This beautiful country offers a wide variety of options you could choose from and, here we mention a few of the top hikes in Ecuador you can start looking at right away.
Ecuador, the adventurous land that will surpass your expectations. Who would have imagined that the third smallest South American country has so much to offer? Once you set foot in the Ecuadorian Andes you will find yourself with countless hiking options to fill your adventurous soul.
After all, we are all travelers, explorers, and adventurers with a new thirst for discovering the essence of each and every destination we visit. In Ecuador, you will be experiencing the shortness of breath that comes with being at two thousand meters above sea level, but do not let that scare you or stop you from embracing yourself into a great adventure surrounded by all those wonderful Andean landscapes.
The top hikes in Ecuador (and trekking options)
Whether you have just arrived to Ecuador or you have lived here for years and want to discover once for all many of its stellar hiking trails to show off your family and friends, our list of best hikes in Ecuador is a great place to start. One day trekking are the most common options among adventurous hikers, but of course multiday trekking are there for you to discover as well.
Here are our top 5 recommendations… and a bonus.
1. Cotopaxi Volcano Hike to the Glaciers
Cotopaxi is an active volcano near the capital Quito and the most iconic mountain in the country. That is the reason why we consider our top one in the best hikes in Ecuador.
Although climbing all the way to the summit could demand preparation and be considered a little hard we recommend you to take a risk and hike from the main car park to the Refuge Jose Ribas at 4.800 meters and then, to the glacier. There is not much you can do to adjust to the high altitude, just take your time, drink a lot of water, walk slowly and try to relax.
To hike from the car park to the refuge it should take between 1.5 to 2 hours, depending on how fit and acclimatized you are. After a quick stop at the refuge and a sip of hot chocolate you can take an additional 40 minute walk to the edge of the Cotopaxi Glacier to have a great view over the valley and appreciate the glacier from close. There are two ways to hike up, the “zig-zag” trail and the “straight forward” route.
We recommend taking the zig-zag trail which is easier to climb as the straightforward route is very steep. Once you reached the glaciers enjoy the view, take great pictures, and save the memories.
2. Quilotoa Loop Trek
Quilotoa loop trek is a wonderful way to explore Ecuador´s highlands. Along this route, you will be able to observe rural indigenous life and enjoy stunning views of the surrounding mountainous landscape.
While this trek is relatively short, it can be quite demanding. Nonetheless, this hiking adventure is adequate for trekkers of all levels, from beginner to experienced.
The most popular hiking route passes through the following towns: Quilotoa, Chugchilan, Isinlivi and Sigchos. There is a varied list of places in the different towns for you to stay and have a good night rest. The total distance for the 3-day trek is 36.7 kilometers (22.8 miles).
A few hazards along the journey can be altitude sickness and coming across aggressive dogs or bulls. The best season to embark yourself in this adventure is June, July, and August. During this time, mornings are clear and sunny however, you have to consider that the weather in the mountains can change quickly. Take your time to acclimatize and enjoy this beautiful hike!
3. Cuicocha Hike
The Cuicocha Lagoon is a 3 km wide crater lake with the Cotacachi volcano in the background. In the center of the lake are two islands where people are prohibited. The whole circuit is 14 km long and should take you anywhere from 3 to 5 hours to finish.
The trail is well-marked the entire 14 km so don’t be afraid to get lost. The lake is located less than an hour from Otavalo, it offers a delightful nature-based bolt on for those that come for the Saturday market but want to explore more of the region.
One might think that walking around the lake is not exciting at all, but let us tell you that it is completely the opposite. Not only you can walk on the rim of the crater and admire the turquoise waters and islands in many different angles, but also, the flora and stunning views around the lagoon are remarkable; is such a great opportunity to observe and admire the beautiful Ecuadorian Andes.
At the beginning, it can feel as if you’re going up (which feels much tougher at 3,500 m), but halfway through, the hike becomes quite a leisurely walk, less about hiking and much more a delightful stroll through farmland. There are a few benches and areas to hang out for a bite to eat or a breather, and appreciate what’s before you!
