take your breath away.

What are the differences between hiking and mountaineering?

Many people use the words “hiking” and “mountaineering” as if they were synonyms. However, and even if they both refer to outdoor activities in the mountains, there are some important differences that you should be aware of, especially if you are planning a trip yourself.

differences between hiking and mountaineering
On the way to the Aconcagua’s summit: hiking or mountaineering?

According to Wikipedia, hiking refers to a “long vigorous walk, generally on trails (footpaths)”. It may also be referred to as hillwalking in the UK, tramping in New Zealand or bush walking in Australia. Mountaineering, on the other hand, is defined as “the sport of climbing mountains” and may also be referred to as “alpinism” (especially in Europe). It generally involves a greater technical difficulty and requires specialized equipment (including harness, helmet, belay device, crampons, etc.).

But let’s take a better look at what these activities involve. For practical purposes, we’ll refer to 3 basic differentiating features between these 2 terms:

  • Technical difficulty
  • Equipment required
  • Type of terrain

 WHAT IS HIKING ABOUT?

There are hikes of varying levels of difficulty and duration. A hiking trip can take anywhere from a few hours to several days and, as a rule, no technical knowledge is necessary. Some basic navigation techniques and a good fitness level will be more than enough to take you from start to finish.

In general, hiking can be practiced year round except for areas where snow abounds during winter, in which case snowshoes are an option.

differences between hiking and mountaineering
Hiking trip in Daisetsuzan Park, Hokkaido, led by JMGA guide Jun.

While we are at it, let’s also examine the differences between “hiking” and “trekking”. Although many people use these terms interchangeably, others use “trekking” to refer to walks that take place on wilder and often more difficult trails. In general, trails are also characterized by being longer and in more remote locations.

“Scrambling” is another related term that may need some explaining. This is a somewhat ambiguous term as it refers to a combination of walking on a mountain and sport climbing. It consists of the action of climbing mountains or rock walls without the use of technical equipment or ropes. Sometimes it is also called “rock scrambling” or “alpine scrambling”. The main difference with hiking is that you need to use your hands during the ascent.

differences between hiking and mountaineering
Unlike hiking, scrambling involves using your hands to climb a mountain. Photo: Neil Mackay.

Going back to “hiking”, those with some experience can probably handle some easy trails on their own. However, it is always advisable to do it together with a certified mountain leader or guide as they can provide a richer experience by teaching you about local weather, culture and history. The UIMLA (Union of International Mountain Leader Associations) is an umbrella association for mountain leaders in 16 countries.

In need of inspiration? Check out some great hikes promoted on Explore-Share by certified guides and leaders around the world.

In Europe:

Differences between hiking and mountaineering
Amazing Hornstrandir hike, in Iceland. Photo: Ivar Finnbogason.

In Asia:

South America:

WHAT IS MOUNTAINEERING ABOUT?

Although mountaineering trips also range from a few hours to several days, this activity is in general more physically and technically demanding than hiking or trekking. On the way to the summit, mountaineers will have to deal with rock, ice or mixed terrain.

differences between hiking and mountaineerin
To reach the summit you may need to use specific technical equipment. Photo: Fredy Tipán.

Altitude is another added challenge. When attempting an ascent over 4,000 meters, good acclimatization is one of the key factors to achieve success. Depending on the mountain, climbers may need to know how to walk on crampons or how to use an ice axe and ice climbing or rock climbing skills may also be necessary to get to the top.

Although there are winter programs, mountaineering trips usually run during spring, summer and mid-autumn, when the presence of snow and winds decrease. Hiring the services of certified mountain guide is not only crucial to improve the group’s chances of reaching the summit but, more importantly, it is key to keeping the group safe.

It is therefore essential to hire guides certified by IFMGA (International Federation of Mountain Guides Associations) or by national associations recognized by IFMGA. Looking for some new summit goals? Here are some trips proposed by certified professionals via Explore-share.com:

Differences between hiking and mountaineering
The ascent to Mt. Elbrus led by KMGA guide Ivan is another interesting mountaineering option.

Finally, for those who want to give mountaineering a try but don’t have too much experience, we recommend this interesting article about the 5 easiest summits in the Alps for beginners.

Necessary equipment for a mountaineering trip

Unlike hiking, mountaineering requires the use of technical equipment. Participants may need to be able to use the following gear:

  • Rope,
  • Harness,
  • Helmet,
  • Ice axe(s),
  • Crampons,
  • Belay device,
  • Carabiners,
  • Ice screw.

