Where to trek in Ecuador?
The Northern Andes form the backbone up through the middle of Ecuador and offer some wonderful hiking opportunities in the Cotopaxi and Chimborazo National Parks, centred on the mountains of the same name. Chimborazo is the highest mountain in Ecuador and the closest place on earth to the sun, whilst Cotopaxi is a volcano which until early 2016 was showing signs of volcanic activity but has now returned to dormancy. Our treks are generally with a very experienced private guide, and can therefore be tailored to suit individual preferences.
We would strongly recommend starting any trekking holiday with a stay at Hacienda Zuleta, a beautiful and historic private estate located two hours north of Quito at an altitude of 2,900 meters in the Ecuadorean Andes. The 2,100 hectares contain various private trails which are perfect for acclimatising to the altitude. There is also a good chance of seeing condors or perhaps a spectacled bear, both of which are the subject of research projects based at Hacienda Zuleta. A short distance away a series of trails connecting the three Mojanda Lakes (altitude 3,714 meters). Dominated by Fuya-fuya and Yanahurco mountains, these trails are a good introduction to the Andes, with wonderful views and the comforts of a top hotel at the end of the day.
Another attractive hike within driving distance of Hacienda Zuleta is around Cuicocha Crater Lake, a circular walk of 20 km which takes approximately 5 hours, located close to the volcano Cotatachi.
Pasochoa is an old volcano located an hour and a half south of Quito and is an alternative hike which is good for acclimatisation before hitting the more rigorous hikes around Cotapaxi and Chimborazo. The altitude is 4,200 meters, but at 12 km the hike can be done in 4 to 5 hours.
Our trek in the Cotapaxi National Park starts on the shores of the stunning Limpiopungo Lagoon and leads up to the summit of Rumiñahui Mountain, from where you get fantastic views of Cotapaxi, one of the world’s highest active volcanoes and with a classic conical shape. Another trek is up to the well-known (and popular) refuge hut at 4,800 meters and then on up to the glacier. The return trip to the parking area is only 3 hours or so and is therefore suited to a shorter day. Alternatively, longer and more rigorous treks can be arranged. A comfortable hotel from where to base yourself is San Agustin de Callo.
Chimborazo is an impressive mountain topping 6,200 meters (over 20,000 feet) and various routes to the top are tackled by experienced mountaineers. As with other mountains in Ecuador, all climbers must be accompanied by an accredited guide. A good hike is up to the second hut, Whymper Refuge at 5,000 meters.
About 30km west of Cuenca is the El Cajas Lagoons Reserve, an area with over 270 lakes and varied flora and fauna. We would recommend a 3 to 4 hour hike in the morning, followed by a picnic lunch and then return for an afternoon at leisure in Cuenca.