One day treks to the Pichincha volcano peaks (Cruz Loma, Rucu Pichincha) made directly from Quito. 5-day trek around small and forgotten andean villages in Quilotoa loop (Latacunga-Sigchos- Isinlivi-Chugchilan- Quilotoa-Zumbahua)
During our two month stay in Ecuador, we tried several hiking trails which are worth mentioning. Through hostel volunteering in Quito, we attempted three times to climb Pichincha volcano. Our first attempt ended somewhere around the altitude of 3500 metres above the sea level which was the halfway point to the peak Cruz Loma. When we tried hiking it the second time, we made it to the top of the cable car (TeleferiQo)- the peak Cruz Loma (4100 m.). We started really early and the weather was also way better than the first time. At the beginning of June, when the cable car started working again after the two-week-long maintenance break, we took it and reached Rucu Pichincha (4696 m.)
Pichincha volcano near Quito and a few one-day hikes
As Quito is the second highest capital in the world (2850 m.), surrounded by andean volcanic peaks from all sides, there are many options for good hikes. During our volunteering in a downtown Quito hostel, we asked locals and travelers about the trekking routes. The Pichincha volcano mountain range is visible literally from every corner of Quito. The cable car (TeleferiQo) was built in the 1970s to the peak Cruz Loma (4100 m). At that time, it was the highest cable car in the world. (nowadays, it is the cable car in Merida, Venezuela).
It takes less than 20 minutes to get to the 4000 metre andean heights. The cable car is undoubtedly the second most popular attraction in Quito. The first thing to do in Quito is obviously visiting the equator line. It costs $8.50 USD for the return ride for foreign tourists, and locals pay a little less. There is usually a really long line during the weekend. We waited about ten minutes to get on Friday morning. The views from Cruz Loma are really spectacular. Huge 50-km long sausage-shaped Quito city lies just beneath you, and the huge peaks of Rucu and Guagua Pichincha are just behind. It is a pure joy to be on the top! When the sky is clear, you can admire distant volcanos such as Cotopaxi, Iliniza or Cayambe. We were not that lucky.
But let´s start from the beginning. We knew there is a cable car going to the top of the volcano, because all of the guests asked about it in the hostel. The thing is we were looking for the possibility to hike up there without using the cable car. Locals kept telling us that there is no suitable path, it is too dangerous and we could get robbed on the way there, or wild animals could attack us, or we could get lost… Guide books also mentioned the trails as insecure and not recommended. The option to take a cable car sounded really simple and safe. There was another possibility to hike to the peak of Rucu Pichincha, which is supposed to be a 5-hour loop from the top of cable car. We decided that this could be enough for us as there was not really other option. When we finally wanted to do the actual trekking, The cable car was undergoing temporary maintenance. There was no other option only to try to reach the peak from the city. All of our hikes, or hike attempts, took place during our days off, which we never had on the same day. When one of us was off, the other one worked the evening shift starting at 6 PM. So it was always really funny how we tried to return to the hostel on time and actually almost never made it. Once, we came just before 6 AM, the other time, we got stucked in the traffic jam in the bus and just sent the message saying that we would be late.
First attempt to ascent (we reached the altitud of 3500 metres)
Our first attempt to reach the summit of the volcano started with a bus ride from the center of Quito to the San Juan neighbourhood. At the beginning, it was regular city driving, speeding up and braking very fast. Later on it changed into a hilly ride, when the bus tried to pass safely through very narrow and steep streets. I sometimes had to close my eyes because it was simply a bit of a scary ride. Luckily the ride didn´t take that long, and we got off at the last stop. It was the highest, most sparsely inhabited part of Quito. We started walking and after a few metres saw a beautiful waterfall. The trail was well-marked, we just kept walking up. There were no other tourists, we met only a few locals moving around the settlements. Some stray dogs and cows were present too. We finished our first ascent attempt in the height of about 3500 metres. It was for the very first time, that we used MapsMe application in our smartphone so we knew the approximate altitude. The weather was really cloudy and we were late so we decided to come down. During the descent, it started to rain and we luckily found a shelter in the first restaurant we saw on our way. Peter came right on time to start his evening shift.
Second attempt to ascent (we reached the top of the cable car without using the cable car)
Cruz Loma- 4100 m.
One week later, we reached the cable car peak (Cruz Loma-4100 m.). There was still a temporary maintenance closure so there was no one on the top except for the security guy, our new friend. He had apparently nothing to do over there as the works were not in progress at that time. It was really overcast, luckily without any rain. After a brief obligatory weather talk with the security guy, he told us many interesting facts about the area, cable car, and possible hiking routes. He also turned into our personal photographer while we posed in various places and he took some pictures. We also visited one of the highest churches in Ecuador (probably) which is just nearby.
Third attempt to ascent (we reach the actual volcano peak)
Rucu Pichincha 4696 m.
At the beginning of June, we were finally able to take the cable car and we hiked along the mountain ridge to the peak of of actual volcano -Rucu Pichincha (4696 m.). Ruku means “old“ in the indigenous Kechua language, thus it signifies that the volcano is dormant now. The other more remote peak of Guagua Pichincha is still active and that is why the translation from Kechua is “child“. There was one minor earthquake in Quito in May, which we overslept, caused by this volcano.
The ascent to the Rucu Pichincha took us four hours. It was really nice and sunny weather, we only had the chance to see snow-capped volcanoes from the cable car ride because later on the clouds began to shroud them. Sausage-shaped Quito was always beneath us, and other mountain peaks were all around. The trail firstly lead us along grass meadows, later we were passing through a zone of hilly bushes, and the last hour of the ascent was all rocky so we began to use our hands to climb. For more adventurous individuals, there is another possible trail through Death Pass (Paso de Muerte). It is very rocky and climbing equippment is essential. Our French friend Thibauld from the hostel accidentally took this path but doesn’t recommend at all without the security ropes and helmet.
