Illiniza is an extinct stratovolcano with two summits; Iliniza Sur (5,248 m above sea level) and Iliniza Norte (5,126 m ASL). It's in the Andean Highlands about 55 km south of the Ecuadorian capital Quito. Administratively the northeastern quarter of the mountain is in the province of Pichincha, and the remainder in the province of Cotopaxi, and the provincial border intersects both summits.

Iliniza as seen from El Chaupi


Depending on the source, the altitude of the summits may be given differently. The altitude for the rocky northern summit can be given as anything between 5,116 and 5,126 meters above sea level, whereas the southern, glaciated summit is given as anything between 5,248 and 5,263 m ASL. As such they are the sixth and eight highest peaks in Ecuador.

The two summits are about two kilometers apart, and make up what's left of the volcano that used to be much higher. There's likely been an original higher peak between them, which was blown away in a massive explosion a long time ago. Nowadays the volcano is extinct. The northern summit is ice-free, and the glacier on the southern summit has been shrinking over the years.


The name comes from the language of the indigenous American Colorados people, where Illan means "man" and isha means "us". The summits are also known by the names "man summit" (Illiniza) and "woman summit" (Tioniza). This comes from a legend where a father asked a wizard to turn a suitor of his daughter into stone - thus the suitor became the southern summit. But the girl then asked the wizard to turn her into stone also, and she became the northern summit, next to her lover forever.

First summitingEdit

On the southeastern path to Illiniza Norte

The first summiting of Illiniza (at least by Europeans) was a continuation of the race to be the first to summit Matterhorn. Edward Whymper who was the first person on Matterhorn (1865) and Chimborazo (1880), tried twice to climb to the summit of Illiniza Sur but failed both times. In 1880, then, the brothers Jean and Louis Carrel were the first climbers on that summit. Before that Jean Carrel was the first person to reach the difficult Italian summit of Liongrat, but was the second to reach Matterhorn just a few days after Whymper.

Illiniza Norte has a special meaning for the Ecuadorian mountaineering community, as it's the only five-thousander to be first summited by Ecuadorian climbers — they were Nicolas G. Martinez, Franz Hiti and Alejandro Villavicencio on 3 May 1912.

Illinizas Natural ReserveEdit

Local "chuquiragua" shrubland

The protected area around the mountain, officially named Reserva Ecologica Los Illinizas was established in 1996. It covers an area of around 1500 square kilometers, from about 800 m ASL up to the summits.

In addition to Illiniza, the reserve also contains the Quilotoa lagoon and the Corazón volcano. Notable rivers are Toachi, Río Zarapullo and Esmeraldas, each of which has its source in the reserve.

In the reserve, there's no tourist infrastructure to speak of. There's however an entrance fee of $5.


Illiniza can be visited year-round, though the best time is the dry season from around July-August to December. January to May-June is the rainy season. Around September the season is known as "Veranillo", and which time the weather is generally stable and clear. Nevertheless, rain can't be entirely ruled out even then, and at higher altitude precipitation may come as snow.

At bad weather seasons, you can expect fog and precipitation from mid-day onwards. Fog means less visibility, making it dangerous to get around, so take this into consideration when planning your trip.

Temperatures below freezing and strong winds are possible at the summit anytime of the year. Make sure your gear is suited for these conditions.


  • Ecuador: A Climbing Guide (Mountaineers Books) (ISBN 978-0898867299) by Yossi Brain. - about the mountains of Ecuador including Illiniza, written in 2000 but still fairly up-to-date.

Get inEdit

Map of Illiniza

The closest village where you can stock up on provisions is 1 Chaupi. Other towns in the valleys are Latacunga and Machachi on the Panamericana and the smaller localities of Santa Rita and Santa Ana del Pedregal.

Illiniza is commonly approached from the east. About 7 km south of Machachi, turn off the Panamericana and drive west towards Chaupi. From Chaupi on the road gradually becomes more of a mud track on volcanic ash. Rainfall has created deep ditches in different places and you need a good terrain vehicle to drive here.

