This mountain bike tour in the Andean highlands offers an array of experiences as well as excellent – and sometimes tough – pedalling.
We will visit vibrant indigenous cultures, see well-preserved colonial architecture and enjoy dramatic volcanic landscapes and dense rainforest.
Enjoy some great downhills through barren moonscapes of the high Andes with Ecuador’s famous striking volcanoes.
We pass through pine forests, cloud forests and down into jungle.
There are stops in quaint villages and colourful vibrant local markets to give us a taste of the local culture.
Don’t miss out on the odd relaxing bath in hot springs and and rivers, to help sooth those muscles after enjoyable days cycling.
Mountain biking in Ecuador
We acclimatise in the capital Quito, with its mix of Spanish colonial architecture, pre-colombian art and Inca culture.
First up, we cycle to Tandayapa, famous for its 330 species of birds, and then explore the colourful market in Otavalo.
We stop at Papallacta for a dip in the hot springs before heading into the jungle.
Further amazing rides follow; from Cotopaxi National Park we embark on a wild ride to the silvery lake of Limpiopungo – then from the rim of the volcano Quilotoa down to Zumbahua along the “Grand Canyon” of Ecuador.
The final ride takes you from Chimborazo, the highest mountain in Ecuador.
Complete cycle tour of the best of Ecuador - from forests to volcanoes.
Off the beaten track tour to hidden Andean towns, sites and markets.
Soak aching muscles in hot volcanic springs.
Expert guides, lovely accommodation and great bikes for this biking adventure.
Andean Trails were very helpful in getting us properly advised about the trip in advance.
M. Butler, Ecuador
Upon arrival in Quito you will be met and transferred the short distance to your hotel situated in the Mariscal region of Quito’s new city.
It’s a pleasant area lined with small hotels, bars and cafés, known locally as “Gringolandia”.
Depending on your arrival time you may have time for a little exploration of the city or perhaps, if you’ve brought your own bike, you can rebuild it ready for the action tomorrow. It is however a good time to relax alter your journey and to acclimatise to the altitude.
Quito is approximately 2,800m/9,186ft above sea level and we will spend the first day allowing our bodies to adjust to the time difference and the thin air associated with the increased altitude.
This morning we load the bikes onto the vehicle and transfer out of the busy city centre. It’s only now, a few kilometres out of the city and a few hundred metres gained in altitude that vast size of Quito is appreciated as it spreads in a half moon shape around the mountains.
Approximately 45 minutes out of town we leave the tarmac and start ascending steeply up a stoney unpaved “eco-road” into the luscious green landscape on the northern flank of the Pichincha volcano.
Reaching 3,200m/10,499ft in altitude we offload the bikes and prepare ourselves for our first ride. This morning’s route is predominantly downhill through an incredibly fertile landscape which is surprisingly reminiscent of the alps of France and Switzerland.
Resting a while and taking refreshments and a snack in the pretty town of Nono we prepare ourselves for the first serious ascent of our tour, topping out at 3,300m/10,827ft we reach the high point of our day, of course we stop a while to admire the magnificent view and catch our breath. We’re further rewarded for our efforts by another long beautiful descent following the course of the Alambi river upon the banks of which we will have lunch and relax for a while.
After lunch the descent continues into a transforming landscape and before long we’re deep in the cloud forest amongst a weird and wonderful vegetation.
Eventually we reach the small mountain village of Tandayapa where most of us will be ready to finish our ride and load the bikes back onto the vehicle. Those feeling in need of a challenge however are welcome to attempt the lung-busting 5km climb to the aptly-named Hotel Bellavista.
A very special place nestled high in the canopy where we can unwind with a cold drink, admire the amazing views and watch the nectar-sipping hummingbirds and butterflies.
We begin the morning with an optional pre-breakfast guided hike in the forest around Bellavista.
The enthusiastic and knowledgeable local guides offer a fascinating insight into the flora and fauna, the hotel is situated in a protected area which is home to more than 330 species of birds.
A hearty breakfast awaits our return to the hotel. Riding out of the hotel we begin with a leg-warming climb, taking us even higher into the cloud forest. Have no fear though, what goes up, must go down and what follows is an eye-watering descent from the top of the Tandayapa Pass.
After about an hour of riding we reach a tarmac road where will load up the bikes and transfer to Tabacundo.