4. Chimborazo Hike
The giant Chimborazo´s summit, 6310 meters above sea level, is the closest point to the sun from our planet. It is the highest mountain in the world when measured from the center of the Earth. In fact, it beats Mount Everest by 2 km. It is located 30 km outside the city of Riobamba.
From the entry control to the first refuge is an 8 km hike that takes about 2 hours going from 4350 meters to 4850 meters. This hike can be described as a very mystical hike since the landscape only lets you see small bushes and a dark brown soil, like something out of this world.
You can encounter a few llamas and vicuñas, have your camera ready to catch the perfect shot of these beautiful animals. The weather can be pretty harsh sometimes and you can feel your hands freezing so bring warm clothes to avoid any inconvenience.
Arriving at the first refuge is pretty rewarding, you can go inside, enjoy warm temperature and have some hot beverage to lift your spirit. Get ready to walk again and go up to the second refuge at 5050 meter high, with a 45 minute hike.
You will definitely feel the altitude as you surpass the 5000 meter mark and this can be a first time for most hikers. Although the altitude seems a challenge just take your time to walk uphill with as many breathers as you like, after all not everybody can brag about being at the closest point to the sun!
5. Ecuador Inca Trail
There are destinations of course, known by all, emblematic at a national level but, there are a few hidden treasures like the Ecuadorian Inca Trail. You may be surprised to learn that Ecuador has its own version of the Inca Trail.
When thinking about the Incas, what comes to mind for most people is Peru or Bolivia. Yet Ecuador also has its own Inca history, ruins and trekking options that are interesting to visit and explore. Ecuador does not possess huge Inca ruins like Machu Picchu in Peru but, it definitely has its fair share of Inca sites of historic interest that are worth visiting.
The Ecuador Inca Trail is less well known than the Peruvian or Bolivian Inca trail which means it has the significant benefit of fewer hikers. In fact, if you decide to hike the Inca trail in Ecuador, you may be the only one in the trail with no other hikers in sight for the approximately 40 kilometers that covers the route.
The hike can be organized in many different ways but the most common one is a 3 day trip starting in Achupallas, a small town in the highlands close to Alausí, and ending the hike in Ingapirca, Ecuador’s most historic Inca site.
Along the route you will experience spectacular views of the Sansahuin and Culebrillas Lakes, and off course you will be able to connect with the ancient Incas as you take a short stop at Paredones ruins, which the Inca used as a resting point as well.
Arriving to Ingapirca is every hikers´ cherry on top of the cake and taking a tour into the historic site to learn more about the Incas is the most epic way to finish this amazing adventure. The Ecuadorian Inca Trail becomes essential for our best hikes in Ecuador.
Bonus: Cajas National Park
A day hike in Cajas National Park is one of the best things you can do while visiting the delightful city of Cuenca. About 40 km outside Cuenca you can find an amazing landscape full of hills, lakes, and highvalleys, all this makes up the perfect combination for a hikers paradise.
There are about 780 water concentration sites with an altitude range from 3200 to 4400 meters. An interesting fact, El Cajas has the highest concentration of lakes in the world. The park has over fifty hiking trails but it suggests the 8 most common routes for visitors to choose from.
Route 2 is the most preferred due to its stunning views after each turn and climb. The hike takes about 4 to 6 hours to complete after exploring the 9.6 km marked route. The weather in El Cajas Park is unpredictable and it is better to be well prepared for wind and rain.
The most visited area for a day trip is the Toreadora Lake. This Lake is the view you get as soon as you are dropped off by the bus. After walking around the lake and back to the top, go back to the visitor’s center where there are few benches for you to sit and view the lake from the top.
Make sure to stop there first to take pictures before embarking on the hike.
Ecuador is the wonderland you have been waiting for. Visiting the best 5 hikes recommended here will prove it right. From the highest point closest to the sun, Chimborazo, to following the Inca steps at the Inca Trail, Ecuador will provide the most breathtaking views and will definitely amaze you with its blessed geographical diversity. Take the risk and embark on this great adventure!