A Guide to Hiking Mt. Chimborazo, Ecuador
Chimborazo is Ecuador’s tallest mountain with a peak of 6,263 meters and it’s the highest point on Earth. Due to its proximity to the equator, its apex stretches taller than the peak of Mount Everest. Summiting requires a guide and previous mountain climbing experience, but you can hike unguided to a lagoon at 5,100m. As you approach the highest base camp, the scenery begins to feel like another planet. Hiking to the lagoon felt like a great accomplishment, and a wonderful thing about Chimborazo is how close it is to some of the top destinations in Ecuador.
Where to Stay
Riobamba is where you’ll want to base yourself and Hostel Villa Bonita is the best budget option. For $12, you’ll get a comfy dorm bed and a breakfast that will fill you up before the hike.
How to Get There
Take a bus from the Riobamba terminal to Guaranda and ask to get off at Chimborazo. The 1-hour ride costs $2.70 and you’ll want to sit on the right-hand side for views of Chimborazo. The best bus to take is the 7:30 AM because the park doesn’t open until 8:00 AM.
I wouldn’t recommend coming in the afternoon because the chance of rain is higher and visibility worsens. The entrance is free, but you do need to present a picture of your passport to register. The bus back to Riobamba is $1.50 and passes by the park entrance every hour.
Hiking to Chimborazo Base Camp
The furthest you can go without a guide is to Laguna Condor Cocha at 5,100m. From the entrance, this will take 2.5-3.5 hours depending on your fitness and acclimation. At the start of the trail there are plenty of vicuñas, which are relatives of llamas. However, the scenery isn’t anything special until you get towards the end of the trail.
There are two refuges and the most difficult part is the 1.6 km from the first refuge to Laguna Condor Cocha. At 4,800m, the altitude will certainly be affecting you by this point and you have a steep ascent through the snow ahead of you.
Once you arrive at the laguna, nothing will feel better than collapsing into the snowbank before taking a few pictures. You may or may not get a view of the peak depending on the cloud cover. The descent takes 75-90 minutes and if your knees can handle it, the steep mountain biking trail is a quicker descent. Also, many visitors drive to the base camp, so you can try to hitch a ride down.
What to Bring
- Hiking boots
- Winter jacket
- Wool socks
- Hat and gloves
- Food: Dark chocolate is great for increasing oxygen levels and blood circulation. You can buy sandwiches at the Riobamba bus terminal and I’d bring at least 1.5L of water.
Where to Next
After hiking Chimborazo, there are plenty of amazing places for your next stop in Ecuador.
Baños (1 hour by bus) – A scenic town with incredible landscapes, a biking adventure, waterfalls, and short hikes.
Quilotoa Loop (2.5 hours) – An awesome 3-day hike through the highlands ending at the Quilotoa Lagoon.
Quito (4 hours) – Ecuador’s charming capital has stunning churches and the largest historic center in South America.
Cuenca (6 hours) – The country’s prettiest city has delicious food and is the gateway to the beautiful Cajas National Park.