Trek the famous Avenue of the Volcanoes

Also known as the Valley of the Volcanoes, this is one of Ecuador’s most attractive areas for a holiday.

We visit the famous volcanoes of  Cotopaxi and Chimborazo – the latter is Ecuador’s highest peak) – and enjoy great day walks.

The tour also heads to the top tourist sites of Parque Nacional El Cajas, Riobamba and Devil’s Nose train plus Ingapirca Inca ruins.

 

More on Ecuador volcano hiking

Beautiful day walks are combined with traditional sightseeing as we travel this magnificent valley of volcanoes.

We enjoy a wide variety of landscapes and flora, staying in comfortable lodges, haciendas and hotels.

The tour ends in Cuenca, Ecuador’s third largest city, a lively place with an extensive historical centre and perfect for strolling.

 

Ecuador volcano tour highlights

Parque Nacional El Cajas is just 29km from Cuenca but rarely visited. It features glaciated valleys, Andean mountains and more than 300 lakes which attract wildlife from condors to deer.

The Ingapirca ruins are the major Inca site in Ecuador, boasting fine mortarless stonework, and we visit en route to Riobamba.

We also have the opportunity to ride the train down the zig-zag track of the Devil’s Nose.



Trip Highlights

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  • Visit all Southern Ecuador's top attractions with this tour around the Avenue of the Volcanoes.

  • Guided day hikes to Cotopaxi and Chimborazo volcanoes.

  • Option for Devil's Nose train ride from Riobamba.

  • Beautiful walk around Quilotoa volcanic crater and turquoise lake.

  • Visit Pailon del Diablo waterfall.

  • Stay in comfortable, handpicked haciendas and mountain lodges.

A fantastic experience that I would happily recommend to anyone.

M. Ackroyd, Ecuador

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Full Itinerary

Day 1: Cotopaxi National Park – Pita Canyon loop, hacienda (L,D)

This morning we travel south to the Cotopaxi region where we undertake a circular walk through the Pita Canyon, which offers spectacular views of the canyon itself, along with the Cotopaxi, Sincholagua & Rumiñahui Volcanoes.

The hike is classed as moderate, and takes place at an altitude of 3,600-3,800m / 11,811/12,467ft.

The first part of the hike takes us along the Pita Canyon for around an hour, as we follow the course of the Pita River. It is a gentle climb which brings us up into the Cotopaxi National Park.

We then continue past a number of immense volcanic mound formations and pieces of debris for an hour and a half of gentle ups and downs, to reach the “pucara” – an ancient ruin of an Incan fortress – located within the National Park.

From here we loop around for another hour and a half of more gentle ups and downs along the flanks of the Cotopaxi Volcano before reaching a local mountain lodge where our hike ends.

Late lunch included in local mountain lodge.

Dinner and overnight in Hacienda La Cienega

 

Distance walked: 12km / 7.4 miles

Hours walking: 4hrs

Elevation: 3,600-3,800m / 11,811/12,467ft.

Day 2: Quilotoa Crater Lake, hacienda (B,L,D)

An early start this morning to drive to Quilotoa Crater Lake from where we begin today’s walk.

The journey by vehicle, which takes around 1.5 hours, is extremely beautiful as we venture into the hidden side valleys of the Andes and on to the beautifully untouched region of Quilotoa.

Our hike today takes us around the rim of the Quilotoa Crater Lake with its incredible blue-green waters.

Walking at an average altitude of 3,800m/12,467ft, with lots of ups and downs, the whole trail will take us around 5-6 hours to complete.

Keeping to the ridge of this stunning lagoon we are accompanied at all times with incredible vistas of the turquoise lake waters and the contrasting grey rocky outcrops of the mountain.

This is truly one of Ecuador’s most beautiful and impressive spots.

Dinner & overnight in Hacienda La Cienega.

 

Distance walked: 12km / 7.4 miles

Hours walking: 5hrs

Elevation: 3,800m/12,467ft

Day 3: Smugglers Trail, hacienda (B,L,D)

This historical route, famously used in past times by rum smugglers, takes us along the dramatic Pastaza Canyon.

We can enjoy great river views and vistas of the Llanganates – the remote mountains which hide, according to legend, the lost Inca gold of Atahualpa. We pass beautiful waterfalls including the breathtaking Manto de la Novia.

