Corazon Volcano is a little too humble for its own good. This 4790 meter peak is largely obscured by its own foothills from the PanAm Highway, and as eye candy it just doesn’t quite match up to the likes of nearby Ruminahui and Cotopaxi. So while it’s not exactly surprising Corazon struggles to make it onto the wishlist of most visitors to Ecuador, this unassuming peak has its charms.
First and foremost, Corazon has no red tape. Unlike Cotopaxi, nobody will hassle you about a guide, and you wont be hit up for an entry fee. Second, the approach trail is well-trodden enough to be fairly easy to follow, but Corazon doesn’t draw enough visitors to make things crowded. Odds are, you’ll barely see another hiker.
Getting to the trail head is a simple matter of grabbing a seat on a Machachi bound bus from Quito’s Quitumbe terminal. At the town of Machachi, transfer to a bus heading for the nearby village of Aloasi. Most of the buses will drop you off at Aloasi’s main square, but the ones marked “La Moya” go directly past the Machachi train station (which confusingly enough, is located on the outskirts of Aloasi). From Quito, the entire trip to the train station can be done in 2 hours.
The trail to the peak starts about 100 meters north of the train station. The trick is to just walk up the tracks from the boarding platform until you see the big reflective X sign on your left. From the station, you’ll spend 2 hours weaving between farms (keep taking the right turns), before hitting the foothills. It’s mostly straight forward, except for one bit when you leave the road behind and start climbing the foothills. The road takes a sudden right hand turn into muddy oblivion, while to your left there’s nothing but farmland. Rather than turn left or right, just head straight through a small dirt path through the undergrowth. The occasional shreds of coloured fabric in the trees appear to serve as trail markers. From there, the rest of the trail is self-evident until the peak.
Climbing the mountain itself is a tricky affair. It’s a steep ascent of rough scrambling over jagged volcanic rock. When I hit the peak I had some serious cloud cover and heavy winds. Take it easy, as there are plenty of loose rocks, and it’s a long way down. All up, expect the hike to take around around nine hours round trip from the train station, including one hour for the final ascent.
While it’s hypothetically possible to camp beneath Corazon’s peak (though there’s no water anywhere on the trail), a more comfortable option is crashing at Hosteria La Estacion (099 277 1578). It’s just across the road from the train station, and has stunning views at sunset. At US$50 a night it’s on the pricey side, but its proximity to the trail head makes it a worthwhile expense. The owners can give you plenty of intel on Corazon, and can also organize a 4X4 to shave the first 2 hours off the approach hike (but it’ll set you back another US$50, so it’s really only a good option if you’re in a group). For US$15, they’ll also rustle you up a four course dinner – not a bad meal if you have a day of hiking the next morning.