Ecuador’s Volcanoes

Ecuador’s Volcanoes Expedition

Climb Cayambe, Cotopaxi, & Chimborazo

On the summit of Cotopaxi

Ecuador is one of the world’s most varied countries. From the Pacific, the land rises to the high central region–“The Avenue of the Volcanoes”–before dramatically dropping off into the Amazon Basin.  Our 11 day Cayambe & Cotopaxi Expedition with the 3 day Chimborazo Extension Option is our most popular trip in Ecuador. This expedition affords you the ability to climb all three of Ecuador’s most well known volcanoes, and have plenty of time in between to visit historic and cultural sites, not to mention a little rest and relaxation to boot.  This is the best trip on which to see the bulk of Ecuador’s Sierra region, as well as some of the Amazon jungle near Banos, Ecuador’s adventure capital.

A good mix of culture and climbing can be found on all of our Ecuador Volcanoes Expeditions. The physically strenuous climbing days are mixed with peaceful rest days in unique villages and towns.  Rest and acclimatization day activities include visiting local artisan markets, soaking in mineral hot springs, lodging and dining in historic haciendas, and visiting churches, plazas, and museums. Members should have prior basic mountaineering experience and need to be in excellent physical shape, however, no previous glacier experience is required as we introduce and practice these skills before each ascent.

Descending Cotopaxi

Climb to 6000 Meters

The peaks of Cayambe (18,997 ft.), Cotopaxi (19,348 ft.), and Chimborazo (20,703 ft.) are unsurpassed for acquiring high altitude climbing experience in a wonderful country.  The culture – and the climbing – can’t be beat.  Perfect for the climber who is ready to bring basic mountaineering skills into the high-altitude arena.  Our guides are highly experienced at organizing and running our trips in South America, and we utilize unparalleled local logistics to ensure that our trips run flawlessly.

The SJMG Difference

SJMG has been running programs in Ecuador since the late 90’s.  As a result, we have developed an in-depth understanding of what it takes to manage the overall flow of the Ecuador Volcanoes Expedition.  From a refined and time-tested itinerary, up-to-date and detailed knowledge of the routes on Cayambe, Cotopaxi, and Chimborazo, to choosing the perfect hotels and other local operators – you can rest assured that our program represents the best in the industry when it comes to the execution of all the little details that help make this a rewarding and successful experience.

As a blind climber, I’ve done expeditions all around the world and dealt with all kinds of local outfitters and guide services; San Juan Mountain Guides is the best! – Erik Weihenmeyer

Ecuador’s Volcanoes Itinerary

Climbing high on Chimborazo

Itinerary Note

Climbs of Cayambe and Cotopaxi are part of our 11 day itinerary, and the 3 day extension climb of Chimborazo is optional – though highly recommended.  Travel in South America can, at times, present some unique challenges regard to program logistics.  Therefore, a flexible “easy-going” attitude will serve you well.

Day 1

Depart U.S. for Quito arriving late evening.  We will be there to pick you up at the airport and transport you to our hotel – The Reina Isabel.

Day 2

Spend today in Quito acclimating. Optional historic city tour of Old Quito.  Quito sits at approximately 10,000′ so this day represents an important step in our acclimatization schedule.  Overnight at The Reina Isabel.

Day 3

Today we will attempt to hike Gua Gua Pinchincha, utilizing the Telepherique (Gondola) to access the upper trail.  This hike/climb takes us to almost 15,000′ and though relatively easy, offers and excellent opportunity to further our acclimatization.  Overnight at the Reina Isabel.

Day 4

Today we’ll travel north towards Otovalo, which has gained fame for it’s expansive market.  Along the way, we will attempt another acclimatization hike on Fuya Fuya (13,986′).  Overnight at the Hotel Otovalo.

Downtime at the hacienda

Day 5

In the morning we will visit the famous Otovalo Market, then travel to the trailhead for the hike to the Cayambe Hut.  Approximately 1.5 hours of hiking takes us to the climber’s hut (15,300′).

Day 6

Today we will review basic mountaineering skills and techniques at the toe of the glacier on Cayambe.  This serves as our final tune-up and preparation prior to our climb the following day.  We’ll return to the climber’s hut in the afternoon and rest as we will be getting up early for the climb the next day.

