Maybe you are an average hiker wishing to get in some high altitude hikes while visiting Quito or maybe you are here training for one of the more serious mountaineering feats, such as Cotopaxi, Cayambe, Chimborazo or Antisana. Either way here are a few options for hiking and enjoying nature within or close enough to have Quito as a base. I would definitely download the Maps.me app and the desired country location as it is offline and shows all of these routes so you can feel confident you stay on trail.
This is the easiest long hike to get to from Quito. I had been to the start of this hike 9 years ago on my first visit to Ecuador. Most start after arriving by TeleferiQo which zips them up about 1000m above Quito. I recall coming to the understanding that the thin air made it really hard to breath and that although I wished to explore it seemed better to just stay put and take in the awesome view of the expansive city below instead. Plus, if you are lucky you could see numerous volcanos too. I was not lucky on either of these two trips unfortunately…This initial experience had me worried for the hike I planned to do now. I was confident I could make it yet I was ready to turn back should I feel the thin air in the same way again.
When I arrived I noticed my level of current fitness and the week of simply staying in Quito had helped dramatically compared to my previous visit. I was happy I was able to continue on the trail which I found to be flat with hills every now and then (which is where I struggled) and it was like that for the first hour or so. When the trail went on the back side of the mountain, it changed a bit. After a short while I arrived to the final push for the summit, a steep hard to follow trail on fairly loose ground. You could see others heading up, everyone pretty much creating their own trail heading to the blue sign. The left side was very sandy and every now and then someone would come running down the soft deep sand. I looked forward to that moment but meanwhile I only managed a bit of elevation gain then had to catch my breath. I proceeded like this for nearly an hour until reaching the summit. You should follow the blue signs here but I decided to try the yellow one at the rock base which was basically rock climbing. I liked the challenge but I was not ready for rock climbing while trying to catch my breath hence I highly recommend following the blue signs. Due to the thin air I had to ensure any light headed feeling dissipated before consciously grabbing for the next rock and continuing. At the summit everyone greeted each other with a pumped fists (covid protcols) in celebration. Here I ate and rested a bit, took photos of the cloudy summit and the pretty Curiquingue bird whose name changed by country as I quickly learned from the Mexican, Peruvian and Ecuadorians I encountered at the top. It took 2.5 hours for me to reach the summit and I was happy I achieved it even if views were slim. On the way back down I stopped at the columpio/swing since it didn´t exist last time and then made my way back home.
To arrive you take the TeleferiQo just off of Mariscal Sucre. There are buses that pass and can drop you off or you can drive or taxi over. You can walk the hefty hill for 10 minutes or so or take the 1.50 taxi (altitude is killer up hill, taxi recommended) the TeleferiQo which costs less then $10 and in 20 minutes takes you up to 3900m. Saving you some 1000m hike but , if preferred, the hike starts by follow the road past the TeleferiQo (past gate). Any way, the views from up here are great! Catch the trail to the left going around the building. It is a couple hour journey to the summit of the popular Rucu Pichincha at 4,700m (or in English it is Ruco). Some headed to Rucu will done helmet and harness…they are headed to the peak via ¨Paso a la Muerte¨ which is only for experienced climbers and is best done with a guide (not for the general hiker).
This is an extension of the above Rucu trek that leads to the other two main peaks of the volcanic chain, Padre Encantado and Guagua, the highest. I decided to do this after a few weeks as part of my training for Cotopaxi. I didn´t want to go out of town to climb but I wanted something new. This was perfect. This time I went as fast as I could to the summit of Rucu to see if I had improved. I passed a ton of people and groups this time as it was Saturday. It seemed like the whole city was up here hiking! I impressed myself when I noticed I shaved 30 minutes off my initial Rucu summit attempt. It was less cloudy this day but I wasted no time at the top before heading off to the new section with a plan to make it to Guagua. As soon as I popped onto the other side of the rocks and headed down the trail I became ecstatic. The clouds had cleared and before me were all the Pichinchas visible. Everything was new and the contrasting colors were pretty fantastic. Obviously, the view was short lived but for the better since I had a long trail ahead of me and I couldn´t waste too much time gawking and taking photos. This side was also sandy and the route down to the flatter part of the trail was quite steep. Enough people take this trail so you can see the fine line etched into the sand of the trail well ahead…as long as clouds aren´t too low. This trail was amazing and I was sooo happy I decided to do it. It was flat for a long time with a small hill every now and then. Most of the trail you are hiking near the 4500m mark so it isn´t until you add in the peaks that you get any real hefty elevation.
