Key information: Chimborazo Area
- Ecuador's highest mountain stands serenely clear of its neighbours, a huge white mass which is often at least partially obscured by clouds.
- Glaciers, now sadly shrinking, fall off its sides. Its flanks vary between semi-desert to its west and south, and paramo to the east and north, with rough moraine on the higher slopes. The mountain is at the heart of its own fauna reserve.
- The wildly eroded and spires and crags of Carihuairazo sit 10km to the north-east, in smile-inducing visual counterpoint to Chimborazo's snowy, harmonious serenity.
- As well as the peaks, there are very fine treks to be done on the gorgeous slopes, with world-class views.
- Walkopedia rating86
- Natural interest17
- Human interest5
- Negative points0
- Total rating86
- Length: Your choice
- Maximum Altitude: 6,310 m
- Level of Difficulty: Variable
This walk description page is at an early stage of development, and will be expanded over time. Your comments on this walk, your experiences and tips, and your photos are very welcome.
Ecuador's highest mountain, at 6,310m, stands serenely clear of its neighbours, more than 1,000m higher and a huge white mass which is often at least partially obscured by clouds. This extinct volcano was at one stage believed to be the highest mountain in the world, and indeed is higher than Mount Everest, in that it is further from the centre of the earth as a result of the planet's equatorial bulge. There is no mountain in the Americas taller than it - to its north!
While its summit is a huge permanent icefield, and from below it looks like a great white dome, it is actually two peaks with 5 summits. Glaciers, now sadly shrinking, fall off its sides. Its flanks vary between semi-desert to its west and south, and paramo (high tussocky grasslands) to the east and north, with rough moraine on the higher slopes.
The mountain is at the heart of its own fauna reserve, and you should see llamas, alpacas, foxes and local rabbits on the trek, and possibly vicuna, which have been reintroduced on its north-east slopes.
The wildly eroded and spires and crags of 5,020m Carihuairazo sit 10km to the north-east, in smile-inducing visual counterpoint to Chimborazo's snowy, harmonious serenity (from the plains!)
It is worth mentioning that it can be persistently cloudy here, so you can be denied much of the views if you are unlucky.
Climbing Chimborazo peak itself is beyond walking as it is usually known, although still not necessarily technical. There are various walks you can make on the lower slopes, to enjoy the majesty and beauty of the landscape and the glories of its vegetation and wildlife.
Climbing Chimborazo: Given that people die of altitude sickness every year on Kilimanjaro, which is some 1,300m shorter than Chimborazo, you can see that climbing it is a serious undertaking. While it isn't a technical climb, it requires proper ice equipment, good route knowledge and a lot of time spent acclimatizing. Best months are December and January.
The main route approaches the Edward Whymyer hut from the west; a reasonably steady climb to the hut at 5,000m. The ascent is on crevassed glacier, scree and rock, and takes 8-10hrs up and 3-5 down. The views from the top are (on a clear day) some of the best in Ecuador.
Climbing Carihuairazo: this is a superb climb with close-up views of Chimborazo and its glaciers as well as more distant peaks. Demanding.
There is a pair of superb hikes between Chimborazo and Carihuairazo.
The first is tougher and takes 3 days and climbs from the Panamericano high into the Carihuairazo massif (to around 4,600m), before dropping to the gap between the great mountains and circling round to the north of Chimborazo to reach the Guaranda-Ambato highway.
The second, relatively easier (2 days and reaching a mere 4,400m), climbs Chimborazo's slopes to near its eastern glaciers, reaching the Laguna Cocha Negra, where you can camp. From here you can continue north-east on the exit route of the first trek, or return to the Panamericano.
You can walk up for a night at the Edward Whymer hut on (5,000m) Chimborazo in 4-7 hrs. (You can drive to quite near the hut too). Superb scenery and great atmosphere.
Both walks can be linked together to create a wonderful circuit high into the massif to/from the Panamericano. 3 days. One of Ecuador's finest walks?
Ecuador Climbing and Hiking Guide - Viva,has a worthwhile section on this walk. Find relevant books on Amazon:
This page is at an early stage of development. Please help us by making suggestions and sending photos! Thank you!
Other accounts: share your experiences
Your comments on this walk, your experiences and suggestions, and your photos are very welcome. Where appropriate, you will be credited for your contribution.
Books and Maps
Books on this walk
Ecuador Climbing and Hiking Guide – Viva/ Rob Rachowiecki and Mark Thurber. THE walking book. But evidently out of print and vilely expensive second hand on Amazon, as of end 2015. Available as an e–book. There is a Bradt predecessor from 2004, which is, obviously, out of date in places but much cheaper!
Trekking in the Central Andes – Lonely Planet – 2003, good on the 3 day circuit into the massif from the Panamericano, but only 4 Ecuador treks in detail.
Find the books and maps listed above, and many more:
Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands– Lonely Planet/Regis St Lois.
LIVE Travel Guide to Quito, Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands.
Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador Footprint Handbook by Robert Kunstaetter and Daisy Kunstaetter
Ecuador and Galapagos, Viva Travel Guides by Lorraine Caputo and Chris Klassen
The Rough Guide to Ecuador & the Galápagos Islands by Melissa Graham and Harry Ades
Ecuador – Insight Guides
Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands, Moon Handbooks. We have to say we were underwhelmed in 2015.
Travels Among the Great Andes of the Equator – the great C19 mountaineer Edward Whymper’s classic account.
Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands - Travellers’ Wildlife Guides – gorgeous, good illustrations.