Day 7

Summit day on Cayambe (18,997′).  An early alpine start gets us moving for the ascent of Cayambe weaves through broken glacier terrain to a point near the summit crater where often times a gaping bergschrund provides an exciting climax to the climb.  After the climb we will descend and transfer to Cotopaxi National Park where we will stay at Chilcabamba which offers fantastic views of Cotopaxi.

Day 8

A rest day at the Chilcabamba lodge.  Many participants choose to enjoy a leisurely horseback ride in the mid-morning.  Overnight at Chilcabamba.


Day 9

After a leisurely breakfast we’ll load our gear into our vehicle and drive to the trailhead on Cotopaxi.  After about 1.5 hours of hiking we’ll reach the Jose Ribas Hut (16,000′) and relax prior to our climb for the next day.

Day 10

Summit day on Cotopaxi (19,348′). Complex crevasse patterns and snowbridge crossings over deep crevasses keep the climb interesting and provide impressive photo opportunities of amazing ice formations. After passing through a heavily crevassed area midway through the climb, we reach the final summit slope. Here, a challenging section of 35-40 degree snow leads to the abrupt finish of the climb on the crater rim of the world’s highest active volcano.  We’ll descend and spend the night at the historic La Cienaga.

Day 11

An early morning transfer back to Quito and our outbound flights.  Chimborazo Extension participants will continue on to Banos for a little rest, relaxation, and an overnight at The Samurai Hotel.

Chimborazo Extension Itinerary (3 days)

Day 12

A full rest day in Banos (6500′).  Our unique itinerary allows you to explore the jungle, visit other local cultural sites, and generally enjoy what is known as Ecuador’s Adventure Capital.  Overnight at Samurai.

Day 13

After a leisurely breakfast we will drive to the lower hut on Chimborazo, then hike approximately 1 hr. to the Whymper Hut (16,400′)  on Chimborazo.  We’ll relax and organize ourselves for the climb that night/following day.

Day 14

Summit Day on Chimborazo.  From the hut, the standard route up the western flank makes a gradual ascent (30-35 degree slopes) up a glacial ramp to gain the long summit ridge through what is known as “El Corredor”. The technical challenges involve negotiating crevasses, a couple of short 40 degree headwalls (100-300 ft.), and sustained travel on firm glacial snow for more than 4000 feet! We depart in the middle of the night, ensuring that our 12-14 hour roundtrip is completed before the intense equatorial sunlights softens the glaciers. After our summit we will return to Quito and enjoy a celebratory dinner.  Fly home.

Ecuador’s Volcanoes Expedition Equipment List

  • Duffel Bag: Large durable bag for airline and in-country travel and organization.
  • Backpack: Internal frame, 50-60 liters max. Guides’ pick: Osprey Aether 60 or Variant 52
  • Sleeping bag: Down or synthetic bag rated between 15-20 degrees with compression stuff sack. Guides’ pick: Neutrino Endurance 400
  • Pocket knife: 2-3 inch blade, simple, light
  • Small thermos: Optional, but nice to have
  • Water bottles: 2 liters combined capacity; bottles or bladder. Guides’ pick: Nalgene or Platypus
  • Water Bottle Insulators: OR or similar sleeve type water bottle insulators

Clothing and Personal Equipment

  • Travel Clothing:  2 sets of travel/town clothing is usually suffiicient
  • Hiking boots: Lightweight hiking boots or approach shoes for acclimatization hikes and around town.
  • Socks: 2-3 pair of medium weight wool or synthetic blend socks.
  • Base layers: Synthetic t-shirt and synthetic long underwear
  • Mid-weight Layer: For over your long underwear and under other external layers.  Guides’ Pick: OR Centrifuge Jacket
  • Soft shell pants: Warm enough for cool mornings and nights, yet light enough for warm days. Guides’ Pick: OR Cirque Pant
  • Soft shell jacket: Your workhorse jacket with a hood. Guides’ Pick: OR Alibi Jacket
  • Insulated Jacket: Down or synthetic with a hood. Guides’ pick: OR Virtuoso Hoody
  • Hard shell jacket: waterproof and breathable, no insulation. Guides’ Pick: OR Axiom Jacket
  • Gloves: 3 pair.  1 mid-weight, 1 heavy-weight, 1 light-weight.  Bring mittens if you get cold hands easily.
  • Hand Warmers:  2 – 3 packets to stick in your gloves.
  • Hats: one with brim, one for warmth
  • Balaclava: BUFF’s are also acceptable.
  • Sunglasses: With Category 4 lenses.
  • Goggles:  A standard paid of ski goggles will suffice.
  • Sunscreen and lip balm: water/sweat-proof.  SPF 50 or higher recommended.
  • Headlamp: with extra batteries. Guides’ pick: Black Diamond Spot
  • Toiletries: Toilet paper, baggie for used TP, toothbrush/paste, wet wipes, hand sanitizer, etc.
  • Personal first-aid kit: for your personal meds/needs; guide will have a large one as well
  • Stuff sacks: for convenient packing
  • Digital Camera
  • Book and/or iPod/iPad
  • Lunch food: Everything you eat between breakfast and dinner. May include: bagels, dried meats, cheese, trail mix, candy bars, peanut butter, etc…