Then continue on to visit the Pailon del Dibalo waterfall with a box lunch.

In the afternoon we have time to explore the pretty streets and basilica of the mountain spa town of Banos.

Dinner & overnight in Hacienda Leito.

 

Distance walked: 7km / 4.3 miles

Hours walking: 2.5hrs

Elevation: 1,800m / 5,905ft

Day 4: Chimborazo volcano walk, hacienda (B,L,D)

Our path takes us through the dry paramo landscapes of the Chimborazo Volcano, Ecuador’s highest mountain.

Highlights of our walk include impressive volcano views & the chance to see wild vicuña which are a common sight within this nature reserve, along with the Chimborazo Hillstar hummingbird which is endemic to this area.

Lunch in a cosy mountain lodge.

Dinner & overnight in Hacienda Abraspungo.

 

Distance walked: 3km / 1.9 miles

Hours walking: 2hrs

Elevation: 4,000m / 13,123ft

Day 5: Devil's Nose train ride & Ingapirca Inca ruins, hotel (B,L,D)

Our journey south continues today as we travel onto the little Andean population of Alausi.

From here we embark on Ecuador’s most famous rail journey, along the Devil’s Nose route, an exhilarating ride which zigzags along the steep sided mountains of the Andes. An ingenious piece of engineering which takes us into the narrow gorge of the River Chanchán.

On arrival at the Sibambe train station we are greeted by the local Puruhua people who share their customs and dance with us, before our return journey to Alausi. The Devil’s Nose Train Ride takes around 2.5 hours in total. We take lunch in a local restaurant.

In the afternoon we continue to travel south. En-route we have time for a guided visit of the Inca ruins at Ingapirca, before arriving in the beautiful colonial city of Cuenca.

Dinner and overnight in Hotel Carvallo.

Day 6: Cajas National Park, hotel (B,L)

This morning we head into the mountains outside of Cuenca to Cajas National Park.

Beginning at the Toreadora Lake at 3,920m /12,861ft we walk for around 3 hours passed stunning glacial formations and polylepis forests, down to the Garden of the Virgin at 3,500m / 11,483ft.

This national park has over 200 paramo lakes and lagoons. (8km – 3 hours), with a boxed lunch included.

Dinner on own this evening, there are lots of great restaurants to choose from in the city, walking distance from your hotel.

Overnight in Hotel Carvallo.

 

Distance walked: 8km / 5 miles

Hours walking: 3hrs

Elevation: 3,500–3,920m / 11,483-12,861ft

Day 7: Cuenca city tour, ends (B,L)

This morning you are picked up from your Cuenca hotel by your private guide.

Today’s tour of the beautiful city of Cuenca includes visits to the traditional and pretty neighbourhood of San Sebastian, the Modern Art Museum, Parque Caldero (Main Plaza), the Flower Market, the Cathedral of the Sagrario (old cathedal) and the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception (new cathedral), one of if not the largest in Latin America.

We also visit a local Panama Hat museum and workshop where we can observe the elaboration of these high-quality products, which despite their name, originate from Ecuador.

Later we have time to visit the banks of the Tomebamba river, through the charming Barranco neighbourhood with its colonial architecture and natural environment.

At the end of the morning we arrive at the Turi Lookout, which offers panoramic views of the red tiled roofs and blue cupolas of the city of Cuenca, surrounded by an impressive mountain backdrop.

Stop off also at the nearby home and workshop of ceramic artist Eduardo Vega. A typical lunch is included in a local restaurant.

The tour finishes after lunch. We can help coordinate flights onto Guayaquil or Quito for those who need, along with hotel reservations and airport transfers.


Prices From $1,749 / £1,483 per person

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What's Included?

Private transport, English speaking naturalist guide on hike, all accommodation as specified, meals as listed, local guides in Cotopaxi, Cuenca & Cajas National Parks, train tickets, entrance fees to Pailon del Diablo, Ingapirca and Devil’s Nose train ride

What's Not Included?

National & international flights, personal travel insurance, alcoholic and soft drinks, extra activities at the haciendas (such as horse riding/spa treatments), tips and personal expenses.


Accommodation

Mixture of hotels and haciendas.

Hotels are 2-3* with private bathrooms and centrally located.

Haciendas are unique properties – some are large with grounds and views, others are smaller and more intimate.

