Even though Ecuador is a small country, it has some of the most breathtaking and hidden hikes in South America. Indeed, in Ecuador, you’re never far from a trail.
With its unique biodiversity hiking and trekking are a few of the best ways to get out and explore this incomparable countryside. Simply setting off on your own 2 feet for the day can allow you to experience and enjoy a great deal of the stunning scenery this country offers.
So, if you’re looking to explore Ecuador’s vast and varied terrain, here are five unforgettable treks you need to do.
The Pasochoa volcano is a beautiful, 4,199 meter (13,776 ft) high volcano. It is a perfect choice for a first climb to acclimatize. The mountain is an extinct volcano.
The highlight of the Pasochoa hike is that it goes through an amazing primary Andean forest, great for bird watching. You can easily encounter plenty of species of birds such as the exotic hummingbirds. You will also have the opportunity to see the stunning Andean wildlife.
During the hike, on a clear day, you will have beautiful views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. You might be able to spot mountains such as Ilizinas, Cotopaxi or Cayambe.
The hike takes approx. 3 to 5 hours, reaching an altitude of 4,199m (13,776ft) and then hiking back. Pasochoa can be climbed without technical mountain climbing equipment. The trail is straight forward and well marked. The trail originates in high grasses and as you ascend it turns into loose rock.
Adults need to pay $7 dollars to enter the Pasochoa Volcano reserve and children $2 dollars.
How to get there?
If using public transportation then from Quito you need to get to Amaguaña. By bus, this is done from the La Marín «terminal». The ride is 45 cents and takes an hour or so. In Amaguaña you need to hire a pickup that will go directly to the Pasochoa Wildlife Refuge. It costs approximately $6.00 per trip and it takes approximately 40 minutes or so.
The Pasochoa Wildlife Refuge is 50 minutes away from Quito. First, you need to take the highway General Rumiñahui then take the road that goes to Amaguaña.
From Amaguaña you have to drive into a secondary road left from the main church of Amaguaña, from this point it will take around 30 minutes to get to the Pasochoa Wildlife Refuge.
Antisana is Ecuador’s 4th highest volcano and one of the least climbed. It’s located in one of Ecuador’s hidden pearls: the Antisana Ecological Reserve. This challenging volcano is climbed far less than others in Ecuador but is one of the most beautiful.
The ascent of the Antisana volcano is one of the most difficult in Ecuador. In addition to being technically complex, the Antisana glacier is quite perilous. Indeed, the plates can be removed very easily.
It takes between 6 and 8 hours to climb the volcano. The descent, which is faster, takes about 3 hours. The expedition requires a good physical condition, as well as mountaineering experience.
But when you reach the summit, especially at dawn, the landscape unfolding before you is a pure wonder! This ascent is also suitable for explorers wishing to perfect their techniques of moving through crevasses, snow, and ice.
For this kind of trek, mountaineer’s clothing, crampon boots, crampons, harnesses, an ice ax, and a helmet are the necessary equipment to take with you.
Don’t forget to hire an experienced guide. Indeed, you are required to climb glaciated peaks with a guide in Ecuador. They’ll have taken care of all the paperwork.
You can also choose to stay in the Antisana nature reserve and explore around by taking one of the different trails: Trails Condors and Trail Micaloma.
Antisana ecological reserve is home to a wide variety of life zones and is considered one of the ten «hot spots» of the world by being incorporated in the high basin of the River Napo.
It lies between the provinces of Pichincha and Napo. It’s a privileged place for the observation of the Andean Condor. One of the important cultural attractions of the Reserve’s area of influence is the Chagras.
The Chagras were Andean cowboys, employed by the great haciendas to look after cattle. They are still around today and can be seen dressed in their distinctive llama-fur chaps and ponchos designed to keep out the cold winds of the high Andes.
In the valley there are also hot springs where the visitors can relax; the waters have a high mineral content and are famed for their healing properties. Here the visitor will find good quality tourist infrastructure.
How to get to the Antisana nature reserve?
The Antisana reserve is easily accessible from Quito. Indeed, the distance between Quito and Antisana Ecological Reserve is 65 km. The drive takes barely two hours to reach this natural paradise. The best way to get around is by bus or car rental.
For those interested in climbing Antisana, the way up the mountain starts with a path located in the Valley of Tambo in the end northwest of the Reserve, close to the limits of the Cayambe–Coca Reserve.
