Imbabura is a long-extinct volcano located 60km northeast of Quito near the town of Otavalo. Otavalo is well known for it's colorful local market which is believed to the be one of the oldest in South America. Visiting this area without attending the market to barter with local merchants would be a crime.
Imbabura is a stand alone peak that resides over the breathtaking Lago San Pablo outside of Otavalo. This once glaciated peak use to be an important ice source for local villages. The locals would climb high onto the mountain to get ice from the glacier and carry it back to the village. The gentle slopes make this mountain the perfect acclimatisation climb for those who plan to tackle the higher peaks in Ecuador. Even if you don't plan on other climbs, Imbabura makes a great trek in it's own right. The climb will take you through tall grasses into rocky outcroppings, followed by suprisingly lush vegetation high on the mountain.
Imbabura is sometimes included in Ecuador's Big Ten which is not accurate as its summit elevation is almost 400m lower than number ten (Tungurahua) on that list.
Its normal route is rated PD (grade 4 rock). The climb is typically done in one day from either Quito or one of the incredible local haciendas. There are two main summits on Imbabura. The second one, 100m higher than the first, can be reached via the knife edge crater rim from the north summit at the end of the normal route. Many hikers claim victory at the first, lower summit as the walk along the rim can trigger a feeling of danger. It is quite airy and exposed and the rock is rotten. Be careful.
Many climbers arrive directly from Quito, which is at an altitude of 2800m. Imbabura is not a high Andean peak, but it's still higher than all US peaks in the lower 48 and almost as high as Mont Blanc. Don't underestimate Imbabura's elevation. I saw many hikers with headache and some were feeling really bad and had to go back down without reaching the summit. Better acclimatize a bit before and the hike on Imbabura's will be a great experience.
I met some climbers warming up with Imbabura, acclimatizing for the higher, nearby located Cayambe. The owner of the local hostel told me this is quite common.
There are two starting points for the standard route depending on your choice of transportation. For those using public transport the starting point is La Esperanza, a small village located at 2600m outside of the city of Ibarra. If you choose private transport you'll start 4km up the road from La Esperanza in the small village of Chiriuasi at 2950m.
PUBLIC TRANSPORT: From Quito, there are regular buses leaving Terminal Terrestre for Otavalo where you can take a taxi or buss to Ibarra. Once in Ibarra you can take a bus to the small village of La Esperanza. Most climbers make it to La Esperanza one day and climb the next. La Casa Aïda in La Esperanza is the only suitable hostel in the city but it is a little paradise! It provides good food and can organize transportation to trailhead cutting the extra 4km off the climb.
The following was added by SP member Irene+:
There is no need to stop in Otavalo. There are plenty of bus companies that go directly from Terminal Terrestre to Ibarra; make sure not to use Expreso Turismo (a yellow&white bus with red curtains), it is cheaper (2$ instead of 2,50$) and so it gets really overcrowded, with 3-4 people seating on 2 seats. Transportes Andinas (blue&white buses) offers the ride for 2,50$ and is less crowded. Once in Ibarra you have to traverse cross town (5-10min walk) to get to another bus station, from where you pick the bus for La Esperanza.
Trucks from La Esperanza
It is possible to get a truck to the trailhead from La Esperanza without staying at Casa Aida. The best bet is to go to the only bridge in town, often there are a number of trucks in the parking lot by the bridge. The going rate to hire a truck to the trailhead as of Feb 09 is $4.
PRIVATE TRANSPORT: Private autos and drivers can most easily be hired in Quito using one of the local agencies. This will get you from Quito to the trailhead in Chirihuasi at 2950m and maybe a little further to 3200m when conditions are dry. Private transport may also be arranged at Casa Aida in La Esperanza.
Most agencies located around "New" Quito near Veintimilla and Amazonas streets offer a wide variety of services ranging from fully guided tours to transport only. Shop around for the best ones and you shouldn't pay much more than $100US for a private auto and driver for up to 4 climbers.
Red TapeNo fees or permits required.
When To Climb
Imbabura can be climbed year around but is best climbed during the dry seasons which run from June through August and December through February. Be aware that rain and mist are the norm for the area. Mornings tend to be the clearest.
Camping & lodgingCamping is permitted with no charges but it is not necessary unless you want to spend the night high on the mountain. There are no campgrounds in the village at the trailhead.
Casa Aida is a great place to stay in La Esperanza. It is run by Aida Buitrón. The phone number is (593-6) 2660221. Unfortunately the phone number listed in many guidebooks is incorrect.
Imbabura is usually snow free but can often have a covering of snow high on the mountain after a storm.
I was told the higher reaches of the mountain is many times in the clouds. It was the case when I attempted the peak and visibility was many times down to 15-20 meters. The clouds bring high humidity and makes the climb both cold and wet. Bring some clothes for chilly and wet surroundings even if it's really hot when starting the climb.
Most of the climb is a trail until high on the mountain where there are several sections of scrambling, on often loose rock. The clouds and the low visibility made me loose the trail high on the peak and I ended up on rocky sections with rock climbing. Be careful with the route finding and you'll have nothing but easy scrambling to deal with.
CreditThis page was originally submitted by Miztflip. A lot of his info is still around.
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