I felt I only had enough energy and time to do one extra peak besides Rucu so I made my way to Guagua, which means baby in Spanish and Quechua too I believe. On approach to Guagua you can see the main route that circles the other side and passes by the refugio and the sandy route that looks more direct but less used up the back side. I stayed on the main path since I wanted to visit the refugio to ask some questions about staying there and well my plan was to take the sandy route on the way down to kind of do a loop. The area near Guagua is also popular with mountain bikers since there is a dirt road leading up to the refugio and from it access to tons of trails for bikes. At the refugio I saw many people and cars up for a weekend visit to the crater and cross of Guagua Volcano. Thankfully it was a gradual climb up to 4784m from the refugio and I was rewarded with the peak all to myself. Nearing the top I smelled a bit of sulfur (azufre) which confused me but learned later that this is an active volcano and then the smell made complete sense. So much for knowing where I was hiking! Any who, I stayed a bit and climbed on the rocks some to get the the other parts of the rim. Clouds never cleared to see the crater, but then again I never really knew it was there lol…so I headed down. This time down the sandy route short cutting back to the main trail…
I laid on a rock resting in the sun for a bit before taking the same route back to the TeleferiQo which made for a very long day…some 7 hours out hiking pretty much non-stop. Route back was just as pretty but rain started to threaten me toward the end. Gliding down the sand of Rucu was a blast with long strides and heels dug deep down at each soft landing making the descent a lot faster and much easier on the legs. The same occurred down Guagua but it was not quite as smooth. By the way, I got lucky and the actual rain didn´t come until I was at the bottom of the TeleferiQo. A great day out in the mountains for sure!
To access this trail, cross the rocks just below Rucu´s summit (follow along the rocks). There is a spot to jump over and continue. You can do multiple peaks in one day if you start early enough. I loved the extended trail a lot! The beauty of this extended route is you encounter fewer people on the back trail. Remember that Guagua is still an active volcano and there is a refugio (hut) here you can stay at (4550m) for $5. The number I have to give a heads up is Hugo at +593 984090956. You could technically take a taxi up here but the cost is pretty steep, maybe $25, from the town plaza near the base of the road (half cost to mirador/viewpoint a few kms below).
This was actually my first hike in Quito because I was staying off Mañosca and could just walk up the street, cross the pedestrian bridge and quickly get some elevation without it being tons. I actually never made it all the way to the Antennas because I started too late in the day. The first part was very steep but once past the gate it was all switchbacks that eased on up the hill with peak-a-boo views of Quito every now and then. I got back after 7 pm as it just turned dark which if it was any other area I would never suggest doing since the city after 7-8 pm becomes a ghost town and gets quite sketchy in many parts.
Another hike off the Mariscal Sucre (with Mañosca) that follows the road through the neighborhood of Iñaquito Alto all the way up the mountain. Walk through the neighborhood and enter a cobblestone road that eventually turns into a dirt road. Take the road all the way up to the antennas you can see from the city (this route/neighborhood felt completely safe). You will reach a gate at some point that says do not enter but they allow pedestrians practicing sports to access. The gate is always open (entry on left)… I asked before entering so no worries about crossing this gate. If you go weekday there is literally nobody and you have it all to yourself. Weekend I’m sure there are trail runners, mountain bikers and people hiking. If it rained a lot recently or is raining take caution as it appears the area gets plenty of landslides. The route does connect up to the Pichinchas eventually if you keep going, although I never attempted, I was just told it is possible. From the street to the antennas is about 1000m gain (antennas at 3920m) and just under 13 km long.
A popular hiking area near Cumbaya/Tumbaco (30-40 minutes from Quito). It is not very high altitude (3194m) like most of these others I mention but it is suitable for all levels of hikers including kids and provides a lovely view of the surrounding area and mountains on clear days. There are tons of trails that lead up to the peak and go around the area. I didn’t hike here but I really wanted to make it over because the peak looked awesome. There are two trails: to the summit follow Guangopolo route and to the cross follow El Tinga. Time needed is at least 2.5 hours to reach summit. Both are well marked trails. To arrive you need to take a bus toward Valle de los Chillos from La Marin or El Trébol. Route is to Alangasi or La Merced and get off at Angamarca or El Tingo. You will need to get to Bizcocho Cayambeño off the main road and walk to the end of Gaspar de Carvajal to access the trails (use maps.me app).
