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Top 5 Hikes in Ecuador
Ecuador’s staggering biodiversity and unforgettable natural landscapes make it a joy to explore by foot. Here, you’ll find rainforests, volcanos, lakes, mountains, and even an array of exotic animals to guide you along your way. It is, in short, a magnificent place to strap on your hiking boots and set out for a day of adventure. But with so many excellent hikes available, where do you even start? We’ve put together a list of five of the best hikes this fascinating South American country has to offer.
1. Quilotoa Loop
Three hours south of Quito you’ll find Quilotoa, a town famous for its lake-filled volcano. The lake may be the highlight of the trip, but there’s plenty to treasure here, most notably a string of small Andean villages that surround the volcano. The hike stretches for a full 200 km, but your journey can be as long or short as you wish, from a half-day to a full two weeks. Indeed, the flexibility of this trail is one of its many virtues - there are no set routes or rules to follow; go as you please. If you’d rather not hike the entire loop, you can also find motorized transportation between the villages that surround the trail. It’s not easy - this is a tough hike with steep elevation - but it is worthwhile, if your legs hold out. If they do, your eyes and heart will be quite content with their rewards.
2. Galapagos Island
The Galapagos Islands may not be the cheapest destination to reach, but the journey is well worth it; you’ll be among some of the most spectacular scenery and fauna found anywhere on earth once you arrive. You’ll also have access to many excellent hiking trails that range from as little as 2 mile jaunts to multi-day treks. One of the most popular trails is the Sierra Negra Volcano on the island of Isabella. The crater of this volcano is the second largest in the world and offers unsurpassable views, especially on clear days. This is a fascinating hike, but more so for the geology than the wildlife. Consider the easy/moderate hike to the top of Bartolme Island for the classic view of the Galapagos.
3. Condor Trek
The Condor Trek offers an adventurous journey through Ecuador’s most breathtaking wilderness. This walk is a tough one, full of wind and harsh rocks, but it’s not a hike reserved for the ultrafit. In fact, anyone with moderate fitness can complete this hike - if they have the required mental fortitude to withstand days of heavy walking. On the multi-day hike you’ll hit heights of 4500 metres and have a host of wildlife by your side, including wild horses and deer, while also being treated to highlights such as Cotopaxi National Park and Rio Pita Waterfall.
4. Oyacachi to El Chaco
On this two to three days hike you’ll be hiking from the mountains (Oyacachi) to the jungle (El Chaco). The terrain is diverse - muddy in some parts, rocky in others - so you’ll need to have the right footwear for the journey. Don’t expect to see too many people along the way, either: this is wilderness territory. Instead, you’ll be passing desolate landscapes and an array of fauna, including the home of 106 species of mammal (including foxes, deer, and cougars) and 395 types of bird (Andean Condor, hawks), so make sure you have your binoculars handy!
5. Cajas National Park
Forests, lakes, rocky terrain, and the continental divide, all at 14,000 ft elevation: this is true wilderness country. Cajas might be a hiker’s dream, but it’s relatively quiet throughout the week. Throw on some warm layers and get out into a land of wildflowers, stunning views, and crisp mountain air. There are a lot of hikes in the park, some of which take as little as three hours. But be warned: these hikes, two miles above sea level and in the wild, are not easy. If you want a longer experience of the Andes, hire a guide and trek deeper into the wilderness for a night under the stars.
Ecuador is an underrated destination for travelers. Inexpensive, a wonderful, welcoming population, and sublime scenery that few other countries can match are just some of the virtues of this unique country.
Have you been to Ecuador? Share your favorite trails below.