It’s a long day today so to save a little time we’ll eat a typical Ecuadorian lunch in a small local restaurant. From Tabacundo we will begin riding again, climbing amongst the lakes and craters of the beautiful Fuya Fuya region.
We end the day with a long descent to the Indian market town of Otavalo which will be our home for the next couple of nights.
Otavalo is home to Ecuador’s most successful and prosperous indigenous group and every Saturday the Otovalan Indians descend from the small villages in the surrounding mountains to trade their goods and produce.
The huge market, the biggest in the whole of South America, is a fine testament to their industriousness and acumen and is fascinating to wander around. To allow sufficient time to enjoy the market properly we’ll spend half a day on the bikes today.
After an early start we’ll transfer out of town in the direction of Cuicocha Lake, a stunning flooded volcano crater with two lush green islands emerging from the surface of its waters. The ride then leads us back to Otavalo via numerous quaint villages and striking views of the surrounding volcanoes.
The afternoon is then yours to enjoy wandering around the market, sampling the produce, shopping for souvenirs and soaking up the vibrant and colourful atmosphere.
Heading into the paramo (the one metre high shrubby grass vegetation found at altitudes of around 3,000m/9,843ft) we climb for about an hour and a half (by minibus) into Ecuador’s East Andes.
Reaching the highest point we saddle up for one of the longest and perhaps one of the most challenging rides of our tour. The route undulates through a beautiful and unique terrain. The landscape is far more open today than any other in our journey and the views are simply huge.
The Ecuadorian authorities have restricted access to this area for reasons of conservation and we’ll have gained special permission to enter the reserve. Consequently we may well have the entire trail to ourselves, except for the wildlife that lives in the area. It’s impossible not to feel privileged to be here!
Although a long and quite tiring day, we’ll be rewarded for our efforts upon arrival at our destination.
Papallacta exists because of its natural hot springs and we have ample time this evening to relax in the soothing thermal pools and to take advantage of the other facilities in our hotel.
After one last relaxing soak in the thermal waters (assuming we get out of bed early enough!) we’ll transfer out of Papallacta to avoid another massive climb.
Reaching the eco-road at the top of the Guamani Pass (4,200m/13,780ft) we begin a 45km, hugely enjoyable and picturesque descent towards Peñas Blancas.
As we reach the suburbs of Quito we will join a disused railway, now a designated cycle route – it’s a really pleasant experience to join the local people as they enjoy an afternoon out on their bikes. This is a lovely and mainly gentle end to the day as we head through a number of old tunnels, the longest of which is well over half a kilometre in length, to the town Tumbaco where our ride ends for today.
We load up once more and head for the Cotopaxi National Park where we spend our evening in the delightful Cotopaxi Base Camp hostal (shared bunk-house facilities) at the foot of the famous mountain.
Again our day begins with a short transfer from the hostal, although anyone itching to get on the bikes can opt to ride. It’s a tough ride at this altitude but a rewarding one nevertheless.
Reaching 4,550m/14,928ft we leave the minibus and the bikes in the car park at the entry point to the ascent of the volcano. We can take a walk up to the edge of one of the mountain’s glaciers and pay a visit to the first of the mountain refuges situated at 4,800m/15,748ft.
Returning to the car park our bikes will be waiting for us. As we begin our way down the side of the volcano and through grey/brown barren pumice – it’s possible to take the descent at either a gentle speed or, since it’s possible to see many switchbacks ahead, at blistering speed.
Either way it won’t be too long until we’re all regrouping by the silvery shores of Lake Limpiopungo.
Leaving the barren altiplano we’ll continue our descent into the Paramo where it’s often possible to see wild horses roaming around in their natural habitat. We progress, generally downwards but with the occasional cheeky climb thrown in for the sake of variety.
As we reach the lower levels the vegetation very noticeably changes and pine tress, pampas grasses and the occasional herd of llama become the order of the day.
Leaving the National Park we make our way through the Avenue of Volcanoes, crossing a fertile valley famous for its flower plantations and worlwide exportation of roses. Eventually we reach and cross (very carefully!!) the Pan-American Highway, cycling the last few kms to our accommodation in a grand 470-year-old hacienda complete with eucalyptus-lined driveway and it’s own private chapel.
Making an early start we transfer once more to avoid beginning the day with another leg-burning climb.
Heading west we drive through the everyday, no frills, Andean town of Toacaso. Beyond here and a few more village settlements reach the top of the pass where today’s ride begins. Once again the land is lush and green and a dramatic contrast to yesterday’s stark descent of Cotopaxi.
