Best Hiking Adventures in Ecuador

Daniel DawsonJanuary 14, 2019

Nestled along South America’s Pacific Coast, sitting south of Colombia and northwest of Peru, Ecuador is a small yet incredibly diverse little country.

The combination of the Andes Mountains in the east and center of the country along with the El Niño current in the Pacific Ocean, gives Ecuador, which is roughly the size of Italy, a unique climate and incredibly diverse array of natural landscapes.

Hiking and trekking are a few of the best ways to get out and explore this exquisite countryside. Cross rivers through tropical rainforests or hike along high plateaus with unobstructed views, sometimes in the same day.

Ecuador is also world-renowned for its stunning volcanoes. Chimborazo, Cotopaxi and Cayambe are the three most popular, making for great hikes in their foothills and flanks, as well as amazing mountaineering trips.

In spite of Ecuador’s small size, there is no shortage of things to see here. Head out into the sierra or stick to the coastal plains. Either way you will enjoy seeing things that you might not find anywhere else.

There are so many possibilities when visiting Ecuador that in order to help with your decision making, we’ve taken the time to compile a list of the top spots and some other useful information. This will hopefully help you when planning for your next hiking adventure to Ecuador!

 

3 Reasons to Go on a Hiking Tour in Ecuador

 

Ecuador is one of 17 so-called megadiverse countries in the world.  Photo courtesy of Edgar Parra.

Stunning scenery

Ecuador is gorgeous and encompasses an amazing amount of diverse scenery in comparison with its small size. In the south the country boasts a desert-like coastline, in the center and farther east are the snow-capped Andes Mountains as well as the world’s tallest active volcanoes. The very eastern it of the countries is part of the Amazon basin and covered in spectacular tropical rainforest.

Incredible biodiversity

Ecuador is considered one of the 17 megadiverse countries in the world. What this means is it has more different types of native plants and animals than nearly anywhere else on Earth! As you go, keep your eyes peeled for the spectacled bear as well as any one of the 1.6000 bird species in the country. That’s 15 percent of the world’s known bird species in one place!

Amazing exercise

Nothing beats walking with a view and few places offer better walking, or views, than Ecuador. Whether you opt to hike the flank of a volcano to get some views down back into the surrounding valley or head out for a hut-to-hut trek along the ancient Incan route to Ingapirca Ruins, there is no shortage of territory to explore and amazing sights to be discovered. Exploring on foot will give you the best idea of what this lovely country is all about.

Where to Go?

 

 

1| Trek in Cotopaxi National Park

 

Stay in traditional-looking hostels or camp as you explore Cotopaxi National Park. Photo courtesy of Fernando Iza.

Situated just to the south of the Ecuadorian capital, Cotopaxi National Park is home to one of the world’s tallest active volcanoes as well as stunning wildlife and incredible views.

Getting to the park, you will drive through the Avenue of Volcanoes, which will just whet your appetite for what’s to come next. The park serves as a hiker’s paradise with various different options stretch from a single day to most of a week.

The park, which is named after the volcano that towers over it, is incredibly green with forests and lush grasslands all over. Hiking through these spots is the best way to spot the 100 different bird, including the rare Andean condor, as well as the wild horses that call this park home.

A few of the highlights of this trip include hiking around Limpiopungo Lagoon, which offers spectacular views of the park and surrounding mountains.

Another popular spot is hiking along the Pita River Canyon, which affords excellent vistas of waterfalls and takes you through a lovely section of the Andean forest as well as along the banks of the Pita River.   

For longer trips, heading into the Toachi Canyon, which was formed after an eruption of the Quilotoa volcano and trekking north to the lagoon of the same name is yet another. Here there are great views down into the canyon as well as of the massive volcano that created it.  


In brief:

  • Area: Cotopaxi Province, Napo Province and Pichincha Province.
  • Starting point: Latacunga, a small town 50 kilometers south of Quito. However, most guides will opt to meet you in Quito and arrange transport to the start if the trip.
  • How to get there: Mariscal Sucre International Airport (UIO) is Quito’s main international airport and the starting point for most trips to Ecuador. Direct flights arrive here from several major North American and European airports. If guides do not offer transport to the start of the trips, buses can be found from Quitumbe Station, in the southern section of capital to Latacunga. This route takes about 1.5 hours.
  • Difficulty level: Easy to Intermediate, depending on the route.
  • Duration: 1 to 5 days
  • Top Trips: Full-day trek in Cotopaxi National Park; Hiking to Cotopaxi volcano area in 3 days; 5-day hiking trip in the Ecuadorian Andes

2| Condor Trek

 

The Condor trek in Ecuador
If you are up for a challenge, with some great views along the way, then the Condor Trek is calling your name. Photo courtesy of Edgar Parra.