Climbing Equipment

  • Adjustable Trekking Poles
  • Harness: Adjustable leg loops are essential.
  • Locking carabiner (2): Pear shaped, wide mouth.
  • Non-locking carabiners (4): Wire gate biners are best
  • Helmet
  • Boots: Hiking boots, or alpine boots – many options. No tennis shoes.
  • Crampons: General mountaineering crampons
  • Mountaineering Axe: 60 – 70 cm mountain axe

Training & Follow Up Climbs

As always, being in excellent physical shape is an important component of our our programs. A good mixture of cardiovascular fitness, muscular fitness, and especially core strength will help you to maximize the potential rewards that are possible on a great climbing trip.

Cotopaxi from Chilcabamba

1Before Your Expedition

The Ecuador Volcanoes Expedition requires that you have successfully completed a basic or introductory level mountaineering course, either our Intro to Mountaineering and Expedition Climbing Course or similar. Previous technical experience is not required for this expedition, though it can be very useful. Most important is being in excellent physical condition. A combination of cardiovascular and muscular (especially the lower body) training is particularly relevant on an expedition of this nature and will insure you are ready for the rigors of traveling on glaciated terrain at altitude.

For the Ecuador Volcanoes Expedition you should be ready for:

  • Travel in a South American country
  • Climbing at altitudes up to 6000 meters
  • 10 – 12 hour summit days and early alpine starts
  • Fickle weather, cold temperatures, warm temperatures, delays, other factors beyond our control

2Follow Up Climbs

I hope that I might be able to get out to Ouray again before ice season ends. If so, I’ll definitely get in touch with you. Working with the local experts really makes a difference. Thanks again for everything! – N. Subashki. 2011 Private Program

Quito, Ecuador: Getting There

For the purposes of practicality, all of our Ecuador Volcanoes programs begin and end in Quito, Ecuador.  Quito is a large metropolitan city of approximately 5 million people.  We stay in the Amazonas area – also known popularly as “Gringolandia”.  The area has many nice hotels, restaurants, parks, and street vendors.  Quito sits at approximately 10,000′ in elevation so be prepared to feel the altitude the moment you step off the plane.

View Larger Map

Flights: We require our participants to fly into Quito, Ecuador.  The International Airport is a busy hub for airline travel and many options exist.  Most flights from the US to Quito originate in either Miami, FL or Houston, TX. 

Driving: We’ve never had trip participants actually drive to Ecuador from the US.  Although it is entirely possible, we can’t recommend this option.


Hotels: We provide lodging in Ecuador for the duration of the program.

Additional Information

  • Cost Includes:

Cayambe from the climber's hut

  • Guiding and trip leadership with bi-lingual guides
  • Ground Transportation in Ecuador
  • All in-country lodging
  • Hut fees and park entrance fees
  • Breakfasts and dinners in the huts on the mountains
  • Group climbing equipment (ropes, etc.)

  • Not Included:

  • Transportation to Quito, Ecuador
  • Additional hotel costs before or after the program
  • Personal Lunch Food
  • Meals or drinks  in towns, cities, and hotels
  • Trip cancellation insurance – recommended
  • Personal alpine climbing clothing
  • Costs associated with early returns, weather delays, or other factors beyond our control
  • Final transfer from Quito hotel to airport
  • Guide gratuity

  • Registration and Cancellation:

  • You will need to fill out our Expedition Application, cancellation policy agreement, and liability waiver, and send it to us with a 50% deposit as early as possible prior to the expedition date. Balance is due on the first day of the course. Please click on our Registration link to access the required forms.

He was very thorough and safety conscious. I would highly recommend Nate to anyone and would love to travel again with him on another trip. Happy adventuring! – Tanya H. Expedition 2010


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