There are multiple routes to this summit and I think I took the longest one. I walked from the Reserva. It was a very pretty hike as you go through so many different temperate zones but if you go this way and plan to summit you need at least 5 hours to reach the summit. I arrived by 10 am to the gate thinking this was the same 3 hour summit and in the end only got to the smaller peak, waved and walked back down lol. An highly enjoyable yet steep route that takes you through the diverse fauna until you reach the rocky part was quite unique. I was not expecting to find moderately steep rock climbing routes here but they have ropes set that you can use to climb up various sections. I thought this was really fun but it did take me awhile to get some courage to use the first rope I found being as I was alone. Would have been nice to make the summit 200m higher but it was 2 hours from that peak so I guess next time I´ll try a different route instead.
Go early, best any day but a clear day would be spectacular. You can access trail from a few points. Most will go from Amaguaña (an hour bus ride -so slow – from Quito´s Playa de Marin Station). At the center of town you should get off the bus and get a truck taxi (camioneta), either across the street or in the main plaza…or call +593 22878622 and order one (in Spanish, ¨una camioneta en la plaza por favor¨). Ask them to take you either to ¨mil gradas¨ or La Reserva/Refugio. The Reserva is a cheaper ride but much farther walk to the summit. The other way via ¨mil gradas¨ is shorter since will already be higher up and most definitely reach the peak in a few hours. Lastly, you can also go with the Secret Garden Hostel.
If you enter via the Reserva and want to enter early simply email email@example.com in Spanish at least a day before and they will open the gate for you, otherwise go during normal opening hours which I believe is 8:00 am to 4:00 pm. You can also call for a taxi truck (camioneta) as mentioned above or call directly to Robinson at +593 99 369 7694 who drove me. It may be best to give a time for them to return for you to save time but otherwise there is signal for calls.
Imbabura is likely my favorite hike. Not saying it was easy but I did do it after Cotopaxi Summit. I choose to do this hike even though I hiked Cotopaxi already because I felt like I was revisiting experiences from my trip 9 years prior. On that trip I had visited Lake San Pablo just below the mountain at sunset and saw the volcano clearly. I recall saying I wanted to hike there but later learned I was confusing it with the popular Quilotoa hike. On this trip I felt like everything I was doing near Quito was a revisit but in a different way so I had this massive urge to do Imbabura too. I didn´t make it before Cotopaxi because Ibarra the city you access it from is more than a 2 hour bus journey from Quito so instead I went later as a weekend away staying nearby in Cotacachi (very cute town) to avoid the busy town of Otavalo.
It rained the days I was visiting the area but I still went to hike. Turns out once above the clouds it was not rainy but actually nice. The hike up is long and steep…I can see why many come here to prepare for Cotopaxi. It is all pampas paramo grass and so steep a good chunk of the way that many go off trail when it rains to find traction on the grass. I did from time to time but tried to avoid doing so because it really kills the vegetation. Trail maintenance with steps would be better here but that may take years. If raining or wet I recommend walking in the flow of water as it was actually less slippery and quicker! Now if your shoes aren´t the most water proof then I understand why people would avoid this and go on the grass. Thankfully farther up once at the rocky section you have more confidence stepping. I didn´t have much of a view until I got to the rockier section or forest, as I think it was called, which was short lived and eventually changed to mostly rock and potentially awesome views. From the first ridge to the first summit there was some rock climbing involved and it was easier to get lost. You really had to look for the worn out rocks others had used. I made my way without too much problem and it was clear to me when I was off path…you know since the only option became down or a cliff…so go slow, hold the rocks before continuing and be careful. By the way, I put my helmet on at this section of rock climbing and you should too. I reached the first summit, where I guess many stop for the day because the actual summit is still one hour away along the sometimes narrow rim of Imbabura. I said ¨hi¨ to a group, got a photo just in case I too decided to turn back and then off I went. I was glad I continued as this was the most enjoyable part of the trail for me. The trail is pretty straight forward and has little elevation gain so I found it lovely. There is one last rock climb segment before the maximum summit. I took it slowly to be safe and that was smart because I quickly found a ledge and realized I was off trail by a tiny bit. Reminder: You will be on a trail along the rim of the crater for most of this part. It is quite exposed to the elements; should any wind be around be extra careful! I was ecstatic approaching the summit to Imbabura because the Ecuadorean flag was waving. Mind you the flag was quite beat up from the wind but still it was awesome to encounter it on a summit in Ecuador. I literally felt I was on top of Ecuador…yet only at 4640m.