Sitting just to the east of Quito, the Condor Trek is a three to four day trip, depending on how quickly you go, that takes you through the heart of the Cayambe-Coca National Park and the Reserva Ecologica Antisana.

After arriving in Papallacta, you generally make a quick transfer to El Tambo Village, where you will gear up your pack animals and head out onto the trail.

Along the way, you will hike over high-altitude plains and through humid lowland rainforest as you head from campsite to campsite each night. The trek is named after the Andean Condor and as you go through the park and reserve, you are likely to see all sorts of different types of wildlife.

Over the course of the three or four days, you will pass by Laguna del Volcan at 3.800 meters in elevation, crossing streams and rivers as you go. You will also head by Santa Lucia Lake, at roughly 4.500 meters above sea level, enjoying stunning views of the Antisana Glacier as you go.

The trip finishes up by passing the Mica Lagoon and getting one last, long look out over this beautiful scenery before heading back down into Quito.


In brief:

  • Area: Cayambe-Coca National Park and Reserva Ecologica Antisana
  • Starting point: Papallacta, a small town about 70 kilometers east of Quito. However, most guides will opt to meet you in Quito and arrange transport to the start if the trip.
  • How to get there: Mariscal Sucre International Airport (UIO) is Quito’s main international airport and the starting point for most trips to Ecuador. Direct flights arrive here from several major North American and European airports. If guides do not offer transport to the start of the trips, buses can be found from Quito’s Terminal Terrestre Cumandá in the city’s southwest. The ride from here takes about 2 hours.
  • Difficulty level: Intermediate to sustained, depending on how quickly you go.
  • Duration: 3 to 4 days
  • Top Trips: Condor Trek 3-day guided program; The condor Trek in three unforgettable days; Condor Trek: 4-day guided hiking tour

3| Piñan Trek

 

The Piñan trail is renowned for its stunning array of diverse landscapes and terrains. Photo courtesy of Edgar Parra.

Located north of Quito in the Reserva Cotacachi Cayapas, the Piñan Trek is a challenging, but scenic traverse, through a diverse array of landscapes.

Once you have arrived at the starting point, the trek begins with a quick hike up to the summit of Churoloma Mountain, at 3.600 meters. From here you’ll have perfect views of the cities of Otavalo and Ibarra as well as the famous Cayambe Volcano.

The following day, the path narrows as you head through an Andean Forest and make your way up before descending to the banks of the Yanacocha Lagoon, at 3.900 meters.

The trip finishes up with an ascent of Yanahurco del Piñan, at 4.535 meters, from which you will get great views of some of Ecuador’s tallest glaciated peaks. You will then head back down to Piedra Blanca at 3.900 meters, before heading finishing up the trek in the village of Pichanchi.


In brief:

  • Area: Reserva Cotacachi Cayapas
  • Starting point: Otavalo, a small town 90 kilometers north of Quito. However, most guides will opt to meet you in Quito and arrange transport to the start if the trip.
  • How to get there: Mariscal Sucre International Airport (UIO) is Quito’s main international airport and the starting point for most trips to Ecuador. Direct flights arrive here from several major North American and European airports. If guides do not offer transport to the start of the trips, buses can be found from Terminal Carcelén in the north of Quito and head to Otavalo. This whole process takes between two hours.
  • Difficulty level: Intermediate to difficult, depending on how quickly you go.
  • Duration:  4 to 5 days
  • Top Trips: Piñan 4-day guided trek; Piñan 5-day guided hiking traverse

4| Quilotoa Lagoon

 

The Quilotoa Lagoon was formed after a volcano imploded during an eruption. Talk about explosive scenery. Photo courtesy of Rafael Martinez.

Situated within the borders of the stunningly scenic Cotopaxi National Park, Quilotoa Lagoon sits in a caldera created by a volcanic explosion.

It was formed by the collapse of the nearby volcano, which bears the same name, after a large eruption.

Climbing up the volcano is just one of the many scenic hikes around the caldera. Arriving at the 3.800 meter high lookout on the volcano’s flank is what most hikers do when they come here.

From this viewpoint, you will usually head around the lake, which is three kilometers wide and makes for a nice and laid back day or two of hiking. There’s also an option to head from the viewpoint down into the crater and to the base of the lake, which gives you a new appreciation for the raw power of these active volcanoes.

Some guides may use this as a starting off point before heading to other parts of the Cotopaxi National Park. Both the Toachi Canyon and Limpiopungo Lagoon are right nearby and make for excellent hiking destinations too.