We sometimes use ‘mountain’ type refuges, with private rooms and bathrooms. These may be a bit more basic than a 2-3* hotel, but are chosen for location, views and personal service.

Tour Staff

Tour leader throughout the tour, a local, bilingual Ecuadorian guide with many years’ experience.

You may also meet local guides with specialist knowledge at certain points e.g. on the Devil’s Nose train ride, Cuenca etc.

Our local drivers and support staff have worked with us for many years.


Meals

Almost all dietary requirements can be catered for – please ask us for more information.

Breakfasts at hotels will feature teas, coffees and juices to drink, plus cereals, fruit, eggs, toast and jams etc.

While out on tours, we either supply a packed lunch of sandwiches, snacks, soup, fruit etc, or we eat at a local restaurant. These are often buffet style with soups, rice, pasta, potatoes and then puddings/fruit.

Evenings are often free for you to choose to eat in a local restaurant or at the accommodation, depending on where we are.

Bigger towns have international and local Ecuadorian options.

Activity Level

The majority of the trip is open to people of good mobility and health. We build in acclimatisation and the walks aim to be 3-4 hours in length.

We grade this as an ‘easy to medium’ trek because of the high altitude and consecutive hiking days.

Trekkers ideally need to be used to walking while carrying a rucksack and ideally accustomed to walking for a few hours on consecutive days.

However, it is also open to first time trekkers and people who are in good physical shape.

Enquire about booking

Practical Information

Introduction to Ecuador

Ecuador is the second smallest South American country, and one of the most varied.

It comprises three main geographical areas: the coast, highlands and Amazon plus is home to the Galapagos Islands.

Because of its relatively compact size, it makes a great holiday destination as you can move from highlight to highlight fairly easily and rapidly.

Weather in Ecuador

Ecuador lies between latitudes 4º south and 2º north. Overall, climate varies according to time of year, altitude and region.

 

The Sierra 

In the Ecuadorian highlands, there is little temperature variation by season as temperature depends largely on altitude.

In Quito, shade temperatures range from 6 to 10ºC in the morning and from 19 to 23ºC in the afternoon, with cool nights. In the lower basins between mountains, it gets significantly warmer.

Rainfall depends on whether an area lies closer to the eastern or western Andes. To the west, June-Sept is the dry period and Oct-May the wet (with often a short, dry spell in Dec or Jan).

The best period to visit Quito and trek and climb volcanoes such as Cotopaxi is the west Andean dry season of June-Sept and Dec/Jan. This is also Ecuador’s high season. During the Oct-May wet season, most rainfall is in the afternoons.

To the east, Oct to Feb are dry and Mar-Sept are wet. Overall, the southern highlands are drier than the northern highlands.

 

The Coast

On the Pacific coast, rainfall becomes less from north to south. The coast can be enjoyed year-round, although from June-Sept mornings are often grey with the garua mists.

Jan-May is the hottest and rainiest time of year.

 

The Amazon

In Ecuador’s Amazonian region, rain can fall at any time, but Dec-March is usually the driest season and Mar-Sept is usually the wettest period.

 

The Galapagos Islands

Galapagos can be visited at any time of year.

The warm season is Jan-Jun, bringing calm, warm waters (around 70°F) and sunny days (72-9°F or 22-32°C), February and March being the hottest and sunniest months with blue skies and sunshine.

The islands receive slightly more rainfall during these months, occasional heavy bursts in the afternoon. Great for snorkelling and you can spend a lot of time in the water without wetsuits, with great, clear waters.

The dry ‘garua’ season is Jun-Dec an it’s a great time for marine life. August and September are the coolest when you may need a jacket in the evenings and the sea can be choppy and temperature drops around 15-24ºC on average.

There can be mist on the islands in the mornings (garua) which usually burns off by midday leaving overcast skies or a sunny afternoon.

Sea temperatures may drop to 60°F- 72°F (15-22°C) during this time and snorkellers will want a wet suit for prolonged periods in the sea.

 

Kit list

Good kit is vital for every trip.

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Overview

Ecuador has an incredibly local and varied set of weather systems, which means you need to be prepared for almost every eventuality.

When planning for these changeable climatic conditions you will encounter across Ecuador, layering is the most practical and versatile clothing system.

The sun is very strong throughout the country, so good sun cream, a hat and sunglasses are vital.

