The Imbabura volcano is a volcanic complex that in the indigenous tradition is considered a sacred mountain and constitutes one of the main elevations of the province of the lakes. Taita Imbabura is a symbol of the ancestry of the indigenous peoples of Kichwa Otavalo, Kichwa Kayampi, Kichwa Karanki and Kichwa Natabuela; moors, native forests and important sources of water are part of its ecosystem. Climbing this beautiful mountain is a unique experience, which crosses a steep grassy area at the foot of the rock, the point from which begins the final journey to reach the summit. It is located 110 km north of Quito and only 15 minutes from Otavalo. At its feet lies Lake San Pablo, one of the most beautiful lakes in the Ecuadorian highlands.
The Imbabura is a type of volcanic building known as a “composite strato-volcano”, and is characterized by a large cone-shaped main building around which other smaller buildings have developed. In the case of Imbabura, the main building is known as Taita Imbabura, and the two smaller main buildings are known as Loma Artezón (to the north) and Huarmi Imbabura (to the south). The summit of Taita Imbabura is located at 4621 m asl.
The development of Taita Imbabura consisted mainly of eruptions of lava flows and explosions of small magnitude, which were gradually building the large main building. Due to its large size, and because it is crossed by an active fault, the Taita Imbabura edifice experienced twice the occurrence of huge landslides.
The youngest part of the volcano corresponds to the small Huarmi Imbabura edifice, located to the south of the complex, which began to form approximately 30 thousand years ago, initially with very explosive eruptions and then with more passive emissions of lava domes. There is evidence showing that Imbabura has had eruptions as long as 8,000 years ago. In view of this recent activity and because it is surrounded by urban centers, Imbabura is classified as a potentially active volcano and requires monitoring.
Imbabura is an extinct volcano, the ascent is recommended as part of acclimatization and preparation if you wish to climb other volcanoes or mountains in Ecuador. The flora and fauna of the forests surrounding this ancient elevation enjoy a wide diversity, allowing you to discover a little more about the natural variety of the area. Up to 3,000 m.a.s.l., the territory is basically agricultural, its main products being corn, dried beans, sugar cane and cabuya. In the lowlands, the vegetation is herbaceous steppes and in the highlands there are natural meadows.
From ancient times to the present, it is common to hear myths and legends among the inhabitants that speak of this protective god, to whom many have entrusted favors, have feared his fury and have even asked for advice. The locals claim that the Imbabura is the only volcano that has a heart, due to the unique figure on its slope. Imbabura is also considered a primordial yachak (sage).
The different communities affirm that each region has its own myths and legends that over time the same people have shaped and added a bit of mystery, as is the case of the Imbabura volcano.
Imbabura Urcu is the male protector hill, his name is taita Manuel Imbabura. He is a big and old ‘man’, who constantly wears a big hat that covers his white head. In front of him is the Cotacachi Urcu, which is the female protector hill, her name is mama María Isabel Cotacachi, a woman of advanced age.
It is said that when Taita Imbabura was young he began to leave the Imbabura (hill that was his abode) and walked alone at night thinking that other people would recognize him and criticize him because he was not at home.
One of many nights, during his walk, he met the Cotacachi mother. They were walking together, but Manuel could not declare his love to Maria Cotacachi, when, suddenly, he declared himself saying that he loved her, then Mama Cotacachi answered: “I have also been in love with you for many years since I met you, so let’s be in love”. Time passed and they had a son, named Yanaurcu, who is to the right of his mother.
The volcanoes Maria Isabel Cotacachi and Manuel Imbabura are the protective parents of the surrounding lagoons, where the local indigenous people make offerings in gratitude to the gods for good harvests and good luck.
The Imbabura is a sacred and venerated place by the indigenous people of the region and is also a natural viewpoint belonging to the avenue of volcanoes, from where it is possible to observe elevations such as Chimborazo and Cotopaxi.
This hill also has a high cultural value for the people who live in the surrounding area. In pre-Hispanic times it was part of the ‘Apukkuna’ (the cultures settled nearby). Cotacachi points out that this colossus is considered in the worldview of the indigenous peasant as the father and, therefore, has given rise to several legends and beliefs.