Find the books and maps listed above, and many more:
There are reasonable 1:50,000 maps which should be treated with caution regarding tracks and are out of date about the extent of icefields and glaciers. These can be bought in Ecuador, but not all – that easily.
Best times to walk/weather
Best times to walk
Lying across the Equator, Ecuador does not have seasons as those from temperate climates would understand them. The weather is amazingly different between areas, and Chimborazo is no exception, indeed it is so big it makes its own weather. You can go there almost any time of year, but December and January and July and August are the best months, although the latter are also very cold and can suffer thick cloud.
Very changeable. Even if you are there in the “dry” season, come prepared for both hot sun, cloud and rain.
Most people fly in to Quito. You can fly internally in Ecuador, including to Riobamba, the nearest major town. Skyscanner is an excellent (relatively new) site for finding the flights you need; otherwise try Lastminute.com, or look at what’s available on TripAdvisor.
There are plentiful buses in Ecuador, and it is viable to get to most places this way, but they can be crowded.
Car hire is reasonably easy, but driving isn’t straightforward, not least because of the lack of roadsigns. Local taxi services generally exist in the towns, can (eg) take to or pick you up from a roadhead, or transport luggage.
The roadheads for the main tracks to the mountains are in the middle of nowhere. However, as the roadheads for the two lower-level hikes described here on the Panamerican Highway, you can ask to be set down. Very convenient.
Riobamba is the nearest town (city, actually), although you could bus to the set-down direct to Quito.
Those on organised expeditions will be transported from/to arranged points.
Permits are needed to do this walk, but aren’t collected.
You can arrange a guide and pack animal(s), and must have a guide to the summit of the mountains.
See Walk Summary above.
Possible problems, health, other warnings
· Altitude: potentially fatal. Acclimatize appropriately, come prepared to cope, be ready to evacuate people in extreme cases.
· Mountain weather: snow, rain, severe cold and wind are possible at any time of year and the weather can change rapidly. Come prepared.
· Heat and strong sun. Carry enough water and protect yourself.
· Heights: can be dangerous; not for those who have difficulties with heights.
· This is remote country: you will have to carry all your food and other supplies and help will be hard to get if things go wrong.
· Health risks: you may not get prompt medical help of a standard available elsewhere if you become ill. Potential problems can include malaria. Come prepared, including getting all appropriate inoculations/medications in good time.
· Beware of dogs: throw stones if they threaten, keep well clear if possibly rabid.
· Be sensitive about photographing people: don’t without permission. Ask permission if in doubt about whether they would mind.
See also the websites in our useful links page for more detailed, and up-to-date, information.
Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and problems can arise on any walk. Many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks and possible problems. This website cannot, and does not purport to, identify all actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to a walk or a country. Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information.
Make sure you have appropriate insurance.
Guided or independent?
You can do this walk independently, but you will need to be self-sufficient, so come fully prepared.
Some people form or join organised/supported expeditionswhen doing multi-day walks. Given the remoteness of the country and difficulty of getting supplies, many will prefer to do it this way, and travelling here with a knowledgeable guide has real advantages. Experienced guides are essential if you plan to tackle either peak.
Choosing a suitable guide or company is of course vital, and the guidebooks contain good advice in this regard. If hiring a guide locally, meet him/her and get comfortable (especially with his/her relevant experience) before committing. Make sure all requirements are understood and agreed – including how you will eat and the importance of avoiding illness, as well as overnighting and, of course, remuneration!
Expedition organisers include:
There are local firms in Riobamba and Ambato, which are recommended by the guidebooks.
Andean Trails – run a 7 day tour including Cotopaxi, Chimborazo (Ecuador’s highest peak), Parque Nacional El Cajas, Riobamba and Ingapirca Inca ruins.
American Alpine Institute – have a guided climb to the summit or Chimborazo
Andes Trek Expeditions – run tours of both Chimborazo and Carihuairazo
PLEASE HELP Walkopediaby recommending any reputable tour organizers that you know of – local or otherwise.
Other than the Edward Whymper hut, camping is the only realistic option once on trail.
The guidebooks have a selection of possible accommodation. There are various relevant accommodation websites.
See what the commentary on TripAdvisor is on possible places to stay – although do take their reviews with a pinch of salt, as they can be “interested”. [wm check tripadv]
Other information and tips
Useful websites and information
There are many websites with relevant information. Here are some that we think are useful or have been recommended to us.
· South American Explorers (www.saexplores.org) in Quito is a fabulous non profit group with a clubhouse in Quito with a wealth of information (including on current status of safety/volcanic issues).
· [www.wikipedia.org] [As usual, a good starting place.]
· [Have a look at TripAdvisor – there are tens of millions of reviews, so you may get good, current views on this area]
Other things to do in the area
Ecuador has a huge variety of great walks. There is likely to be a good walk within range wherever you may be.
Mountain biking, climbing, some white water rafting, birdwatching.
Culture, history (Inca, other pre-Spanish, colonial) and people watching.
Coastal/sea fun and chilling.
We are not a shopping website. But, there are beautiful and interesting things to be found, and anything bought from local people must be of some help to this poor area. So, wallets out! (And don’t try to extract the very last cent when bargaining…)
Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and potential problems, and many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks, dangers and problems. Problems of any sort can arise on any walk. This website does not purport to identify any (or all) actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to any particular walk.
Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information.
share your experiences
Add your experiences, suggestions and photos. We would be delighted to receive your writing and ideas (which will be attributed appropriately where published).
Anyone planning an expedition to this place should see further important information about this walk.
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