Imbabura sets itself apart from Ecuador’s other volcanoes with its low, blown out crater, complete with evocative, primordial-style rock formations. The walk around the rim to the final ascent is a novel experience, with views of verdant rolling hills to one side, and gnarly volcanic rock within the exposed cone on the other. On clear days, the icy peak of Cayambe Volcano can be seen from the approach (pictured above).
The summit is a comfortable 4630 meters above sea level. That might sound impressive (it’s less than 200 meters lower than Mont Blanc), but this is Ecuador; and that’s small fries. Prominence is closer to 1500 meters, and the entire hike can easily be done as a day trip from Ibarra or a weekend away from Quito.
Getting there is easy from Quito. Catch a bus from Carcelen terminal to Ibarra, then a taxi (US$5) to the nearby village of La Esperanza. A great place to stay is Refugio Terra Esperanza. The delightfully amiable owner Emerson can arrange a truck to the trailhead (around US$5 from memory), and can also give you up-to-date directions to the summit. If you don’t feel comfortable striking out alone, he and his dog can guide you up for a small fee.