The city of Riobamba is surrounded by adventure. Of course, the heights of Chimborazo on the western flank of the Andes are the most sought after by tourists. This is also the most obvious destination, with its imposing snow peak that, on clear days, imposes itself on the landscape. Few, however, look east, where another great snow- capped volcano rises: Kapak Urku or e Altar.
From the city of Riobamba, one of the routes leading to El Altar is via Quimiag. Quimiag is a small, humble town that has received support from the government of Riobamba, precisely because of its location and pretty rural setting. It lies just outside the city and is also a springboard to the fascinating eastern cordillera. Its proximity to waterfalls and viewpoints and its access to Sangay National Park makes Quimiag a nearby getaway full of landscapes and adventure for all types of outings, from family visits to more ambitious excursions towards the many lakes that form between the folds of Ecuador’s most sculptural volcano.
A scenic route
From Quimiag —which lies past the Riobamba suburban village of Cubijíes— a slow and winding road begins its climb toward El Altar, with several lookout spots that, in clear weather, reveal the greatness of the mountain. One can first take a brief detour up the picturesque road that leads to the town of Guazazo, a loop back to Quimiag via another community, Bayo, that offers tours to explore the area by bike or horseback, with agro-tourism, cultural activities, and even artisanal fishing.
You can then stop at the beautiful Puelazo waterfall as you head up to the first viewpoint of El Altar. A second lookout, in Verdepamba, is located even closer to the volcano. From here, you can organize a mountain bicycle downhill ride back to Quimiag, a journey that offers a view of the rural and pastoral world that makes the valleys and fields at the foot El Altar so special.
Lakes amid the clouds
One of the great adventures in the province of Chimborazo is trekking among the broken figure of El Altar, or Kapak Urku, “the volcano of 9 peaks”. It is not a visit for all tastes and possibilities since it requires physical e ort and a certain degree of resistance, but families who love nature and have experience hiking in the mountains could take advantage and treasure this excursion, one of the most special our mountainous country has to offer.
It is wise to arrange a two-day outing, (although one day is also feasible: about twelve hours round-trip), taking advantage of camping sites on the mountain, amid the pure páramo air and the starry nights of this remote region.
We must make it up to the community of Releche by car, on a decent road that leads up to La Bocatoma, where our trek begins. From here, we head towards Las Puertas, a place whose name, “The Doors” in Spanish, invites us into a realm of colored lagoons, with colorful names like Laguna Verde, Laguna Azul, Laguna Pintada or Laguna Amarilla (Green, Blue, Painted and Yellow, respectively), as well as mysterious ones such as Mandur, Quindecocha (Hummingbird Lake) or La Engallinada (the ‘Chickened’ Lake).
This journey is guaranteed to amaze those who venture upon it. It is worth putting it on your bucket list so that you can prepare to one day share the experience with others, loved ones or friends who seek unique adventures in the open mountain. You will never forget it.
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