The Illinizas

Los Illinizas, Ecuador
Elevation Table
Highest North Summit:5139m
Villavicencio Summit:5123m
Highest South Summit:5266m
Nuevos Horiz. Refuge:4746m
Parking lot:3997m
El Chaupi:3370m


The Ilinizas massif is located in the Cotopaxi Province, Western Cordillera, at the western end of the Tiopullo node. It is formed by two inclined peaks that rise above 5000 meters. Etymologically, the south peak should be called Iliniza and the north one Tioniza; words originated from the Atacameño and which respectively mean “male hill” and “female hill”. Currently we called them referring to their cardinal position: “Iliniza Sur” and “Iliniza Norte”. Both mountains are separated by a depression called “La Ensillada”, which refers to a saddle. The Nuevos Horizontes Refuge is located at this place, second in antiquity in Ecuador, named in honor of the Mountain Club "Nuevos Horizontes". This refuge was opened in 1965 at the foot of the South Iliniza rock walls (and ice). The south peak with its 5266 meters has historically had glaciers on all its flanks; but due to global warming it has lost many of them, and those remaining have been constantly reducing its size. Recent years technical analyzes indicate that the current rate of global warming will dry it up completely in the coming decades. The north peak with its 5139 meters is composed mainly of sand and rocks, despite having a height just below its companion, has not had glaciers for more than a century.

National Park: Reserva Ecológica Los Illinizas


The Illinizas
The Illinizas
South Illiniza
South Illiniza
North Illiniza summit
North Illiniza summit

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Western Cordillera; 50 kilometers in a straight line southwest of Quito; 23 km from Machachi.

1) Normal Approach “Chaupi”: From Quito take the Pan-American Highway south, pass Machachi and continue for more than 6 kilometers until you come to the detour to the town of Chaupi (there is a sign on the right side). The road to Chaupi is paved and without any complications. The road to the Illinizas starts in Chaupi, it's cobblestoned and ballasted the last section, more advisable for 4×4 vehicles. The road ends at the place called “La Virgen”, where there is a good parking lot and it starts the trail to the Nuevos Horizontes refuge.

“El Chaupi” Approach:
Panamerican Hw. – Parking lot45min16km
Parking lot – Nuevos Horizontes Refuge2 to 3htrekking


  • Usually, a single day is used for climbing to the Illiniza Norte summit (departing from Quito at dawn). For the Illiniza Sur, it is usually required two days, staying overnight in the New Horizons refuge.
  • If you don't have private transportation, it is convenient to rent a pickup-truck taxi at Machachi or El Chaupi central squares or markets, it will be easy to find them, the cost will be around US $ 20 one way for up to 6 persons from Machachi. They usually take you until "La Virgen" parking lot, approximately 4000 meters high, where the hike to the refuge begins. It's also possible to get these pickup trucks at the "Hotel La Llovizna" at Chaupi in about US. 10 one way. Buses goes from Machachi to El Chaupi every 30 minutes departing at the Machachi market place, "Cooperativa EL CHAUPI", 0.75 dollars.
  • The Illinizas Ecological Reserve opening hours are from 8am to 3pm every day of the year. The exit is at most 5pm.
  • It is necessary to register and sign a discharge certificate in the reserve access control. The record confirms that you are the only one to blame for your horrible and reckless acts; and in case of generating an accident you will have to assume all the rescue costs, or your relatives must do it.

Climbing and Hiking

There are some attractive routes:

  • Hike from "La Virgen" to the Nuevos Horizontes Refuge
  • Climb to the Illiniza Norte Summit
  • Climb to the Illiniza Sur Summit
  • Trail from the refuge to "the yellow lagoon"
  • Trail from the refuge to "the green lagoon"
  • Trekking Illiniza "Thermal Springs"
Click for more information


Polylepis sp.
Polylepis sp.
Valeriana rigida
Valeriana rigida
Lasiocephalus ovatus
Lasiocephalus ovatus
Werneria nubigena
Werneria nubigena

Click here to view to flora gallery


First visits and opened routes:

  • Visit: Alexander von Humboldt, 1802
  • Visit: Wilhelm Reiss, 1872
  • First attempt: Edward Whymper and the Carrel brothers, 1880
  • South Summit: The Carrel brothers, 1880
  • North Summit: Nicolas Martinez, Franz Hiti (austrian) and Alejandro Villavicencio, 1912
  • Northeast Ridge: Celso Zuquillo, 1965
  • Southeast Ridge: Marco Cruz and Joseph Bergé, 1973
  • Southwestern Spur: Luis Naranjo, James Desrosiers, Marcos Serrano and Hernan Reinoso, 1981
Click to read about their visits and ascents


There is little information or geological studies about the Illinizas; however it is known that the Illinizas are the remnant of an early or middle Pleistocene volcano; it is thought that the current summits formed the flanks of a large and opened caldera whose center was located to the west. They have layers of lava and pyroclastic material arranged alternately, which determines their characteristic of stratovolcano, best seen in the Illiniza Sur. Currently the volcano is extinct, even though many people report they have smelled sulfur at some places near the high rocks.

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