Hiking Highlands Ecuador
PROGRAM DURATION: 13 DAYS / 12 NIGHTS
Flight to Quito
Meet up at Quito airport and transfer to hotel, 2800 m.
City tour in Quito
Accomodation in Quito, 2800m
Rio Pita waterfall and accommodation at Hacienda Los Mortiños, 3600m
From Quito, we will drive 1.5 hours to the Pita river, which descends from the Cotopaxi volcano. We will follow the river through a narrow valley and Andean forest for 1.5 hours until reaching the impressive Condor Machay waterfall, which translates to “condor’s nest”. After a break and a photo session at the waterfall, we will return to the starting point and continue downstream to the next, even larger, waterfall. Back on the road, our bus will take us to Hacienda Mortiños de Pedregal at 3600 m, 1 hour away. On Day 3, we’ll walk a total of 5 hours at an altitude of 3000m.
Following the Pita river
Condor Machay waterfall
Cotopaxi National Park, 3800 m
From the Hacienda we will enter Cotopaxi National Park for a hike to a small archaeological site in Salitre with excellent views of Cotopaxi volcano. In total, we will walk for 5 hours and observe many wild horses and typical highland birds. The Cotopaxi plateau is expansive and you will enjoy this walk through the National Park. In the afternoon, we will arrive at Tambopaxi-Mountainlodge. The location of this place is unique: at the foothills of Cotopaxi (3750 m).
Tambopaxi-Mountainlodge and Cotopaxi
Cotopaxi Refuge at 4864 m and a trip to the western mountain range
After a hearty breakfast, we will drive up to 4600 m to begin our hike to the Cotopaxi refuge, which will take us 1 hour. At the refuge, we will be very high up on the volcano and close to its glacier! The view from here is dazzling: above us is Ecuador’s most famous volcano and, in the background, the Cotopaxi plateau. Afterwards, our bus will take us to Limpiopungo Lake, a small lake where we will stop to observe local birds like the Andean gull and ducks. In the afternoon we will depart the National Park and travel through the Ecuadorian Highland (paramo) to the Andean village of Isinliví (2800 m), where we will stay in Llullu Llama, a small hotel whose name means “baby llama”. From the lodge we will have a view of the Toachi River canyon, which we will visit the next day.
On the way up to Cotopaxi’s refuge
Surrounding Limpiopungo lake
Llullu Llama lodge
Hike to Chugchilán, 3200m
During the first hour of this hike we will head downhill to the bottom of the Toachi River canyon. Once there, we will follow the river upstream, then cross it and continue on the other side. After a steep section uphill we will reach the small village of Chinaló. Following rural roads, we will finally arrive in Chugchilán, where we will stay in the Mama Hilda guesthouse. During this hike, we will meet local farmers and observe them working in their fields and caring for their livestock.
Hike to Chugchilán at Quilotoa crater lake, 3850m
Today, we will go on one of Ecuador’s most famous hikes: Chugchilán to Quilotoa. First we will descend and cross a small stream, then we will climb up a steep path to the village of San Pedro. The terrain will become sandier and, after a couple of hours, we will arrive at the mesmerizing Quilotoa crater lake! We will follow the edge of the crater for 1.5 hours and, after 6 hours of walking, reach the village of Quilotoa at 3850m where we will spend the night in a basic hotel. This makes for a wonderful, and demanding, day of trekking.
Quilotoa crater lake – a treasure in the Ecuadorian highland
Saturday, Tigua, indigenous market and hike
Every Saturday there’s a traditional, indigenous market in Zumbahua, a nearby town, only a 20 minute drive from Quilotoa. There is also an animal market where local people buy and sell sheep, llamas, cows and pigs and on the main square we will find fruits and vegetables. After visiting the market, we will walk for 3 hours to Tigua, where the bus will be waiting for us and drive another 1.5 hours to La Cienega hacienda, which is more than 300 years old and carries Spanish heritage from colonial times. It boasts a beautiful interior courtyard and gardens.
Toachi Canyon on the way to Zumbahua
Chimborazo National Park
Today we will travel along the Pan-American Highway southward, along the Avenue of the Volcanoes, until reaching the Chimborazo region. At 6000 m, Chimborazo is the highest volcano in Ecuador. After a 3 hour bus ride, we will walk to a small Polylepis forest. Polylepis is a tree native to the Ecuadorian highlands that grows to over 4000 m. From this forest, we will walk for 2 hours through an arid area to our hotel. The Lodge Estrella de Chimborazo is the best mountain lodge in Ecuador and is located at 3950m at the foothills of Chimborazo. Around the lodge you can see alpacas and even hummingbirds!
Estrella de Chimborazo – our lodge at Chimborazo National Park
Refugio Carrel hike, 4850 m
Now acclimatized, we’ll depart the lodge for a pleasant hike through the Totorilla valley to the Chimborazo refuge, located at 4850 m. On the way there we will likely observe many vicuñas that are only found in the Chimborazo National Park. If we are feeling strong enough, we can climb to the Whymper refuge, at 5040m. This is a wonderful 5-6 hour hike in a wonderful place. After this unforgettable day, we will leave the Ecuadorian highlands and head towards the valley of the Patate River, where we will stay at Hacienda Leito at 2500m. Leito is a remodeled hacienda house, located in a fertile, green valley, next to the perfectly conical Tungurahua volcano (5,016m).
Hiking up the Totorilla valley towards Chimborazo
Trekking along Volcano Tungurahua’s slopes
After breakfast we will drive to the touristy town of Baños, about 1 hour away, driving. We will hike along a steep path to the Casa del Arbol, or “tree house”, where you’ll see a great view of Tungurahua volcano and the Baños valley. We will take another trail back to Baños, where we will spend the night. Day 11’s hike involves a 800 meter ascent and descent, but at a much lower altitude. The highest point is the Tree House at 2600m. Baños offers many touristic activities and has a wide variety of hotels and restaurants.
Hike along the smugglers’ trail and return to Quito
After a short 15-minute bus ride, we will take the smugglers’ trail and walk for 2 hours to the “Manto de la novia” waterfall. On this walk you will feel like you are in the Amazon; the vegetation is very lush. We will return by cable car to the other side of the valley, where our bus will be waiting for us. After about 15 minutes on the road, we’ll arrive to the village of Rio Verde, where we will visit the impressive “Pailon de Diablo” waterfall. In the afternoon, we will depart this valley and drive the 4 hours back to Quito.
Transfer to airport
1 hour bu Bus.