The Imbabura region, just two hours north of the capital of Quito, is an enchanted land of massive volcanoes and indigenous people. Excellent hiking, trekking, and mountain climbing abound in these mountains, and the views are only upstaged by the colorful indigenous villages on route.
Cuicocha Crater (Laguna Cuicocha):
Just 100km north of Quito is Laguna Cuicocha. The lake was created from a volcanic crater filled with water. Laguna Cuicocha is an excellent one day hike near the well-known market town Otavalo. Not only the lagoon is stunning, but the hike will also help you with acclimatization.
The whole circuit is 14 km long and should take you anywhere from 3 to 5 hours to finish. You’ll surely get to see some beautiful birds, butterflies, and flowers along the way too. There is a $1 fee when you enter the park.
There are some minor climbs and descents on the trail, and you are at altitude here (over 3000m), so make sure you bring adequate water, snacks and maybe a rain jacket too as the weather can quickly turn.
(When doing the Otovalo day tour from Quito you will also have the chance to visit this beautiful lake and make a short walk)
How to get to laguna Cuicocha ?
From Quito there are several day tours going to the Otovalo market and they combine this by visiting the Cuicocha lake.
But if you wish to go there without a tour it is also possible, from Quito, take a bus to Otavalo (2h north). From the Terminal Terrestre. Every hour there are several buses. It will cost you approximately $2 per person
From Otavalo, go to the bus terminal and take a regular public bus to Cotacachi for $0.35. The bus takes about 30 minutes with many stops along the way so the locals can jump in and jump off the bus anywhere and anytime it is convenient for them.
At the bus terminal in Cotacachi you can take a taxi for $5 to Laguna Cuicocha.
To return there can be taxis waiting by the lake. Otherwise, ask the local to call you one.
In climbing to Cubilche there are two options, one to the Cerro (mountain peak), which is great for views of the southern part of the valley as well as passing over the ridge and hiking down to the other side. The second option is to the volcano crater, in which you can admire a perfectly circular lake. It is perfect for hiking, mountaineering, bicycle handling, observation and enjoyment of flora and fauna.
How to get there?
If you are coming from Quito you must arrive in the city of Imbabura, a trip of approximately 3 hours. Once in this beautiful city, you must reach the Ibarra canton until you reach the community of Paniquinrra where you must make the ascent to the mountain to contemplate the beautiful lagoon that is inside its crater.
The Mandango Loop is an 11.1-kilometer loop trail located in Vilcabamba that offers scenic views and is rated as moderate. The trail is primarily used for hiking, walking, and nature trips.
Taking you up and over the face of the infamous “Sleeping Inca” and offering 360-degree views of the surrounding valleys, this four-hour loop makes the perfect half-day excursion. The hike takes approximately 4 hours.
The trail goes up and down on the rim and balancing together with the wind can get hard. Indeed, if it’s windy the trail can be treacherous and is not recommended for inexperienced hikers or those scared of heights.
The climb can be arduous and steep and the path can be narrow, sometimes with large drop-offs on either side. However, if you do brave the conditions, you’ll be rewarded with absolutely incredible views! You can use walking sticks to help you. If you decide to do it you will be rewarded with a breathtaking view of the valley.
The trail starts behind the bus station in town and is signed with a $1.50 entrance fee – the town’s tourist office can help with directions a map and a detailed trail description are available at the Hosteria Izhacaylum, who can also recommend a guide.
How to get there?
You need to arrive in the city of Vilcabamba, which is a village located 45km South of Loja in the south of Ecuador. You can take a bus from Loja for approximately $1.40pp taking about 1.5 hours in between many pickups and drop-offs.
Best time to go hiking in Ecuador
Because of its proximity to the equator, you can go hiking in Ecuador all year round. The lowlands are generally quite warm while the mountains and highland regions are much colder. Temperatures can drop below freezing in the mountains. So if you’re planning on climbing, make sure you pack warm clothes and base layers.
Instead of having four distinct seasons, the country’s climate is divided into a wet season and a dry season. It is better to go hiking in the highlands during the dry season, which runs from June to September. This is the best time because you won’t have to worry about it raining too much or delayed hiking expeditions due to bad weather.
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Credits: Fabienne Ziegler // Sylvain Thierry
Written by Clémence Aubry