To arrive you need to first get to Ibarra (best to stay a night) then take a taxi to the bridge leading to the mountain and finally a truck taxi from there up to the trailhead. Each segment should cost $5 (don’t let them charge you more!). You can try calling Luis at +593 99 017 9275 who speaks only Spanish but lives close to the bridge and was a very nice man who I highly recommend, he might even be able to pick you up at the bus terminal in Ibarra. Most people went in groups but I went solo. It was fine alone as the route was fairly easy to follow (with signs) and the climbing parts were fine as long as you have basic skills and go slow near the top to avoid issues along the edges. I would recommend doing this on a weekend as there will be others there just in case help is needed. A helmet should be used here. This is a long hike so start as early as possible (I took nearly 7 hours).
This is a 13km / 8 mile hike along the rim of a volcano that has a lake in the middle. It is not very high in elevation and it is strikingly beautiful! This is a national park but entry is free. You need to get to Cotacachi via Otovalo and then take a regular taxi from there for $5. If it is not weekend you may want to tell the driver an estimated time to fetch you again.
Any who, I got there on a Monday at the hour it opened, which is 8:00 am with a plan to run the rim but the National Park was closed. Turns out that due to Covid all National Parks were closed because over the weekend too many people had visited and the government decided all areas needed to be closed and disinfected for a day. That day was Monday. ;( This made zero sense to me or in reality anyone else but that was the truth and I couldn´t enter. This is an outdoor area surrounding a lake! I talked it over with my taxi driver and decided I would just run down to town from there, some 14 km, and now I didn´t need a ride back.
Obviously, I still wanted to see the laguna so as I was running I looked for paths to get up there. Eventually, I found one that lead to the maintenance road around the crater but still had to find a path that wasn´t too steep where I could climb up. Success! After nearly 2 miles (3 km) of trying I saw the beautiful crater and it´s lake! I was a bit scared to run the rim now knowing the NP was closed and I might be seen and caught so it took me a long while of admiring the laguna to gain enough courage to start running…of which from where my location it was all up hill…so I knew I would most likely just end up walking…which might be even easier for me to be seen. I did go and I spent a few miles running the rim which was splendid as I went through narrow dug out passages with lots of vegetation, encountered unique flowers I´d not seen yet in Ecuador and had great views of the crater sprinkled in every so often. I eventually found another spot to drop down onto the maintenance road and steadily made my way back to town on a dirt back road arriving just in time for hotel check-out and having never been caught! I call this, winning!
Didn’t make it here but seems like a short hike with wonderful views and some altitude (4263m). If you plan to do Imbabura and stay in the area this would be a good option to also include. Wish I had more time and better weather because from photos I could tell that views were epic and I also read that there is more hiking to add on from here, if desired. You can walk around part of the Laguna de Mojanda and up for instance Cerro Negro (or Yanaurcu in Quechua), the other high peak (4260m) here. You can reach here by taxi from Otavalo.
This was my first summit at 5000m! Illinizas is a very rocky double peak mountain just outside of Chaupi. I was more excited to climb this peak then I was Cotopaxi because my real goal for the past few years was to hike a peak at this elevation. This hike takes you up to 5100m. It was a steady hike to the refugio from the parking lot of about 2 hours of which views were, of course, clouds. Earlier is almost always better in the Andean Mountains…aka before 10 am. ha and we arrived around that time. From the refugio it was a mix of hiking and rock climbing. Knowing the route is smart since there are some parts that have big drops and thin passage. Once at the summit you are greeted by a cross and you guessed it, clouds, ha on most days. We stayed a long while hoping to catch a view of at least the tiny glacier lake in between the two peaks and maybe the other peak. We did get the lake and some snowy parts of the peak as we ate and waited. I was happy to have reached my goal of 5000m and would be satisfied just with this but of course I had signed up to attempt Cotopaxi 2 days later! The route down was on the back side of the peak, a soft gravel we could basically run down. Of course, this is my favorite part of hiking volcanos because it is soo quick and fun to glide on down through the deep sandy rocks on the heels of our feet. Two hours later we were back at the car and I was struck with a massive headache due to the altitude that lasted until the next morning. Taking aspirin is advised after descending at these high elevations as a just in case to help combat this symptom (I did so after descending Cotopaxi for sure and I was fine).
You may or may not be able to do this without a guide. I went with a guide, many others do too, but I think you would be fine without if you have experience and confidence on rocky terrain but maybe don´t do it alone. At times the path is a bit hard to follow and you will likely need to prove your skills and sign a waiver. From the parking area it is close to 2 hours hike to the refugio, then another 1.5-2 hours to the peak. You can stay in the hut at 4700m to acclimate but it books up quick in high season so best to call ahead for a bed. Illiniza Sur definitely needs a guide as it is more technical and often with snow. This is a National Park and entry is $10.