In brief:

  • Area: Cotopaxi National Park, Cotopaxi Province.
  • Starting point: Latacunga, a small town 50 kilometers south of Quito. However, most guides will opt to meet you in Quito and arrange transport to the start if the trip.
  • How to get there: Mariscal Sucre International Airport (UIO) is Quito’s main international airport and the starting point for most trips to Ecuador. Direct flights arrive here from several major North American and European airports. If guides do not offer transport to the start of the trips, buses can be found from Quitumbe Station, in the southern section of capital to Latacunga. This route takes about 1.5 hours.
  • Difficulty level: Easy to intermediate
  • Duration: 1 to 2 days, but some guides offer longer trips that head farther into the national park.
  • Top trips: Hike Quilotoa Lagoon and Cotopaxi National Park; Quilotoa Lake guided hiking day; Quilotoa Lagoon ands Shalala Lodge 2-day hike

5| Inca Trail

 

Ingapirca Ruins in Ecuador
The Temple of the Sun is the most important building in the Ingapirca Ruins and is positioned so that on both solstices, sunlight floods through the door. Photo courtesy of Edgar Parra.

Running through central Ecuador the Inca trail leading to the Ingapirca ruins is one of the most known treks in the entire country.

Depending on your starting point, the trek takes three to five days as you wind through mountain passes and down into the valleys below. The majority of the trail sits above 3.000 meters in elevation with the highest point being 4.200 meters.

As you head through this remote stretch of mountains and over high parno plains, you will get to enjoy stunning views of the surrounding snow-capped peaks, Andean forests and remote lakes before arriving at the famous ruins.

Ingapirca, or Inca Walls as it is translated in English, was built about 500 years ago on top of the site where the priests used to worship the moon. Today, it is one of the finest samples of imperial Inca construction in Ecuador.

The trek finishes with a visit to the ancient city of Cuenca, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This trip does perhaps the best job in all of Ecuador of combining the country’s jaw-dropping beauty with its ancient history.


In brief:

  • Area: Cañar province
  • Starting point: Achupallas. However, some guides will opt to meet you in the slightly larger city of Riobamba.
  • How to get there: Mariscal Sucre International Airport (UIO) is Quito’s main international airport and the starting point for most trips to Ecuador. Direct flights arrive here from several major North American and European airports. From here, you will transfer to the airport at Riobamba (SERB). From here you can take the train or bus to your starting point.
  • Difficulty level: Intermediate
  • Duration: 3 to 5 days
  • Top Trips: Inca Trail to Ingapirca Ruins; Inca Trail to Ingapirca hiking tour; Inca Trail 5-day historical adventure

When is the Best Time to Go There?

 

Due to its location on the equator, most guides offer trips to Ecuador year-round. In the lowlands, the country has spring-like weather, with average daily temperatures in the mid to upper-20s. Temperatures will drop as you increase elevation and reach below freezing towards the top of some of the taller mountains.

Instead of the four traditional seasons, Ecuador has two: the wet and dry seasons. The dry season is a bit better for hiking trips as this time of year is pretty dry and you do not have to worry about being rained on or having to wait for inclement weather to pass.

The dry season generally lasts from about June to September.

 

How Much Does a Guided Trip Cost?

 

Feel like you’re on top of the world anytime of year in Ecuador. Photo courtesy of Ecuadorian Alpine Institute.

How much a hiking trip to Ecuador costs depends on a whole host of factors. These include how many people are going on the trip, how long the trip lasts for and what is included.

However, one-day hiking trips generally start from about $150 per person for a group of two and include the guide’s fee, park entrance fees and transport during the trip.

For longer trips expect to spend anywhere from $500 for three days of trekking and staying in hostels. This price generally includes the guide’s fee, accommodations, all meals during the trip and transport during the trip.

All guides price their trips differently. Be sure to check what is included as well as ask for a price quote prior to completion of booking.

What Else to Do in Ecuador?

 

While there is plenty of hiking in Ecuador that could keep you busy for months, if not years, don’t limit your horizons!

There are an abundance of outdoor activities in this picturesque and surprisingly diverse little country. Trail running or mountain biking through the valleys that connect the country’s famous volcanoes and mountains is quite popular.

Take hiking to the next level and go out on a mountaineering expedition up in the Andes. While this activity is not for the faint of heart, the country contains several of the best mountain climbing trips for beginners in the whole of the Andes! Ice climbing, which is often involved in mountaineering here, is another big draw.


If climbing an Ecuadorian volcano is on your bucket list, read our guides for climbing Chimborazo, Cotopaxi and Cayambe.


Does anything beat views of mountains and glaciers? When you have this view in person, it’s hard to answer no. Photo courtesy of Fernando Iza.

 

So what are you waiting for? Book now for the adventure of a lifetime and head out for a hiking trip in the stunning scenery of upland Ecuador!

 

 

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