Hiking in Ecuador | Epic Trails for All Abilities 

Regina Quilotoa Loop

Hiking in Ecuador is an unforgettable experience. One of the most biodiverse places in South America, the country is a hub for outdoor activities. From the rainforest to the highlands, coast, and islands, Ecuador’s small size makes it eminently explorable and doable on a budget. 

There are loads of adventure activities available, like surfing, mountain biking, kayaking, or river rafting. For hiking enthusiasts particularly, you’ve come to the right place: Ecuador has loads of trails at a variety of activity levels, from short treks to multi-day hikes. Struggling to choose? Our pick of the top hikes in Ecuador is sure to help!

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8 Best Hikes in Ecuador 

1. Quilotoa Loop 

  • Duration: 3-5 days
  • Distance: 36 km/22 miles
  • Best time to go: Dry season
  • Difficulty level: Moderate
  • Starting point: Sigchos
Laguna Quilotoa
The Quilotoa Loop is a multi-day trek which finishes with this amazing view!

The Quilotoa Loop is one of Ecuador’s most popular hikes for good reason. Breathtakingly beautiful yet moderate in difficulty, the hike is well-marked, doable in as little as three days, and you don’t need a guide to complete it. Guesthouses along the way can be booked in advance (note that payment is usually cash-only), and many offer complimentary breakfast and/or dinner to guests. 

You can do the loop in two directions. The more popular route starts in Sigchos, with the one-of-a-kind Laguna de Quilotoa as your spectacular endpoint – but beware that this route is mostly uphill and can be quite strenuous. If you do the reverse (start at Quilotoa and end at Sigchos), the route is more leisurely. 

Alternatively, if you’d like to only explore the Laguna, this is also possible as a day trip or in combination with Cotopaxi National Park and its iconic volcano. Keep in mind that the highest point of this hike is around 4,000 meters above sea level – so be sure you’re acclimated to the altitude prior to attempting it. 

Also read: Should I take pills for altitude sickness?

2. Cotopaxi National Park

  • Duration: Single day or overnight
  • Distance: 10 km/6 miles
  • Best time to go: Dry season
  • Difficulty level: Summit is difficult, day trip is moderate
  • Starting point: Quito or Latacunga
People hike up Cotopaxi volcano
Hiking up to Cotopaxi glacier.

Another very popular destination in Ecuador is Cotopaxi National Park, and specifically the hike to the Cotopaxi Volcano. This hike can be done as a day trip, overnight, or even in combination with Quilotoa

Unlike Quilotoa, it is best to do this hike with a guide, as the weather and the terrain can be very fickle. After you choose to visit Cotopaxi National Park, your next choice is whether you would like to summit the volcano or hike up to the glacier. 

The summit is considered a difficult, technical hike with extra equipment needed (including ice picks and crampons) and is quite pricey, while the glacier hike is moderate in difficulty, much cheaper, and doable in a day – the main challenge being the altitude. Many day tours include breakfast, as well as the opportunity to do some mountain biking and other activities. 

3. Cajas National Park 

  • Duration: Day trip
  • Distance: Variety of short trails, from 1-5 kilometers
  • Best time to go: Year-round
  • Difficulty level: Easy
  • Starting point: Cuenca
Cajas National Park, Ecuador
The Polylepis trees of Cajas National Park only grow at very high altitudes.

Located 30 kilometers from the UNESCO recognized city of Cuenca, Cajas National Park is one of South America’s best-kept secrets. Boasting 70,000 acres filled with over 700 beautiful lakes, spectacular views, cloud forests, and more, it’s definitely worth exploring. 

You can visit by bus or on a day tour, both easily accessible from Cuenca. If you travel by bus, beware of the timetables for your return trip, as they can be a bit unpredictable, and make sure you register with a park ranger at the Lago Torreadora visitor center when you arrive. 

While the hikes in Cajas aren’t particularly strenuous, hikers should be aware of the high altitude and the mist, which rolls in unexpectedly – many a hiker has lost their bearings as a result! 

The loop around Lago Torreadora is particularly popular and scenic, as are the groves of polylepis trees and the Tres Cruces continental divide viewpoint.

4. Rucu Pichincha Volcano Hike

  • Duration: 6-10 hours
  • Distance: 10 km/6 mi
  • Best time to go: Year-round (mornings)
  • Difficulty level: Moderate
  • Starting point: Quito
Pichincha Volcano hike, Ecuador
Heading off to Rucu Pichincha.

Located right outside Quito’s city limits, Rucu Pichincha is an excellent day trip for those seeking a bit of a nature break from city life. Rucu is one of the three peaks of the Pichincha Volcano, an active volcano that most recently erupted in 1999 – the other two are Guagua and Padre Encantado. 

The ascent of Rucu peaks at about 4,900 meters above sea level, and is considered challenging but doable if you’re acclimatized to the altitude. While the trail isn’t super well-marked, enough footfall has made it pretty easy to tell where the trail goes, and you likely don’t need a guide. 

You can start the hike at the TeleferiQo stop, and it’s advised to start as early in the morning as you can for the best views and a lower chance of thunderstorms. While Guagua is also a popular climbing destination, it isn’t quite as accessible as Rucu. The TeleferiQo doesn’t stop there, so you’ll need a car or private transportation to get there. 

5. Sierra Negra Volcano, Galápagos 

  • Duration: 5-6 hours
  • Distance: 15 km/9 mi
  • Best time to go: Year-round
  • Difficulty level: Easy
  • Starting point: Puerto Villamil
Sierra Negra Volcano, Isla Isabela, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador.
Sierra Negra Volcano, Isla Isabela, Galápagos Islands, Ecuador.

