Enjoy one of Ecuador’s best hiking trips: El Altar

El Altar (5,320m/17,454ft) is one of the most beautiful of all of Ecuador’s mountains to trek on, with nine peaks and stunning glacial lakes. A trek here is  replete with striking views.

Following an immense eruption, El Altar is now in the shape of a horseshoe, with a bright green, ice-berg filled crater lake, backed by glacier covered jagged peaks.

More on El Altar trek

El Altar is situated about 30km east of Riobamba and is part of the Sangay National Park. The remote untainted wilderness around El Altar makes for superb trekking.

Walks on our trekking tour  take us to the lakes of Mandur.

See the Blue Lake, the Green Lake, the Yellow Lake, and the Painted Lake, fed by thawed glacial ice and beautifully coloured by the glacial mineral deposits.

Trip Highlights

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  • Hike on one of Ecuador's most beautiful volcanoes.

  • Gorgeous coloured mountain lakes accompany you all the way.

  • Spectacular views to volcanic peaks.

  • Get off-the-beaten track in remote Ecuador.

Brilliant accommodation: beautiful boutique hosterias, excellent guides, perfect organisation. Never any delays, never felt messed around...impeccable.

G. Abuella, Ecuador


Full Itinerary

Day 1: Depart Quito to Riobamba, transfer to trailhead. Camp. (L,D)

We leave Quito early in the morning heading south to Riobamba, and the nearby trailhead.

We set up camp at Rio Quimiag.

Day 2: Trek across Paramo to Quimiag ravine, camping at Madur Lagoon (B,L,D)

After breakfast we begin our trek over Paramo landscapes in the high Andes, towards the Quimiag ravine. We reach higher groups and enjoy stunning views of the El Altar massif.

We set up camp at the Mandur Lagoon. We have fantastic views of El Altar peak if the weather gods are kind.  If we are lucky we might see condors soaring above.

Hiking 6 – 7 hours, camp (3,800m/12,467ft)

Day 3: Hike to Collanes Valley, camping (B,L,D)

We begin the day with an uphill, trekking towards the Italian camp. Today we are very close to the impressive peaks of the Andes, the El Altar range and its surroundings.

The area is beautiful and views will be with us as we hike down to teh Collanes Valley.

Here we set up camp (option to stay at refugio).

Hiking 5 -6 hours.


Day 4: Trek to the yellow lagoon, crater climb, camping (B,L,D)

We continue climbing this morning heading for the yellow lagoon and after that we climb to the end of the valley.

This will give us an excellent opportunity to see the vegetation of the Andean highlands. There are forests of Polylepis and Quishuar trees, and a variety of bushes and flowers.

During the day we will be walking along the steep edges of the crater (4,200m/13,780ft) from which we will have spectacular views over the crater and craggy walls of El Altar. We will descend into the crater for around 1-2 hours, too.

In the afternoon we set up camp.

Hiking 6-7 hours.


Day 5: Crater trek, camping (B,L,D)

We explore the crater further, trekking to its northern edge. It will be a more relaxing day.

From there, with luck, we have views over the snow-covered peaks of Chimborazo, Sangay, Cubillin and Quilimias – as well as views of the glacier flows into the Laguna Amarilla in the crater.

We might also catch sight of the unforgettable condors.

Return to camp.

Day 6: Return to Quito, end of services (B,L)

We head back to civilisation, having loaded up our mules. Late afternoon return to Quito.

Prices From $2,840 / £2,408 per person

Enquire about booking

What's Included?

Camping and dining equipment, English-speaking guide, meals from lunch day 1 to lunch day 6, transfers to and from trek.

What's Not Included?

International flights (we can look for these for you), insurance, personal expenses, tips, meals other than stated, sleeping bag.


Two man tents while camping, one night in twin or double room at a hacienda, with private bathroom.

Tour Staff

Full qualified trekking guide 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 enquire.