Riding the eastern rim of the Toachi Canyon you’ll be amazed by the way the Indian farm workers have etched out terraces of potatoes, beans, onions and corn into fertile but improbably steep valley walls.
We’ll break for lunch in the bottom of the canyon and a challenge awaits the super fit immediately afterwards.
The rest of us however will take a transfer up the other side of the canyon and conserve ourselves for the rest of the day. A few kms beyond the town of Sigchos we can get back on the bikes and continue along an undulating and stunningly beautiful dirt road which leads us through more green valleys and mountain villages.
A warm welcome and a hearty meals awaits courtesy of our hostess Mama Hilda who provides a wonderful end to a blissful day.
Rising early again we may have to be forcibly dragged away from Mama Hilda’s hospitality and the tranquility of her mountain hostal.
Assuming we don’t decide to make the place our home we’ll ride out of the village, heading south. For the first hour or so the road undulates, every now and then offering a very satisfying work out, just enough in fact to work off our breakfast.
The going gets a little tougher as we proceed and depending on progress we may load the vehicle and transfer to Quilotoa village. From here the views into the Quilotoa crater are magnificent but we’ll be getting a closer look as we leave the bikes with the vehicle and hike down to the emerald green lake in the bottom of the crater.
Hiking back to the rim or taking advantage of a local “donkey taxi” we’ll have lunch in the village, prepared for us by friendly local Indian Jorge Latacunga, who may, if we’re lucky, strum us a couple of tunes on his guitar.
Back on the bikes after lunch, descending on tarmac to Zumbahua where the road once again rises steeply. Back in the vehicle we’ll climb to 4,300m/14,108ft and then it’s back on the bikes for an exhilarating and long descent on a dirt road to Pujilí where we end the riding for today.
Returning to the van for the last time today we make our final transfer to Baños, Ecuador’s rainforest gateway city at the foot of the active Tungurahua volcano.
On a clear evening in Baños it is sometimes possible to see glowing red rocks rolling down the mountainside – it’s also THE place to try guinea pig (optional!).
Baños is Ecuador’s adventure playground and the town offers numerous pastimes, some relaxing some not so. The day is yours to do as you please; choose from, amongst other things, relaxing in thermal pools, strolling through the vibrant town, white water rafting, hiking or more biking?
Riding out from our hotel we take the main road out of town. It’s not long before we arrive at the bridge over the Pataza river.
The dirt road over the river begins to rise immediately, in places the road is steep but it’s amazing how much easier it feels ascending at “normal” altitudes.
These days in Baños are the lowest that we will be during our tour and the benefits of our high altitude “training” are very evident. It’s still quite a strenuous start to the day however so the support vehicle will remain close by, offering a lift up and over the toughest sections for anyone preferring to start the day a little more gently.
Reaching the top of Loma Grande we stop to admire the stunning views of the town, Tungurahua volcano and the lush green surrounding mountains before we descend to the town of Patate. Dependnignon our arrival time in Patate we may continue on the bikes to Ambato. Eventually however we must board the minibus and transfer to what will ultimately be the highest point of tour.
Our hotel this evening, and our last night in the wilderness, is 4,200m/13,780ft above sea level at the base camp of Ecuador’s biggest volcano, the mighty Chimborazo.
Alas the end of our adventure is drawing near. To ease the pain a little we have a real treat in store.
It’s highly likely you’ll agree that we’ve saved the best until last!
A short transfer this morning takes us to 4,800m/15,748ft.
While your guides prepare your bikes for your final ride you can walk a little further up Chimborazo to the Whymper Refuge Hut, at 5,000m/16,404ft from where, on a clear day, the views across the Andes cannot be beaten.
Our ride today begins with a thrilling descent down the unsealed mountain road that winds through the altiplano, the sole inhabitants of which are vicuñas, the most timid, most endangered and most beautiful of the four cameloid species to be found in the Andes.
We reach the tarmac as the land starts to run green again at the edge of the paramo where we will regroup before taking the 45km ride of the Ambato river valley, an area of extreme natural beauty. It’s downhill all the way and you’ll hardly have to turn a pedal if you choose not to. More than anywhere on our tour so far we can witness traditional Andean life which doesn’t seem to have changed much in hundreds of years.