The Sierra Negra volcano on Isabela Island is the second-largest crater in the world and is an absolute marvel to behold. One of the most popular hikes on any Galapágos itinerary, it’s a great opportunity to see an active volcano, lava tubes, and lava fields up close. Indeed, it last erupted in 2018, so keep in mind that day trips are canceled from time to time due to the risk of volcanic activity. 

The trail itself is not challenging, just make sure you check with local authorities about the safety of the volcano the day you’d like to do the hike and note that a guide is mandatory. It is also recommended to bring binoculars to try and catch a glimpse of the huge variety of birds in the area, particularly Darwin’s finches.

6. Ruta del Condor

  • Duration: 5-6 days
  • Distance: 60 km/36 mi
  • Best time to go: Dry season
  • Difficulty level: Moderate to difficult
  • Starting point: El Tambo
YouTube video

Ruta del Condor is easily one of Ecuador’s top hikes and is often said to be the country’s most beautiful trek. Boasting magnificent views of the Andean region, the hike meanders through three gorgeous ecological reserves: Cotopaxi National Park, the Antisana volcano, and Coca-Cayambe reserve, peaking at the base of Sincholagua Volcano at 4,500 meters high. 

If you’re very lucky, you may even see the rare Andean condors the trek is named after. While technically doable without a guide, it’s not particularly recommended – the trail is poorly-marked and even disappears entirely at some points, making GPS and topographical maps a necessity. The weather is also foggy, rainy, and unpredictable at the best of times. Mud is also a major factor in this hike, so make sure to bring water-resistant shoes with strong tread.

7. Chimborazo

  • Duration: 2-3 days
  • Distance: 38.4 km/24 mi
  • Best time to go: June and July
  • Difficulty level: Difficult
  • Starting point: Riobamba
Chimborazo mountain, Ecuador
Chimborazo is home to Ecuador’s highest peak.

Home to Ecuador’s highest peak, Chimborazo’s summit is actually the point closest to the sun on Earth. The ascent is tricky at the best of times and has the potential to be very treacherous. 

A guide is absolutely necessary, as is a very high fitness level, knowledge of mountaineering, and various accouterments like crampons and ice picks. While the ascent is fairly quick (taking only 7-8 hours), the speed needed to complete it means that a lot of endurance is required. 

If this is something you feel comfortable pursuing, you’ll be rewarded with some of the most stunning views in South America and bragging rights to one of its most challenging peaks.

8. Lake Cuicocha

  • Duration: 4-5 hours
  • Distance: 12 km/7.5 mi
  • Best time to go: Year-round
  • Difficulty level: Easy
  • Starting point: Otavalo
Laguna Cuicocha
Laguna Cuicocha offers an easy yet rewarding day hike.

If you need a break from shopping-til-you-drop at the massive Otavalo indigenous market, nearby caldera lake Lago Cuichocha is a great day trip. 

An easy, meandering loop around the lake shows you pristine vegetation and landscapes, as well as great views of the two small lava islands in the center of the lake, said to look like guinea pigs – where the lake got its Quechua name. 

Especially if you aren’t able to make it to the better-known caldera lake Quilotoa, Cuicocha is a great opportunity to see this natural phenomenon: an extinct volcano filled with water.

Hiking in Ecuador FAQs 

What’s the best time of year to go hiking in Ecuador? 

Peak season in Ecuador runs from June through September, which leads to crowds and higher costs. Shoulder season (May and October) is a fabulous time to visit, while the rainy season leads to rainy afternoons from November to April. While trails may be a little wetter, many hikes in Ecuador are still possible in the mornings in the rainy season, but be sure to check the forecast ahead of time.

How safe is hiking in Ecuador? 

Ecuador is safe for hikers, with appropriate precautions. While petty crime is more common in the bigger cities, Ecuador is on the Ring of Fire. This puts it at risk for earthquakes, volcanic activity, and tsunamis, so it’s best to familiarize yourself with safety protocols for the region you’re visiting. Lastly, beware of altitude sickness and tap water in Ecuador – both of which can make you quite ill. Also read: How safe is Ecuador for travelers?

What to wear hiking in Ecuador? 

A few things to add to your packing list for Ecuador include a backpack; lots of layers, including a waterproof rain layer; sturdy hiking boots or sneakers with very strong tread; and sunscreen and mosquito repellent to avoid sunburn and dengue fever.   

Do I need a guide to hike in Ecuador? 

Not always. While some hikes can be done self-guided, it’s important to note that the government mandates a guide for any ascents over 5000 meters above sea level. While this isn’t always enforced, it definitely will be at more popular routes, and ultimately is for your own safety. 

From the Quilotoa Loop to Cotopaxi, Cajas, and the Galápagos, Ecuador is every adventure lover’s dream, in a small and eminently explorable package. Some of South America’s most gorgeous views and spectacular nature is at your fingertips here, accessible via a variety of trails and treks. 

What’s your favorite trek in Ecuador? We’d love to hear about it in the comments!

Tegan & Alex Bio Pic
Tegan George & Alex McKenzie | Why Not Walk

Tegan and Alex are travel, hiking, and biking enthusiasts currently based in Boston, USA. There is nothing they love more than exploring new places by walking, and they have visited over 30 countries together since they met in 2015. Their love for “walking the world” led them to found Why Not Walk, a travel guide site. Follow them on Instagram, Facebook, or Pinterest to start planning your next adventure!

Find them on: Facebook | Instagram

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