Multi Day trails
Further afield is the Quiotoa loop which is quite popular. Most people start in Sigchos which is reachable from Quito in a day but I would recommend staying in Latacunga as a better option to make as a base. The loop is generally a 3 day trek but in reality you can do it however you want with the time you have. Either way hiking a portion of it would be fantastic and obviously visiting the Laguna de Quilotoa is a must. You can camp but most stay in the nice hostels (little hotels) in each town you pass. I took a small bag, like you would use for school, with the basics and that was enough for warm clothes, waterproof gear, change of clothes, food and water.
I started this hike quite late in the day, arriving to Sigchos at 3 pm then hiking for just under 3 hours with the last hour or so in the rain to arrive at Isinlivi. I stayed at Taita Cristobal alone and it was nice but later heard that everyone else was down the street at Llullu Llama Lodge and that it was amazing…I guess I missed the memo… The next day I made my way to Chugchilán and finally the third day to Quilotoa. Most catch a bus and head back to Latacunga but I decided to stay the night and acclimate to the altitude longer by including an sunrise hike up to Monte Juyende (3,930m), the highest point along the rim of Quilotoa. I enjoyed this three day trek a lot until I arrived to the town of Quilotoa which is overly touristy (it even has an Atm now) and not one bit my vibe but I stayed at Martita´s House a bit further down the road and was very happy. More details Quilotoa Loop
Other multi day treks you might consider in Ecuador are Condor Trek (3 summits) which you need to do with a guide and takes 5 days or the trek to Mindo from Llao. I only did Quilotoa so not much knowledge about these others.
Other Useful Information
I used this website to get most information about many of the hikes available that you can do on your own. If you want more details I would definitely check out the link above because it explains most steps of any simple hike out of Quito that most tourists would want to do (best, straight-forward info I found in English).
Want to hike with locals and have some flexibility of time, especially a weekend? Many agencies offer group training hikes every weekend. This helps keeps costs lower plus it is more fun in groups, you can meet some cool Ecuadorians this way and might even learn a lot. There are many groups but you can try looking at these first: Our Trip Ecuador, Condor Trek, Kuntur Adventures, RMI Expeditions and Greenstep. Check their websites or social media accounts for updated information on monthly outings then write their whatsapp (no guarantees they speak English…although you never know until you try) to sign up and join for a weekend outing. By the way, most companies do have bilingual guides doing these group tours.
You might also join Facebook´s Mountaineering Group in Quito. Search Andinismo Montañismo desde Quito – Ecuador on Facebook. It is an open group and there is additional information on group trips, mountaineering gear, trail running and celebrations of summits too! Join and enjoy the information specific to the mountaineering community in Quito.
Buses for the South leave from Quitumbe (transfer is at La Marin station); for example, to get to Illinizas, Quilotoa/Latacunga or Cotopaxi. Buses for the North leave from Carcelen bus terminal; for example, to get to Imbabura/Fuya Fuya/Cuicocha. If you take a Trole bus to reach these stations anticipate adding at least an hour to your trip. If taxi, uber etc maybe 30 minutes depending on traffic.
If you are missing equipment for anything outdoors you can buy last minute in Quito at Camping Sports off Avenida Cristóbal Colón or try at Los Alpes two blocks South of Plaza Foch in El Mariscal neighborhood. You can also rent most equipment from Condor Trek, simply call or send a Whatsapp to +593 99 959 6083 (Polo´s number). He should speak English.
If you need a good sports massage try at MedActiva off Avenida Amazonas (near Parque Carolina) +593 98 414 3919. Should be about $25 for an hour. They also provide physical therapy and more.
As far as guides for the bigger mountains I did a group trip with Our Trip Ecuador and had a blast, Patricio (Pato) knows a lot of information and is a wonderful guide. He also offers rock climbing, paragliding and kayak trips. You might also whatsapp these freelance guides who have credentials to summit and see their availability: Ramiro Garrido +593 99 837 9479; Gustavo Cevallos +593 99 802 4469; Patricio Guaras +593 98 245 9688; Diego Castillo +593 99 850 7987; Mauricio Beltran +593 98 401 0531.. If doing Cotopaxi, Cayambe or Chimborazo (highest here at 6263m) know that a guide can only take 2 people max in their group, as a hard rule. You may get cheaper tours if you look at agencies out of Latacunga or Baños. Quito is high, but the mountains here are wicked high (close to 20K feet) and you really should train and prepare for these big peaks. Soroche or altitude sickness is common, don´t say I didn´t warn you!