In many cases, mountain guides will be able to provide the technical equipment. In others, mountaineers may be able to rent the equipment before the start of the trip. Always make sure you validate the equipment list with your guide!

TO SUM UP…

Technical level, equipment and terrain are key to determine whether an outing can be classified as hiking or mountaineering. While hiking programs are suitable for almost anyone with a good fitness level and a small backpack, mountaineering requires some degree of rock and ice climbing techniques and the use of specialized equipment.

Be aware, however, that grey areas exist, so make sure to ask your mountain guide all the relevant question beforehand in order to make sure you are ready for the trip — both technically and physically. If you’re more of a hiker, you may want to ask, for example, if an ascent requires any technical skills (like the use of crampons to walk on a glacier) or if your fitness level is appropriate.

Differences between hiking and mountaineering
Live and enriching hiking or mountaineering experience together with certified mountain professionals. Photo: Andrey Erokhin.

While experienced hikers may be able to handle short easy hikes on their own, it is always advisable to hire a guide for longer or more difficult treks. A mountain guide’s knowledge and expertise will provide an added value to the experience and will be key to handle logistics (so you’ll have more time to just enjoy the adventure!). Mountaineering generally involves some added risks — including changing weather conditions and altitude — so we recommend always hiring the services of a certified guide.

differences between hiking and mountaineering
Nevado Pisco summit (Peru) with local IFMGA guide Juventino Martin Albino Caldua.

We hope you are now ready to safely enjoy your adventure. Don’t hesitate to check out Explore-Share.com’s selection of hiking and mountaineering trips!

Mountaineering in the Alps: 5 summits for beginners

In the company of a professional guide, anyone with a good fitness level can try their hand at mountaineering. Looking to do your first ascent? Check out our top 5 summits for beginners!

Most people believe mountaineering is for expert climbers only. In reality, however, a very good fitness level and the company of a professional mountain guide are enough to try your hand over 3000 or even 4000 meters. So if you’ve always dreamed of climbing to the top of a mountain and looking down at the world, don’t let your lack of experience stop you!

To help you get inspired, we’ve put together a list of the top 5 ascents in the Alps accessible to beginners. Although you won’t need any technical climbing skills, these ascents can’t be taken lightly. Believe us when we say that they will put your endurance to the test!

Also take into account that any high mountain experience is highly dependent on weather and snow conditions. Some luck, a good preparation and, of course, the company of a certified mountain guide will be key to getting you safely to the summit (and back!).

The prize? The stunning views, the magnificent nature around you and a really challenging climb that will stay engraved in your memory forever!

Sounds tempting? Check out our top five list and bag your first peak:

Gran Paradiso (4061 meters)

Gran Paradiso (Photo: Andrea Benato)

Located between the Aosta and the Piedmont Valley in Italy, Gran Paradiso is a classic among mountaineers. There are no lifts in Gran Paradiso National Park, so you’ll have to hike to Rifugio Chabod.

The good news is that it is one of the most comfortable huts in the Alps! A nice dinner and a comfy bed will get you ready for the summit attack on the next day. From Chabod, on a clear day, you’ll get to see one of the most beautiful sunsets you’ve ever seen! Take a deep breath and take it all in.

If you’ve never walked on a real glacier before, Lavaciau Glacier will be an added bonus. The walk is easy but be aware of the crevasses (this is when a mountain guide becomes essential!). The scenery up here is unique and gives way to the last stretch of the route to the summit.

Beware that Gran Paradiso is probably among the most popular summits in the Alps.

So if you can, try to avoid weekends and the month of August. Most Italians go on holidays during this month. It’s the best way to stay away from the crowds.

The highlights? The scenery and the extremely rich flora and fauna of Gran Paradiso National Park.

Check our mountaneering trips in Gran Paradiso.

Dômes de Miage

Domes de Miage (Photo: s9-4pr)

This line of six mountain peaks in the south of the Mont Blanc massif, in southeastern France, is considered one of the most striking in the Alps. Apart from Aiguille de la Bérangère (3435m), the other 5 peaks don’t have names. They are known by their heights as Dôme 3670, Dôme 3666, Dôme 3633, Dôme 3673 and Dôme 3672.

This 2-day traverse is perfect for beginners. It is not too difficult and not too high, so you probably won’t suffer the altitude.

