Cayambe Volcano

Cayambe Volcano, Ecuador
Elevation Table
Highest Summit:5790m
Northeast Summit:5570m
Ruales Oleas Berge Refuge:4637m


The Cayambe with its 5790 meters is the third highest mountain in Ecuador. It's completely covered by glaciers from an elevation between 4600 and 5000 meters on the western side, and between 4400 and 4700 on the eastern side; Deeply broken ice masses rising at two main summits from west to east, the Highest Summit and the Northeast Summit; and two "antecumbres" from north to south with the names of "Santa Bárbara" and "Cumbre Sur", in the center of which rises the Cayambe Highest Summit. Its first conqueror was Edward Whymper in 1880. Nowadays it is a mountain crowded by tourists who visit the refuge and the "Glaciar Hermoso" glacier; a few climbers also venture towards its highest summit, very attractive although less frequented climbed than Cotopaxi.

National Park: Parque Nacional Cayambe Coca


Cayambe Volcano
Cayambe Volcano
Ruáles Oleas Berge Refuge
Ruáles Oleas Berge Refuge
Arriving to the summit
Arriving to the summit

Click to open the Photo Gallery


Eastern Cordillera; 60 kilometers in a straight line northeast of Quito; 17 km east of Cayambe. There are two routes to approach Cayambe Volcano:

1) Normal Approach "Route to the Refuge": Just arriving to Cayambe from Quito there is a first roundabout, on the right starts the Rocafuerte street next to the Yaznan Park, take this street and a little further you will see the sign that shows the road to the "Nevado Cayambe". The highway is paved until you reach Cayambe. The road to the refuge is well signposted; mostly cobbled and ballasted, you can go in any vehicle until the "Piemonte Alto" Community, from there it becomes difficult and only advised for 4×4 vehicles. The last part close to the refuge, known as "La Cascada de los Mirlos" could be very difficult to drive. You could instead park and walk about 30 minutes to the refuge.

2) Approach "Laguna de San Marcos" lagoon: About three kilometers following the road from Cayambe to Otavalo, you will find to the right the road that enters the town of Ayora. It is convenient to ask for the road to "Olmedo" and the "Laguna de San Marcos ". This road is mostly paved or ballasted, the last part recommended only for 4 × 4 vehicles. This approach is very picturesque although very little used to ascend the Cayambe Volcano.

Approach Route to the Refuge:
Cayambe – Ruales-Oleas-Berge Refuge1h15min27km
Approach San Marcos Lagoon:
Cayambe – San Marcos Lagoon1h30min33km


  • It is usually employed two days for climbing this mountain by the normal route when departing from Quito.
  • If you don't have private transportation, it is convenient to rent a pickup truck taxi at the Cayambe central square.
  • The entrance time to the Cayambe Coca National Park is from 8am to 3pm, every day of the year. The leaving is at most 5pm.
  • It is forbidden to drive outside the established routes. This infraction is subject to a fine.
  • With a 4×4 vehicle and a good pilot, it is possible to get to the refuge most of the year. In very rainy seasons the road can be covered with snow preventing the passage; or as it has already happened, a heavy nightfall can obstruct the road, preventing the vehicles from returning to their homes. Anyway, in case of any doubt, it is recommended to park at the place known as the "Cascada de Los Mirlos" and walk about thirty minutes to the refuge.
  • The Ruales – Oleas – Berge Refuge is located on the south-western side of the mountain; it offers everything you need for a pleasant stay before climbing to the summit. This refuge charges US 30 per person / night, dinner and breakfast included; You can request breakfast when you return from the summit and not before leaving, which could be very convenient. US 20.00 without dinner or breakfast. US 10.00 camp with access to the refuge. The kitchen is not open to guests. You must take a sleeping bag; Beds and mattresses are provided by the refuge.

Climbing and Hiking

There are some attractive routes:

  • Ruales-Oleas-Bergé Refuge Area:
    • Hike from the "Cascada de los Mirlos" to the Ruales Oleas Berge Refuge
    • Ascension to the Cayambe Summit
    • Trail from the refuge to "the lagoon"
    • Refuge - "Glaciar Hermoso" glacier Trail
    • Cascada de los Mirlos - "la laguna" ridge trail
  • San Marcos Lagoon Area:
    • Trekking Antennas - Santa Barbara Ridge Foot
  • Sarayo Area:
    • Approach trek to the Sarahurco Peak
  • Cycling route: Olmedo - Laguna de San Marcos


Culcitium canescens
Culcitium canescens
Gentiana sedifolia
Gentiana sedifolia
Culcitium nivale
Culcitium nivale
Draba obovata
Draba obovata

Click here to view to flora gallery


First visits and opened routes:

  • Visit: Alexander von Humboldt, 1802
  • Highest Summit: Edward Whymper and the Carrel brothers, 1880
  • Northeast Summit: Luis Camacho, Jacinto Carrasco and Patricio Ramón, 1976
Click to read about their visits and ascents


The Nevado Cayambe is a building that has presented volcanic activity in the last 11800 years (Hall and Mothes, 1994). The products observed in the field studies are mainly domes or lava flows, pyroclastic flows, lahars and lapilli and ash falls (Samaniego et al., 2004). The record of the Cayambe most recent activity includes 18 to 20 eruptions in the last 4000 years, which are distributed in three periods of volcanic activity (Samaniego et al., 1998). The first period would have been between 3800 and 3500 BP years; the second between 2500 and 1700 years BP; and the last one started 1100 years ago. The last eruption occurred in the years 1785-1786 (Ascazubi, 1802) and it is described as a subglacial eruption that would have produced moderate ash falls in the Cayambe town and it would have ended with a flow of lava or a lahar in 1786. Currently there is a constant monitoring of the Cayambe Volcano, since fumarolic activity and volcanic earthquakes have been detected, especially in recent years.

Source: Instituto Geofísico de la Escuela Politécnica Nacional

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