It can also get very cold at night time especially in the mountains and in cities like Quito. Jumpers, fleeces and warms hats – which you can buy there – are also essential.

It can rain at any time, so always have a poncho/waterproof jacket handy.

Give plenty of thought to kit selection, and try to keep weight down.

Below is a more detailed guide.

 

Detailed kit list

  • Medium weight parka or a down jacket.
  • Waterproof jacket and trousers. The jacket needs to be water proof and roomy. Side-zip pants are recommended.
  • 2-3 long-sleeve shirts – no cotton
  • 2-3 short-sleeve T-shirts – no cotton
  • 2 pair of hiking trousers- cotton or synthetic material (no jeans)
  • 1 fleece or sweat trousers (for cold evenings)
  • 2 pair hiking shorts
  • Long thermals – synthetic or wool – light to medium weight top & bottoms.
  • 2-3 mid-weight (wool or synthetic) socks.
  • 2-3 liner socks if needed
  • Athletic-type socks, several pairs, city use
  • Hiking boots that are waterproof and well broken-in.
  • Running/tennis shoes or sandals are very comfortable when you are in cities
  • 1 lightweight wool sweater or windproof fleece
  • 1 wool or synthetic warm hat.
  • 1 light sun hat with a wide brim.
  • 1 pair of medium-weight wool or synthetic gloves
  • Broad-brimmed sunhat, essential.
  • Sunglasses with UV filter.
  • Scarf for cold.
  • Bandanna – to protect neck from strong sun.
  • Daypack (at least 30 litres). Comfortable and with waterproof lining or cover.
  • Water bottle (2 litres approx.) & purification tablets.
  • Personal first-aid kit to include: painkillers, plasters (band-aids), moleskin, anti-biotic cream, general antibiotics (ask your GP), after-bite (tiger balm), anti-diarrhoea tablets, throat lozenges, re-hydration salts & personal medication.
  • Insect repellent (just in case)
  • Towel & wash-kit.
  • Wet Wipes/antiseptic hand-wash cream.
  • Sunscreen (factor 30+) and lip salve.
  • Head-lamp (plus spare bulb and batteries).
  • Penknife.
  • Travel alarm clock.
  • Plastic bags – ‘Zip-loc’ & tough bin liners.
  • Camera and film / memory cards (take at least twice the amount you think you will need!).
  • Book, e-book, mp3 player/ipod or other to help pass the time.
  • Binoculars.
  • Spanish/English phrasebook.
  • Extra snacks i.e. cereal bars or favourite chocolate bars.

 

Miscellaneous others

  • Money belt.
  • Passport.
  • U.S. dollars cash, mixed-denomination notes, undamaged and unmarked.
  • ATM cash/credit card.
  • Any inoculation certificates.
  • Personal & medical insurance certificates.
  • Presents e.g. Postcards from home.
  • Comfortable clothes for travel, smart clothes for night life.

Quick facts about Ecuador

 

Official name: Republic of Ecuador

Country population: 15,000,000

Capital city: Quito (2.51 million)

Largest cities: Guayaquil, Quito, Cuenca, Machala

Languages: Spanish (official), Quechua

Latitude/Longitude: 2º S, 77º 30 W

Official currency: US dollar

Major industries: bananas, shrimp, oil, gold, roses

Time zone: GMT-5 (Galapagos GMT-6)

Responsible Travel - our ethos

Andean Trails believes in Responsible Travel and actively supports several community projects.

Please see Our Advice and Our Ethos for more, and learn about the Projects We Support.

We operate the Inca Trail, our treks and tours with local firms.

We make sure that on our tours and Inca Trail we employ local staff, who are paid fair wages.

With the Inca Trail, We provide free life insurance to all of our porters. Tented accommodation and meals are provided for all trekking staff as well as foam mats, sleeping bags and rain ponchos. We have also provided the staff with trekking shoes. We ensure our porters carry a maximum of only 20kg. We offer them backpacks and they generally use back supports.

Clean burning fuel is used to cook the meals on the Inca Trail and porters carry gas stoves and butane bottles. We use biodegradable detergents when washing the cooking and eating utensils. If any part of our tour or trek is operated by another company, we try to ensure that high standards are maintained.

Our additional support helps the Huchuy Yachaq project which supports children and families in one of the poorest communities in the district of Cusco.

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