Chimborazo is the highest mountain in the Ecuadorian Andes, and — due to its location along the equatorial bulge — its summit is the farthest point on the Earth's surface from the planet's center, as well as the closest point to the sun. This "Chimborazo Climbing Tour" will offer a challenge to even the most experienced mountaineer. The technical requirements of the climb and the long approach to reach the peak will certainly push your physical limits. In addition to proper acclimatization, excellent physical condition is required to cover the 1,300-meter altitude difference between the Whymper Refuge and the summit, a 9 to 12-hour climb over never-ending glaciers. Challenge yourself and be one of the few who have left their footprints on the most distant point from the earth’s molten center. Break the 20,000 ft. barrier and stand on point closet to the sun. The highest mountain in Ecuador is a physically challenging and technical climb.
On this climbing tour — in addition straddling the world at the equatorial line, visiting Ecuador’s “adventure town” of Banos, and marveling at two wondrous crater lakes — you will also have chances to trek up to the summits of the Pichincha and the North Illiniza volcanos. While on this later trek especially, you are likely to spot condors, deer, wolves and other small mammals. Plus, these treks will take you through small indigenous settlements and strikingly beautiful Andean valleys.
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Upon your arrival in Quito, Ecuador’s capital city, which lies at an elevation of 2,800 meters above sea level, you will be met at the airport and driven to your hotel, located in the modern part of the city.
After breakfast, you will be taken to explore the bustling streets and squares of the largest historic district in the Americas. This will include visits to some of Quito’s most important religious buildings, such as the impressive Cathedral, the majestic La Compañía Church, and the iconic San Francisco Church, guardians of a stunning multiethnic artistic and cultural heritage. A large part of their interiors, especially the altars and pulpits, are gilded in gold and house innumerable works of religious art. Your historic district visit concludes on top of Panecillo Hill, with its breathtaking views of the old and modern city, surrounded by the rolling Andean Mountains. You will then be driven to the “Middle of the World” (Mitad del Mundo) monument, located at latitude 0º 0º 0º. This site provides a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to straddle both the northern and southern hemispheres. Here, you can also visit the small Ethnographic Museum, which provides a fine overview of Ecuador’s varied peoples and geography. Later you will be taken to the nearby Geo-botanical Reserve of the Pululahua Volcano (reaching an altitude of 8,202 feet (2,500 m). In this area, you will spend around two hours wandering along the floor of this extinct crater, with plenty of time to admire the beauty of the area’s exotic plant life. In the late afternoon, we will head back to your Quito, where at your hotel you will be given a welcome cocktail and a full briefing of the tour ahead.
Today, after breakfast, we will leave Quito and travel 30 miles (50 km) south to Pasochoa Nature Reserve. To reach Hacienda San Francisco, where we will begin trekking at an altitude of 3,600 meters across the paramo (grassland highlands). It will take us about two hours to reach the first summit of the Pasochoa Volcano, at 4,200 meters above sea level. Along the trails, you are likely to see various species of orchids and bromeliads, as well as rare types of cedar. In addition to this lush paramo vegetation, more than 120 types of birds live in this area, giving you an opportunity to observe hummingbirds and possibly even sight condors soaring above. After another 30 minutes of trekking, we will make our way to the second summit, at 4,150 meters. The decent will then take about one hour, allowing us to return to Quito in the late afternoon. You will spend the night at your hotel.
The Pichincha Volcano is a great option for those who want to do a fairly demanding high-altitude hike. The Andean village of Lloa (situated at 11,483 feet, or 3,500 m) is in the basin southwest of Quito and will be the starting point for your trip into the Andean mountains. From here, a path will lead you over the foothills of the slopes of Guagua Pichincha peak and up to the refuge below the crater’s edge, which is reached after a five-hour hike. Only a few meters will separate you from the 15,728-foot (4,794 m) summit of this active volcano. (The last time the volcano erupted, in 2001, it blanketed Quito in several centimeters of black ash!). From here you will have an amazing view into the horseshoe-shaped crater, which is open on the western side. The smoke, along with the cones of scree and ash that emerges from the inside of the crater, testify to the volcanic activity found here. You will need about three hours for your descent. In the late afternoon, we will drive you to your hotel, in the El Chaupi area.
The peaks of the two Illinizas mountains, North and South, are a mixture of rocks and ice. These summits are the remnants of a single volcano, though they are now separated from each other by a distance of one kilometer. From these peaks you will have a beautiful view of the nearby Cotopaxi Volcano. In the morning you will be driven from the El Chaupi area, following a country road to the El Refugio hacienda, and then driving up the slopes of the North Illinizas (a distance of around 3 miles [5 km]) to a narrow grass plain called La Virgen (“The Virgin”). Here, our 2-3 hour hike starts as we ascend to the Nuevos Horizontes refuge (cabins), at an elevation of 15,338 feet (4,675 m). If you are very physically fit and are already acclimatized to the altitude, you can start your ascent to the northern peak today, which should be reached in around three hours. Hiking back down to our transport vehicle will also take about three hours. From there, we will return to the mountain refuge to relax and enjoy a hearty dinner.
During a six-hour round-trip by car, you will discover the western Andes region, which is one of the most impressive parts of Ecuador. First, we will travel south to the town of Latacunga, and then we will proceed west through the western Cordillera, making a short stop in the village of Pujilí to purchase fruit at the local market. The tour then takes you to Zumbuahua, a small, colorful village of about 40 households. Around 10 kilometers north of this village lies the blue and green glimmering Quilotoa Crater Lake. This “lagoon” is one of the most beautiful volcano lakes in the entire Ecuadorian Andes. From the crater you can see various snow-capped volcanoes. After a hike through this impressive landscape, you will be driven to Baños for the night.
Today’s objective is recovery and relaxation! Baños (at 1,800 meters), with its wonderful setting and pleasant sub-tropical climate, is famous for its thermal spring water baths. There are also a multitude of outdoor activities available in this town, ranging from mountain biking and rafting, to visiting waterfalls or observing the active Tungurahua Volcano from a variety of observation decks.
Following breakfast, you will be driven via Ambato to the highest mountain in Ecuador: Chimborazo (20,702 feet, or 6,310 m). You will pass Carihuayrazo Volcano on your way to the beautiful highlands at the base of Chimborazo, traveling past Andean landscapes along roads that cut through wild ravines. During your journey, you should see plenty of llamas, as well vicuñas and alpacas. You will be driven up to the Hermanos Carrel Hut, the lower of two refuges. Here, you will disembark from the vehicle and ascend by foot to the Whymper Refuge, situated at around 16,404 feet (5,000 m). If the weather is good, you will have the opportunity to go on a short acclimatization walk. After an early dinner, it will then be time to bed.
Your climb to the summit of the Chimborazo Volcano begins at midnight and should take about eight to nine hours, assuming good weather conditions. From the peak (at an elevation 20,702 feet, or 6,310 m), you will have an utterly fantastic view of distant green Amazonian jungle as well as spectacular views over snow-capped Andean peaks to the blue of the Pacific Ocean – an incomparable sight. The descent back to the refuge will take between four to five hours. From there, you will be driven back to Quito.
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