All good things however must come to an end though and eventually the dirt road gives way to asphalt, ponchos give way to jeans and T-shirts and peace and tranquility unfortunately give way to motor cars and other city noises. A little closer to civilisation or a little further away? Something to think about during the transfer back to Quito.
Back in Quito in time to scrub up, pack our gear and have one final celebratory night out on the town, after what will have been a truly memorable trip.
Check out of hotel after breakfast.
Prices From $4,851 / £4,114 per person
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Hotel accommodation, all meals as per itinerary, full tour service including guides, back up vehicles etc, unless stated at least one leader qualified in First Aid, entrance fees to National Parks or sites, which are an integral part of the itinerary.
International flights (we can look into these for you), medical check up and inoculations, tips for guides, etc, travel insurance, bar bills, hotel refreshments, laundry, telephone calls, souvenirs, etc, optional guided hike at Bellavista, personal clothing and equipment, bike hire
We use 2-3* hotels in towns and cities with private bathrooms, upgrades available at extra cost – please ask.
Some of the more remote haciendas and mountain accommodation we may use can be bit more rustic but will have hot water shower, private bathrooms and flush toilets.
Tour leader throughout the tour, a local, bilingual Ecuadorian guide with many years’ experience.
Our local drivers and support staff have worked with us for many years.
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.
Evening meals are often in a local restaurant or at the accommodation, depending on where we are.
Bigger towns have international and local Ecuadorian options.
This trip is designed for people regularly mountain bike, and have a very good level of biking and overall fitness.
There are some long days in the saddle – 4-6 hours or more – on consecutive days.
There ares some long climbs at altitude as well as descents.
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.
Landscapes vary from the drier south to the more humid north.
The Highlands, or sierra, encompass two Andean Cordilleras (the Central and Western), which run north to south through the country. Ecuador’s largest volcano is Chimborazo (6,310m) whose summit, because of its proximity to the equator, is the closest point on earth to the sun. Several of Ecuador’s volcanoes are still active, and it’s a great area for trekking.
Descending the steep, east-facing slopes of the eastern Cordillera, one passes through a transition zone comprising dense cloud forest and humid high jungle, before entering the Amazon lowlands.
This mainly primary rainforest covers a third of the country, accounts for 5% of the population and stretches across Ecuador, from its Colombian to its Peruvian borders.
The Galapagos Islands are simply unique. Lying 600 miles off the mainland, the archipelago comprises the summits of gigantic equatorial volcanoes.
The flora and fauna of the Galapagos, long separated from their continental cousins, have evolved differently. Charles Darwin used his observations there to develop his theory of Evolution.
Ecuador lies between latitudes 4º south and 2º north. Overall, climate varies according to time of year, altitude and region.
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.
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.
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.
Good kit is vital for every trip.
Book with Andean Trails and get 15% off Páramo’s fantastic ethical and high performance outdoor gear.
We provide everything except a bike, personal equipment and clothing. Bikes can be hired, please ask for details.
If you are taking your own bike it should preferably be a mountain bike, quality 24+ gears, front/double-suspension, cross-country bike.
Please contact us if you are unsure whether your bike will be suitable.
During the day hopefully it will be generally sunny enough for shorts and T-shirts though having a fleece and rain gear handy is advisable. It can and will get cold, especially in the evenings so bring a warm fleece jacket, a good waterproof and some warm clothes including thermal underwear, gloves, scarf and woolly hat as well as one set of smarter clothes for cities.
Below is a more detailed guide.
Detailed kit list – clothing
Andean Trails has two decades of experience of dealing with South America holidays.
We pay a fee to the CAA for every licensable passenger we book since we hold an Air Travel Organiser’s Licence granted by the Civil Aviation Authority. In the unlikely event of our insolvency, the CAA will ensure that you are not stranded abroad and will arrange to refund any money you have paid to us for an advance booking.
We also offer ATOL (Civil Aviation Authority) protected holidays to give our customers peace of mind when booking and travelling.
When you buy an ATOL protected air holiday package from Andean Trails Ltd you will receive a Confirmation Invoice from us confirming your arrangements and your protection under our Air Travel Organiser’s Licence number 6275.
You can read more about ATOL, who is covered and what protections you have if not ATOL-covered, on our ATOL page.
What is ATOL?
The CAA’s ATOL scheme offers protection to your money and your holiday if you book with us. Not everybody is covered (see ‘Who is covered?’ for more), as you must purchase an ‘air package holiday’ with Andean Trails to be protected.
