For your first few days in Ecuador, you should acclimatize by ascending some of the smaller mountains (15, 000 feet or less), such as Iliniza Norte, Imbabura or Pichincha to avoid developing AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) or the more severe Pulmonary Adenoma or Cerebral Adenoma. These lower peaks are non-glaciated, easily accessible within a day’s travel from Quito, and offer either hut facilities or nearby hostels that can be used as a climbing base.
Once your body has adjusted to the altitude, you are ready to try one of Ecuador’s highest classic glaciated peaks: Chimborazo, Cotopaxi, or Cayambe. Although the standard routes are technically straightforward, people do die every year – primarily from avoidable mistakes. Novices should hire a local guide. Experienced mountaineers can attempt the more remote and/or more difficult peaks of Antisana, El Altar and Iliniza Sur or the more challenging routes on the other mountains. As a relatively recent playground for climbers, Ecuador still provides many opportunities for first ascents on new routes.
There are three anomalous volcanoes (Reventador, Sumaco and Sangay) that don’t belong to either of the Cordilleras, but rather thrust up from dense jungle east of the Andes. These climbs have the added attraction of giving you a chance to test out your machete skills, as you must blaze trails through dense cloudforest or rainforest just to get to the base of these giants. Sangay is also noteworthy for its healthy population of woolly mountain tapirs.
Hiking & Trekking in Ecuador
The (Very) Active Tungurahua Volcano.
Photo by Patrick Taschler
If you prefer hiking and trekking, there are a number of excellent trips through the Andean paramo (a sub-alpine zone) which features spectacular views of Ecuador’s volcanic peaks. The most popular treks are the Trek de Condor, which passes the often cloud-shrouded Antisana, Sincholagua and Cotopaxi volcanoes; and the Ingapirca trek which takes you along an old Incan trail to Ecuador’s most important Incan ruins, Ingapirca.