The highlights of the Volcano Circuit are Chimborazo and its smaller neighbor Carihuairazo. In Andean mythology, they are the protagonists of a love triangle between volcanoes. The legend tells that a long time ago Chimborazo and Carihuairazo matched each other in size, but one day they started a fierce fight for the love of Tungurahua. Chimborazo came out the winner, after having diminished Carihuairazo into its current shape of a volcanic caldera.
This camping trek in remote parts of the Chimborazo Reserve offers magnificent sights of these volcanoes plus Tungurahua and Altar – another rival in the native legends. You will cross a variety of ecosystems, from the moist moorlands with cushion plants and native Andean forests to the dry paramo with tiny flowers in El Arenal, home to wild vicuñas.
The Volcano Circuit requires a good physical fitness and a basic height acclimatization. The first hiking days allow for further acclimatization for the final hike to the Carrel hut, at 4800 m / 15748 feet. You will hike an average of 5 – 6 hours each day, and 6 -7 hours on the last day.
This trek is apt for families with children who like hiking and camping.
At 8.00 a.m. our driver and guide will pick you up from your hotel for a 1-hour drive to the trailhead northeast of Carihuairazo, at 3800 m. / 12467 ft. altitude. On our first hiking day all gear and supplies will be transported to the campsite, while we start the 5- to 6-hour hike towards Pampas de Salasaca. You will be provided a pair of gum boots in order to cross a swampy part. With clear weather, there are great views of Cerro Puñalica and the north flank of Carihuairazo. We pass an Andean montane forest with Piquil and Polylepis trees, and paramo grasslands with cushion plants, lichens and mosses. Arrive at the first campsite, at 3850 m. / 12631 ft.
We start this day hiking up to a pass at 4270 m. / 14.000 ft. altitude, with fantastic views of Tunguraha, Altar and Carihuairazo and even Cotopaxi in the distance. Far above the normal tree line, we can encounter the fairytale-like Polylepis trees. With their winding trunks and thin layered bark, they are also known as paper trees. We may spot prey birds like the quite common carunculated caracara or curiquingue and if luck is on our side, the rare Andean Condor. After about 5 – 6 hours hike we set up our camp right at the foot of Carihuairazo, at 3990 m. / 13.090 ft.
Today we will trek around the south flank of Carihuairazo. Its Quichua name refers to Cari (man), huay (wind) and razu (ice and snow). This now inactive volcano once had similar dimensions to Chimborazo. We hike up to 4500 m. / 14.764 ft. and then start descending to Abraspungo. A beautiful valley with spectacular sights of the impressive cliffs at the base of Chimborazo, and its huge glaciers more than 5000 m. / 16.404 ft. above sea level. We cross the valley and head to the indigenous community of Mechahuasca, located at 4270 m. / 14.009 ft. and basecamp for those who want to summit Carihuairazo (this can be booked as an extension)
The final hike leads along the western flanks of Chimborazo, also known as El Arenal. In this desert-like area you can spot many vicuñas, that live in herds on the mountain slopes. The dry paramo here has a surprisingly colorful flora, like the eye-catching yellow-orange chuquiragua or flower of the Andinist. Other, smaller flowers to be seen are blue gentians, purple lupines and red paintbrush. We cross Murallas Rojas (Red Walls), where you can see evidence of the eruptive history of Chimborazo, before finally arrive at the Carrel refuge at 4850 m. / 15912,07 ft. From here we return by car to Riobamba, arrive at about 16.00 p.m.