“Wayfarer, there is no path, you make the path as you go.”
Robert & Daisy Kunstaetter
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- Why Ecuador?
- Slide Show
- Foreword
- Preface
- Acknowledgments
- Table of Contents
- Trek Summaries
- Index
- About the Authors
- About the Publisher
- Overview
- Route Description
- Topographic Map
- Elevation Profile

- The Authors
- The Publisher
© 2002-07 Kunstaetter
Treks from Riobamba
(Altitude: 2750 meters, 9000 feet. Population: 120,000. From Chapter 12.)

Riobamba is surrounded by five massive snowcapped volcanoes, including Chimborazo—the highest in Ecuador. (Trek 18, Photo: DK)

Riobamba likes to call itself corazón de la patria, the nation's heartland, and for good reason. Situated near the geographic center of the country, it is the very essence of Andean Ecuador. The city is surrounded by numerous highland indigenous communities and five massive snowcapped volcanoes. Riobamba is an important regional center, the capital of the province of Chimborazo, and the hub of the country's once-famous railroad.

The chilly cobblestone streets of Riobamba welcome their share of tourists. Most come to ride the remnants of the railway over the Devils Nose, or to climb one of the summits over 5000 meters (16,500 feet). The proximity of Sangay National Park, the Chimborazo vicuña reserve, and other splendid natural areas also make Riobamba an ideal base for highland trekking. Agencies here are very well set up to organize treks. The Inca Trail from Achupallas to Ingapirca is perhaps the most heavily visited in Ecuador.

Northeast of Riobamba, Trek 18, Volcano Watching, is an easy but exciting hike—especially when Tungurahua is spewing fire. The brute force of ancient volcanic activity is evident along Trek 19, a moderately difficult and popular hike to the Crater of El Altar, located east of the city. To the southeast, far off the tourist track, are the Atillo and Osogoche Lakes of moderately difficult Trek 20. This area offers grand scenery and an opportunity to experience the authentic highland native way of life.

To the west, on the opposite side of Riobamba, are two other moderately difficult treks, both in the shadow of Ecuador's highest summit: Chimborazo. Popular Trek 21, Vicuña Trail, crosses the Continental Divide north of Chimborazo, at 4400 meters (14,450 feet), before descending to visit a fauna reserve for this rare species. The less-frequented route of Trek 22, Royal Road, traverses the Cordillera Occidental on the southern flanks of Chimborazo, following an ancient highway almost into downtown Guaranda.

Back on the east side of Riobamba, in Sangay National Park, are three difficult and very worthwhile treks. Trek 23, Hot Springs in the Cloud Forest, offers a rare treat: a warm soak in luscious surroundings at the end of the trail. Trek 24, Black Rock of Cubillines, and Trek 25, High Lakes and Ridges, explore the páramo-clad hinterlands south of El Altar. These real cross-country routes connect with each other, as well as with Trek 23 to the east and Trek 19 to the north, offering the possibility of a multiweek excursion.