Your expedition will probably start at Contamine-Montjoie and you’ll spend the night at the Refuge des Conscrits (2600m). On the second day, you’ll cross the Tré-la-Tête glacier, climb to Col des Dômes and follow the arête until you reach La Bérangère.

No mountaineering experience is necessary to climb Dômes de Miage but days are long and fitness is key. Some crampon-experience will definitely be helpful.

You can climb Dômes de Miage from June to September. However, check with your guide in advance to find out about current conditions. The route tends to be better in the beginning of the season, when there is more snow and little ice.

The best part? The Refuge des Conscrits is one of the most modern and comfortable in the Alps and the views of nearby Mont Blanc and the Bionnassay are hard to beat.

Check our mountaneering trips in Dômes de Miage.

Breithorn (4164m)

Breithorn (Photo: Craig Stanfil)

Located on the border between Italy and Switzerland, it is the main summit of a mountain range of the same name. It is one of the most popular four-thousanders to climb in the Alps. This is at least partly thanks to the Klein Matterhorn cable car, which takes climbers up to 3870 meters.

The ascent takes between 2 and 3 hours to complete, which makes it really accessible. However, a good fitness level is still necessary to handle the more difficult sections of the climb.

From the Colle del Breithorn, you’ll cross the Bergschrund (3,950 m) and then begin the more challenging part of the ascent. Moving up along the airy ridge, you’ll reach the Western Breithorn summit (sometimes called “Western” to differentiate from the mountain range).

The descent is straight-forward and will take you back in time to catch the cable car down.

Although the climb is quite short, a mountain guide is of the utmost importance when it comes to your safety. Knowing the terrain and managing pace is key to making it to the top.

Why climb Breithorn? From the summit, you’ll enjoy incredible vistas from the Matterhorn and the Klein Matterhorn. And what an amazing achievement for just one day!

Check our mountaneering trips in Breithorn.

La Meije Orientale (3891m):

La Meije Orientale (Photo: Julia Virat)

Located in the Massif des Ecrins, in southern France, La Meije is home to the mythical La Grave ski resort as well as a very popular summit among mountaineers. It is a great option for a first ascent and will also serve as a good opportunity for your guide to teach you some mountaineering basics.

On the first day, you’ll climb to the Refuge de l’Aigle (3450m), where you’ll spend the night. This first day is quite long as you’ll have to climb 1700 meters (in contrast, the second day is considerably shorter). The atmosphere at the hut is as friendly as it gets and you’ll probably find yourself sharing the evening with fellow climbers. On the second day, some mixed climbing (rocks and glacier) will take you up to the La Meije Orientale summit. From this point, you’ll have breathtaking views of the surrounding ridges. Take some time to take the beauty in and savor your victory!

La Meije Orientale is rated PD (Peu Difficile) but please be aware that it presents all the challenges of high mountain climbing. A very good fitness level is a pre-requisite to attempt this summit.

The highlights? La Meije is among the most beautiful peaks in the Alps. Climb to its summit and you’ll have a story to tell to your grand-children.

Check our mountaneering trips in La Meije Orientale.

Weissmies (4017m)

Weissmeis (Photo: Franco Pecchio)

This is another good option for a first mountaineering ascent. Located in the canton of Valais, in Switzerland, this prominent mountain is one of the 82 peaks in the Alps above 4000 meters. It is considered an “easy” four-thousander and is very popular among mountaineers. The normal route to the summit is rated Peu Difficile.

The ascent via the normal route can be done over 2 days or just one day (using the Hohsaas cable car, which can whisk climbers up to 3100 meters). No rock climbing is involved on this route and the ascent is technically easy. However, weather and snow conditions can complicate the ascent.

Although this climb is somewhat more challenging than the others on our list, the weather in this area tends to be good and that definitely helps.

Why climb Weissmies? The Alps don’t get more beautiful than in this area! The views from the summit will take your breath away.

Check our mountaneering trips in Weissmies.


We have 250 mountaineering trips in the Alps. Find your next adventure with Explore & Share.


Feel ready to tackle your first ascent? Contact a certified mountain guide and start making your dreams come true. Be sure to prepare both physically and mentally because a strenuous ascent like any of these will require all of your energy. But a mountaineering experience of this magnitude will not leave you unchanged. You’ll probably go home a new man (or woman). Mountaineering can be addictive; you’ve been warned!