In a country that has such diverse landscapes and with such a welcoming culture, it’s impossible not to fall in love with Ecuador. I you want to go trekking in Ecuador, you will never be too far from a hiking trail in Ecuador, and with each trek being more beautiful than the last, how are you supposed to choose the best trek for you? Whether you’re after a quick morning jaunt around a crater lake or you’re seeking a multi-day trek through the Andean mountain range, here is a list of the best hikes in Ecuador.
This is a multi-day hike in Ecuador, where you will pass through beautiful rainforest terrain between each evening campsite. The hike ranges in elevation, some of it through lowlands and some as high as Santa Lucia Lake, which sits at a staggering 4,500 m. The scenery ranges from lush greenery to huge glaciers, giving you a wide range of landscapes to experience. Arrive in Papallacta,then head to the village of El Tambo, to begin your trek. The route finishes with the Mica Lagoon before heading back into Quito city. This is one of Ecuador’s top hikes and is often said to be the country’s most beautiful trek. Boasting magnificent views of the Andean region, the hike meanders through three gorgeous ecological reserves: Cotopaxi National Park, the Antisana volcano, and Coca-Cayambe Reserve, peaking at the base of Sincholagua Volcano at 4,500 meters high.
If you’re hiking in Ecuador, you must check out Lake Cuicocha. Only an hour or so away from the town of Otavalo is a beautiful crater lake that makes for a perfect day hike in Ecuador. It’s a four-hour trip around the lake, and there’s plenty to look at. From the two islands nestled in the middle of the lake, that local people call "guinea pigs", to the region’s biodiverse flora and fauna (keep your eyes peeled for beautiful exotic butterflies), you’ll be glad you carved out some time for this stunning trek. Though it’s not a long trek, start early to wrap up before the sun gets too hot. Because this lake is situated quite high, be sure to have enough water, snacks, and a rain jacket in case of a sudden shower.
This is a small village in the province of Napo, northern Ecuador. It sits at an impressive altitude of 3300 meters—a city in the clouds! The region is well known for volcanic hot springs, and the wealth of wild mammal life in the area makes this a very unique place to hike in Ecuador. Watch out for possums, weasels, and the rare pampas cat. Back in the town, there are quaint hostels, cozy restaurants, and the well-known Termas thermal resort, a hot springs spa perfect for relaxation after a day of trekking. Boiled trout caught fresh is a common local dish; be sure to sample this while you’re here to taste the local cuisine.
If you’ve been hanging out for a jungle trek on your Ecuador vacation, this one is for you. Yasuní National Park is definitely tricky to get to, but given that the Amazon is one of the most biologically diverse regions on the planet, it will be worth the journey. Tourism here is well-managed, so tour groups and guides are available to ensure your safety and the park’s preservation. You’ll see animals you’ve probably only seen on a screen, like toucans, parrots, spider monkeys, and anacondas.
The largely-unvisited Sangay National Park occupies a hefty territory in the middle of Ecuador. From extinct volcanoes to crashing waterfalls and lush, sweeping valleys, this national park pretty much has it all. There are also glaciers and tropical rainforests, two landscapes you typically wouldn’t think exist in the same region, never mind the same country. There aren’t a lot of human settlements here, so it’s a rich tapestry of wildlife – think pumas, foxes, bears, guinea pigs, jaguars, and more. There are a few peaks to climb and some volcanic craters. Do your research ahead of time because the difficulty ranges wildly from one park area to another.
For bucket-list activities, this is a hike to the world’s highest active volcano. The Cotopaxi volcano is a couple of hours south of Quito, the capital city, and there are always transport options to get you there if you aren’t staying in the nearby countryside. The climb to the top (which is usually snowy!) needs to be guided since it’s a massive 5000m elevation, and altitude symptoms are common. Be sure to pack sunglasses and a hiking hat because the sun reflecting off the snow can be blinding! Despite these minor inconveniences, if you visit on a clear day, you’ll have some pretty unreal views from the highest point.
The Cajas national park is a UNESCO heritage site, so you know it will be amazing. This isn’t so much a specific route as an enormous region covering some 280 square kilometers and trails that alternate between moderate and high altitude, just to give you options. Natural features include ancient volcanic rock, cloud forests, and numerous lakes. Even a section of the famous Inca Trail passes through the park. The most popular route is only eight km and winds past three of the most-visited lakes in the area.
Located right outside Quito’s city limits, Rucu Pichincha is an excellent day trip for those seeking a bit of a nature break from city life. Rucu is one of the three peaks of the Pichincha Volcano, an active volcano that most recently erupted in 1999 – the other two are Guagua and Padre Encantado. The ascent of Rucu peaks at about 4,900 meters above sea level, and is considered challenging but doable if you’re acclimatized to the altitude. While the trail isn’t super well-marked, enough footfall has made it pretty easy to tell where the trail goes.
If you want to see some of the more rural parts of Ecuador and really immerse yourself in the culture, this is a great place to start. The Quilotoa Loop is more of a trek than a hike and spans around three days. There are guesthouses and homestays along the route, and food and water can be refilled. This trek is the definition of roughing it, but will give you a new perspective on life in rural South America as you make your way quietly through the farming communities. Despite the length of the hike, it’s not an arduous journey. Aside from the odd climb here and there, it’s fairly flat terrain, and you still get incredible views of the valleys and mountains.
The Sierra Negra volcano on Isabela Island is the second-largest crater in the world and is an absolute marvel to behold. One of the most popular hikes on any Galapágos itinerary, it’s a great opportunity to see an active volcano, lava tubes, and lava fields up close. Indeed, it last erupted in 2018, so keep in mind that day trips are canceled from time to time due to the risk of volcanic activity. The trail itself is not challenging, just make sure you check with local authorities about the safety of the volcano the day you’d like to do the hike and note that a guide is mandatory. It is also recommended to bring binoculars to try and catch a glimpse of the huge variety of birds in the area, particularly Darwin’s finches.
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