Chimborazo, Ecuador

Volcán Chimborazo. The highest summit in Ecuador and the earth’s closest point to the sun. Called ‘Taita’ (Father) by indigenous people in the area, Volcán Chimborazo (6310m) is the country’s tallest mountain, a hulking giant topped by a massive glacier. Because of Planet Earth’s equatorial bulge, Chimborazo is both the furthest point from the center of the earth and the closest terrestrial point to the stars.

Along with its smaller, craggier companion Volcán Carihuairazo (5020m) to the northeast, and the Río Mocha valley that connects them, Chimborazo makes up a remote, even desolate, area populated by only a few indigenous communities. The western side of Chimborazo is called the arenal (arena means ‘sand’) and is so arid that some people compare it to the Altiplano of Bolivia

Chimborazo and Carihuairazo are both within the Reserva de Producción Faunística Chimborazo. It is called a ‘fauna-production reserve’ because it is home to hundreds of vicuña (a wild relative of the llama). Once hunted to extinction in Ecuador, they were imported from Chile and Bolivia in the 1980s. Now prospering, it’s easy to catch their elegant silhouettes in the mist on the bus ride between Guaranda and Riobamba, and you’ll surely see them poking around if you explore the park.

Climbing Chimborazo or Carihuairazo is an adventure only for well-acclimatized, experienced mountaineers with snow- and ice-climbing gear (contact the guides in Riobamba or Quito). From Riobamba, you can organize a day-trip that takes you to Chimborazo’s Refugio Whymper at 5000m in a day. Temperatures can drop well below freezing at night. July to September, as well as December, are the driest (but coldest) times in this region.

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