Tungurahua, Ecuador's 10th-highest peak, is a 5016m high active stratovolcano also known as the "The Black Giant." It has a 600 ft. (183 m) wide crater. Most of the volcano is covered by snow.
Don't be fooled by descriptions of this mountain as "easy." People have died on this mountain and you need to be in good physical condition to climb it and enjoy it.
It is nowadays dangerous to climb (since 1999) as its increased volcanic activity has unpredictable eruptions as a consequence. You do not want to be caught on the volcano when major explosions of gases, ashes and lava occur.
When the volcano increased its activity in 1999, the ice cap melted away and the peak is since then ice free.
In spite of this many people still attempt to climb the volcano. ALWAYS check with locals about the mountains condition.
Baños (20.000 inhabitants) is 25km from the province capital Ambato. It's easy to reach by bus from all over the country as it's a main tourist spot. The bus from the capital Quito takes 3,5 hours.
You can start walking from Banos (this is a very long option): follow the road on the Ambato side of town, then take the first trail to the right of the store and follow this path to town of Pondoa --don't follow the road to the baths.
You can hire camionetas (small trucks) in Banos to take you to Parque Nacional Sangay where Tunguraghua is located. The camionetas will take you to the entrance to the park
Baños, at 1800m, is still the main entry into the climb and you will enter initially Sangay National Park which encompasses the Volcano, normally you'll pay $10 but if on a single day trip the fees are not charged.
When we entered the National Park the office on the mountain was closed and deserted (July 2003).
The trail, from the Park Entrance, to the refugio is obvious and well-marked but fairly steep and takes 3-4 hours.
Most guides/climbers depart early in the morning from the refugio between 3 to 6 am for a 4 to 6 hours climb to the summit with the last hour through snow and ice parts usually requiring ropes to keep ones grip as the gradient is severe in parts. The glacier is small and represents only the final 40 minutes of the climb. Crampons are recommended. The rest of the climb is scree and demanding, especially if it is muddy.
Descending to the Refuge is then only around 90 minutes and a further 2 to 3 hours walk back down to the entrance of the park
Best months for ascent to Tungurahua are from December to March for clearest views, but the weather is as unpredictable as Ecuador itself.
The Refugio (3800 m) is around 4 hours ascent from the Park entrance and has two refuges. One in stone housing 40 persons and one wooden slightly warmer. Don't forget your sleeping bag or hammocks. Cost is $3 per person.
When we went up the mountain in July 2003 the Refugio was deserted because of the eruptions and danger.
Altough there were rumours the refuge has been destroyed by the eruptions it's still standing and OK.