Your meals are prepared and served to you in a dining tent, and will be a mix of hot drinks, cereals, fruits and toast with jam.

Lunch, while out walking, will be either sandwiches or meat and cheese with crackers, with fruits etc available on trips from basecamps.

Basecamp meals are large and feature bread, vegetables, meats and hot drinks, rice and pasta dishes.

Activity Level

The majority of the trip is open to people of good mobility and health with some experience of trekking.

Ideally you will spend two nights in Quito (or similar altitude) before the trek so you can acclimatise to high altitude.

We grade this as a medium trek because of the high altitude and consecutive hiking days in a very remote area.

Trekkers ideally need to be used to walking while carrying a daypack and ideally accustomed to walking for 5-7hours on consecutive days.

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

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.

Geography of Ecuador

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.


Being at altitude, especially in the tropics, is usually a pleasure as it isn’t so hot, there are few insects and the air is clear.

However, when gaining altitude, air pressure drops and the amount of oxygen reaching the lungs is reduced. Although we build plenty of acclimatisation time into our itineraries, certain ill-effects are possible. Nevertheless, all of these can be minimised or prevented if care is taken.

On reaching heights above 2,500m (approx. 8,200 ft), especially when ascent has been straight from sea level, heart pounding, mild headache and shortness of breath are normal, especially on exertion.

Acute mountain sickness (AMS) is a syndrome known locally as soroche, whose symptoms can include of bad headache, dizziness and nausea).

To avoid AMS, you should:

  • Rest for a few hours on arrival at altitude and take it easy for the first couple of days. Note: you may feel fine on arrival and tempted to exert yourself as normal. Don’t be fooled: you might be benefiting from oxygen brought in your blood from sea level.
  • Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration (altitude is a diuretic). Coca tea (mate de coca) helps alleviate symptoms.
  • Eat light meals, with high carbohydrate and low fat and protein content. Dine early, allowing digestion time pre-sleep.
  • Avoid over-exposure to the strong highland sun (UV rays are very powerful) – especially in the early stages – making sure you wear a broad brimmed sunhat. Apply lip-salve to prevent chapped lips.
  • Avoid or minimise consumption of cigarettes and alcohol. Avoid sleeping pills.
  • If you do get AMS: Rest, take non-aspirin painkillers (for headache) and coca tea. Symptoms should subside after a day or two.
  • Pregnant women, people with a history of heart, lung, kidney or blood disease or blood pressure problems, should consult their doctor before traveling to high altitude.

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 - travel tips

Responsible Tourism – Code of Conduct:

  • Find out about your destination – take some time before you go to read about the cultural, social and political background of the place and people you are visiting.
  • Go equipped with basic words and phrases in the local language – this may open up opportunities for you to meet people who live there.
  • Buy locally-made goods and use locally-provided services wherever possible – your support is often vital to local people.
  • Pay a fair price for the goods or services you buy – if you haggle for the lowest price your bargain may be at someone else’s expense.
  • Be sensitive to the local culture – dress and act in a way that respects local beliefs and customs, particularly at religious sites.
  • Don’t undermine the local economic systems – we recommend you don’t give gifts, especially sweets as there are few dentists in the Andes. Much better to spend time chatting, playing and showing postcards of home. If you would like to donate clothes and shoes etc we are more than happy to do so through the relevant channels. Your tour leader can do this for you and some of the projects we support can be visited.
  • Ask permission before taking photographs of individuals or of people’s homes – and remember that you may be expected to pay for the privilege.
  • Avoid conspicuous displays of wealth – this can accentuate the gap between rich and poor and distance you from the cultures you came to experience.
  • Make no promises to local people that you can’t keep – be realistic about what you will do when you return home.
  • Minimise your environmental impact – keep to footpaths and marked routes, don’t remove any of the natural habitat and reduce the packaging you bring.
  • Don’t pollute local water courses- use biodegradable products, and wash basins.
  • Slow down and enjoy the differences – you’ll be back with the familiar soon enough.
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