2 La Virgen at about 4200 m ASL is the highest point reachable by car. It's about 10 km away from Chaupi but given the condition of the road, expect the drive to take an hour. Here you'll find a parking lot and some signs, it's the official entrance to the natural reserve but there's no other infrastructure like a kiosk or park office. You can camp here, though, and there's water in a stream. From here it's a three-hour walk to the Nuevos Horizontes hut (see Sleep below). First the path goes through a swampy landscsape with small trees and shrubs, then the landscape turns more volcanic.

Fees and permitsEdit

There's an entrance fee of $5 and you have to hire a licensed mountain guide to climb the mountain.


Laguna Verde
  • 1 Laguna Verde. A picturesque green mountain lake between the two summits and slightly northwest of the saddle at an altitude of about 4690 m.
  • In the village of Chaupi there's a hill with good views of the surrounding and a small Inca ruin.


From the refugio hut you will first climb to the hut at the saddle and from there to either of the summits.

Summiting Illiniza NorteEdit

Illiniza Norte summit cross

The way to the northern summit, 2 Illiniza Norte, starts at the Nuevos Horizontes hut at the saddle and is a popular climb to acclimatize for even higher summits in the region.

From the saddle the route first follows the rocky southeastern wall with some scrambling until the pre-summit Pico Villavicencio. From there, you will cross into the steep but not so difficult northeastern wall, also known as Paso de la Muerte (Death Pass) almost to the northeastern ridge; the last part is a short and steep chute with loose rocks (bring a helmet). Once on the ridge, there's some scrambling to reach the summit. There are nice views from the summit, weather permitting, and unlike most other mountains in Ecuador there's also a summit cross.

Crossing the "Paso de la Muerte"

The descent is similar to the ascent as far as to the bottom of the chute. From there the way down goes straight down the northeastern wall all the way to the saddle, you will not cross over to the southeastern wall.

Parts of the ascent route is exposed and you will need a rope at least for the chute; less experienced climbers need a rope for other parts of the climb too. Loose rocks are also a risk along the route.

Footprints (routes taken by climbers before you) are often visible on sandy parts of the route, on rocky parts its up to you to decide where to walk. Generally there's no ice on the route, but there's a good chance to encounter snow.

The ascent from the hut to the northern summit takes around 3-4 hours. With good planning, and starting at the parking lot before daybreak, you can do the climb as a daytrip, otherwise you can stay at Refugio Nuevos Horizontes.

Summiting Illiniza SurEdit

The way to the southern summit 3 Illiniza Sur is a demanding ice climb on steep walls (up to 70°) in exposed conditions. The glacier on Illiniza Sur is melting due to the climate change, meaning the terrain changes and gets unsafe in places. This also increases the risk of falling rocks and ice.

The normal route goes along the northwestern wall to the summit. It's the westernmost route and longest with a long stretch over the glacier and few places where you need to climb. A more direct but steeper route goes along the crevasse, La Rampa. The most demanding route is the Celso Zuquillo Route along the eastern ridge.

Eat and drinkEdit

There are no restaurants of any kind on the mountain; bring your own food and drink.


Nuevos Horizontes
  • 1 Refugio Nuevos Horizontes (a bit below the saddle (ensillada) between the two summits). An unserviced hut at 4,770 m ASL, built in 1960. It's built in brick with a good roof and has about a dozen beds and cooking facilities. There's no running water or firewood, but you can get water from a nearby mountain stream. stay for foreigners $15, camping $5.

Stay safeEdit

Before attempting to climb Illiniza, spend a few days in the highlands to acclimatize to the altitude. Prior experience with similar altitudes is also useful.

Three Ecuadorian climbers fell to their deaths when they descended from the southern summit in 2012. Since that, climbers need to hire a licensed mountain guide to go with them and this goes for all summits above 5000 m in Ecuador.

Go nextEdit

Nearby cities and national parks include Cotopaxi, Laguna Quilotoa, Latacunga, Isinliví, Chugchilán, Zumbahua and the national capital Quito.

This park travel guide to Illiniza is a usable article. It has information about the park, for getting in, about a few attractions, and about accommodations in the park. An adventurous person could use this article, but please feel free to improve it by editing the page.