When we reached the top, we were in a real state of euphoria. It was a super strenuous hike and we experienced problems with altitude and breathing. The cable car took us from 2950 m. to 4100 m. and then we climbed up to 4696 m. On the top, we shared the happy moments with other trekkers: a couple form Costa Rica with their local guide. In the meanwhile, the weather changed completely, a dense fog covered the mountains and we put on every spare layer of clothing we had. So I had gloves, a scarf, a hood, and a cap. It was really cold when we started descending. The way down was obviously easier but we felt powerless and exhausted. When we finally saw the cable car in the distance, we really couldn’t believe it. We didn’t manage to get back in time for the evening shift, the traffic was too heavy in Quito during peak hours. We started a little later and it required a lot of effort to be able to talk with customers after such a difficult day. But we somehow managed The trek to the 4700 high peak while being able to take an evening shift during the same day really is possible in Quito!
If you ever get the chance to be in Quito, the trip to the Pichincha volcano is really recommended. It doesn’t matter if you use or don‘t use the cable car, the views are really worth it!
Quilotoa loop (5-day trek along andean mountain ridges and small lost villages) Latacunga-Sigchos-Isinlivi-Chugchilan-Quilotoa-Zumbahua (from 2700 to 3900 m.)
We did this trek in mid-June right after we finished our first volunteering in Quito. Everything started in Latacunga, a city located 90 km from the capital where we were hosted by José and Lloyd, Puerto Rican and British CouchSurfers currently working in the area. Latacunga is an interesting city, small and quiet. It has been destroyed several times by the Cotopaxi volcano and then rebuilt. It is also the gateway to the National Parks of Cotopaxi, Iliniza and Quilotoa. While we were there, we realised just how big and noisy Quito really is, and it was a good idea to escape from the hustle and bustle of the chaos. The trek started in a hilly village called Sigchos, easily reachable in two hours from Latacunga. The trail goes through other villages, Isinlivi and Chugchilan, to the volcano crater Quilotoa.
During our 5-day hike, we passed several sparsely populated pictoresque andean villages and settlements. The trail was going up and down every day. We were crossing mountain streams, walked inside or on the top of deep canyons, kept getting lost and then found ourselves on the map all while trying to avoid angry, stray dogs. There was a little rain on a daily basis but we also got sun burnt the last day of trekking, all because our coconut oil stopped working as sun screen. Now we have real sun screen after so many years using only the coconut oil.
Very luxurious mountain hostels (our Himalaya‘s simple lodgings are forgotten now)
The comfort of the accommodation in mountain villages along the trek seriously surprised us! Quilotoa loop is probably the most popular trek in Ecuador so it was really well-maintained. Even though we didn’t meet that many hikers during the day (this was mostly caused by our lateness in the mornings), we found a bunch of tired hikers in the evenings in the hostels. We also kept meeting our Venezuean friend Anna every day, who we met in the hostel in Quito. Hot showers with good pressure was a regular thing in the hostels we stayed in. I wish we had a half of that pressure in our hostel in Quito where we spent almost two months. We often recalled those very simple conditions of Himalayas lodgings which we experienced three years ago when we did Kanchenjunga trek. It was something really different.
There was a fixed rate for a stay: 15 USD per person including dinner and breakfast. We always got a private room with attached toilet without actually asking for that. There was also wifi in the hostels and in two places, in Chugchilan and Quilotoa, rooms came with heating. In the latter one, small stove was provided with wood supplies so Peter could totally indulge himself into his passion for fire. The breakfast was huge and tasty, we usually bought some bread, cans, water, and some sweets and then we started hiking right after breakfast. The trail was sometimes marked incorrectly, sometimes there was no signage at all. We got maps from the hostel every morning and we used our cool mobile application MapsMe. When locals approached us, we usually enquired about the path with them too to be sure. But we got lost almost every day, if only for a short while.
Amazing turquoise volcano crater lake Quilotoa
On the third day of trekking, we reached the main attraction – La Laguna de Quilotoa, a breath-taking volcanic lake. The caldera filled with water after the eruption and now, it is said that this is one of the most beautiful volcano lakes in the world. We haven’t seen anything similar yet so we cannot really compare, but it left us breathless! The third trekking day was the most strenous one and when we finally reached the ridge of the crater at 5PM (super late as the sunset is at 6PM in the equator), we were extremely happy and satisfied to see the magnificient turquoise lake beneath us! It was an amazing, unofficial end of our trekking.
On the fourth day, our initial plan was to do a circle around the lake (the approximate time should be 4-6 hours) but Peter felt really bad that morning and we were both really sunburnt so we chose the lazier option. The descent to the water level from the ridge of the crater took us almost an hour. We rented kayaks on the shore and enjoyed lazy paddling and the views from the water level. The ascent back to the village took us less than an hour so we kept walking a bit further along the ridge, but doing the actual loop will need to wait for next time. It´s worth mentioning that it was quite windy and cold at 3800 metres above the sea level.
Doing the Quilotoa trek and hiking the Pichincha volcano is recommended to every mountain enthusiast who happens to be in Ecuador. For getting more detailed information about the trekking, please don’t hesitate to contact us directly. Below I´ve attached links of the accommodation we stayed in and enjoyed during trekking.
Thanks for reading!
Special thanks go to Alec David for editing this text
Photoalbum from trekking:
Hostel Taita Christobal in Isinlivi: https://www.tripadvisor.sk/Hotel_Review-g1202654-d4456030-Reviews-Hostal_Taita_Cristobal-Isinlivi_Cotopaxi_Province.html
Hostel Cloud Forest in Chugchilan: