Ascent to the highest volcano in Ecuador: Chimborazo

Maria 2


The fact that Riobamba as a travel destination is generally very often underestimated, I will go into more detail in another blog article about Riobamba itself. Now I will talk about the reason why most people visit Riobamba in the first place: The city is a popular and ideal starting point for the ascent of the Chimborazo which is the highest volcano in Ecuador. For those who, like me, are not professional mountaineers, an ascent of up to 5,100 meters is possible. But even for that you should organize a guide in Riobamba. The ascent is steep, the path is sandy and rocky and the probability of losing your orientation in a side veil within seconds is high.

chimborazo, highest volcano of ecuador

The way to the first refuge

With our guide, another German tourist and two Guyaquileños we started from Riobamba to the volcano already at eight o’clock. Already during the journey to Chimborazo by car, you can enjoy the great views of the volcano if the weather is good. But with us it was cloudy during the journey and the Chimborazo did not show up to us. We drove on through endless, bare landscapes of dark sand on which herds of vicuñas stood out with their bright reddish-brown color. Like alpacas they belong to the group of llamas, but their fur is the most expensive of all.

vicuñas on the chimborazo volcano in ecuador

From the “main road”, after some time, a small house can be seen on the left side: the entrance to the Chimborazo and the access road to the first of the two Chimborazo refuges, the hut of the Carrel brothers. In the hut you have to register and then you can continue by car to about 4.800 meters. On the way here the Chimborazo showed up almost completely. A very impressive sight, which we immediately had to use for a photo moment. Because of the strong wind up here the fog and cloud formations change every second. And we couldn’t know if such an opportunity would arise again!

The ascent to the second Chimborazo refuge

Arrived at 4,800 meters, the first Chimborazo refuge with a large parking lot is located. From here the adventure continues on foot. At first you will pass a pyramid-shaped monument with gravestones, named after Simón Bolivar.

Monument gravestones simon bolivar on chimborazo volcano

Depending on physical condition, the ascent to 5,040 meters takes between 30 and 45 minutes. Many people underestimate the distance and “only” have 200 meters in mind, without realizing that this is not two blocks of houses, but elevation meters. Add to this the enormous height, which takes your breath away, the cold (sometimes there is even snow) and the poor condition of the steep path.

Without a previous acclimatization, for example on the sibling volcanoes of Illiniza, you should therefore not visit Chimborazo under any circumstances! With us on the way were two Guayaquileños who are used to the coastal level at almost zero altitude. Accordingly, they had more difficulties with the altitude in combination with the steep path than the rest of us, who had already dared to climb other mountains and volcanoes in South America before the Chimborazo. Many react in the extreme altitudes with dizziness, severe nausea, breathing difficulties and severe headaches. In such cases it is then recommended not to start the hike on foot to the second refuge.

Time for a break: the second Chimborazo refuge

Arrived at the 5,040 meters of the second Chimborazo refuge, called Whymper refuge, we took the opportunity to take a break from the strenuous ascent. Empanadas and especially coca tea are sold here. This helps especially well against the complaints that can occur at this altitude. It will give you new strength if you want to continue your hike and go even higher: to the lagoon Condor Cocha at 5.100 meters. It takes about a quarter of an hour to get there. And we all agreed: If we are already up here, then we can also do manage the remaining meters!

Next stop: 5,100 meters - the Condor Cocha lagoon

Actually, the way to the lagoon was not very exhausting for me personally, but I was generally lucky and showed no complaints until then. The headaches only appeared afterwards back at the hotel. No big sacrifice for me to make this spectacular experience and fully enjoy it on site!

Condor Cocha Lagoon on 5,100 meters

It is a fascinating and very adrenaline filled experience when you finally reach the last meters, the Condor Cocha is in front of you and you know you have made it and at the same time you think: Maybe I will never again reach such a height in my life! It is also a fantastic picture to see the red colored lagoon under a constantly changing veil of mist embedded in the volcano Chimborazo!

The descent to the first refuge

After a short stay at the lagoon with a forced breather we started our descent. We used another, even steeper path, but from there we had sometimes great views through the fog to the different colors of the volcano!

Back at the parking lot we drove downhill again and had another look at the vicuña herd. On the drive home the guide told us that he often experienced that Chimborazo visitors fall asleep from exhaustion after their ascent in the car. Fortunately we didn’t, because down at the foot of the volcano we had another highlight. Out of the car the Chimborazo showed itself to us once again in its full splendor! Only back at the hotel in Riobamba we were all exhausted and happy about the afternoon off, when we had time to rest and to remember this literally breathtaking experience of today!

A popular activity for active travelers is not only the ascent of the Chimborazo. Also the descent of Ecuador’s highest volcano by mountain bike is a special experience!

You can read more about the journey to Chimborazo through the landscapes of Ecuador in four parts of our Chimborazo travellogue.

Explore the Andes on our Andean Highlights Tour!

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