And ‘air package holiday’ is defined as including a flight and some ground services (hotel, transfer, trek etc). This is also known as an ‘ATOL-protected holiday’.
Who is covered?
To be covered by ATOL, you must book a flight and some ground services with us and be from the UK. If you are from the UK and only book ground services and no flights, you are not covered by ATOL (see below for more on how non-ATOL clients are covered).
If you are outside the UK and buy flights with us, you will be ATOL protected IF any of the flights booked with Andean Trails touches/stops in the UK at any point during your holiday package booked with us.
If you buy your flights elsewhere, please check with that agent if you are ATOL protected. Be careful with online flight purchases and make sure you know what protection you have, if any, before paying for flights.
Not all holiday or travel services offered and sold by us will be protected by the ATOL scheme. Please ask us to confirm what protection may apply to your booking.
For land only holidays not involving any air travel, in accordance with “The Package Travel, Package Holidays and Package Tours Regulations 1992”, all UK passengers booking with Andean Trails Ltd. are fully protected for the initial deposit and subsequently the balance of all money paid to us, arising from cancellation or curtailment of travel arrangements due to the insolvency of Andean Trails.
I’m not ATOL covered, what protection do I have?
If you are not ATOL covered, any payments you make to us go to a Trust account.
We can only access this money once your tour has been completed, meaning that if anything happens to Andean Trails Limited while you are on holiday, then your money is secure and you can either complete the trip or be able to make it home.
If you pay for your holiday with a credit card, some offer payment protection – please check with your cardholder.
You also should have cancellation protection written into your insurance (which we recommend you have at the time of booking) in case you need to cancel.
Some 40% of Ecuador’s and is covered by Amazon rainforest.
As well as being rich in wild life, Ecuador’s rain forest is still home to a multitude of indigenous tribes, some of which have opened their communities to ecotourism.
A 4 or 5-day visit to one of the quality lodges will allow you to venture into beautiful primary forest.
Native guides lead you on verdant forest trails where you will see monkeys, tortoises, frogs and an array of birds including toucans and macaws.
Large mammals like jaguar, tapir and giant anteater have been spotted, but are elusive.
Ecuador’s cloud forest covers its rolling hillsides as they descend from the high Andean plateaus into the rain forest or down to the Pacific coast.
Most of this tropical forest lies between 1,200-2,700m/3,937-8,858ft above sea level, an evergreen, lush and moist forest, teeming with bird and insect life.
Much of the cloud forest is readily accessible from Quito making it perfect a 2 or 3-day stay.
There are many lodges with virgin forest, home to a dazzling variety of hummingbirds, refreshing waterfalls for swimming, zip lining and wildlife walks.
The humming birds, Cock of the Rock and the chance of spotting larger mammals such as the spectacled bears are just some of the attractions of spending some time in this amazing ecosystem.
Cotopaxi National Park is dominated by the almost perfect cone shape of Cotopaxi (5,897m/19,347ft), an active volcano and the second highest mountain in Ecuador after Chimborazo.
The national park is well worth a visit for trekking in the foothills, climbing smaller peaks like Ruminahui, downhill mountain biking, horse riding or just enjoying the National Park itself.
The surrounding páramo is good for bird watching – you may see condors soaring above.
There are lots of lovely hacienda and mountain refugios to stay at in and around the park, and from which there are a variety of walks, horse rides and bike rides for all levels.
Ingapirca (meaning wall of the Inca) is just an hour from Cuenca and is the most important Inca archaeological site in Ecuador.
The site is in good condition and consists of a main elliptical building thought to be a sun temple, with typical Inca features such as trapezoidal doorways and niches.
There are Inca trails leading to and from the site, so you can visit on a day trip or incorporate a visit as part of a trekking itinerary.
You can travel here from Cuenca, or make it part of a trip from Baños to Cuenca.
Ecuador’s vibrant capital Quito sits in a stunning location, surrounded by snow capped volcanoes and many of the high peaks of the Andean sierra.
There is plenty to do for visitors of all ages and interests. The old town of Quito is a UNESCO world heritage site, with many beautiful churches and colonial facades, a wonderful range of museums and picturesque squares.
For an over view of the city and along the Avenue of volcanoes to north and south and to help with acclimatising try taking the Teleferico (cable car) up the eastern slope of Pichincha volcano.
At night Quito is a lively city. Head to the modern Mariscal area where tourists and locals alike find a great range of restaurants, bars and night clubs.
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