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A fleet-footed tour

Extracted from the Traveler's Ecuador Companion The Globe Pequot Press. Reproduced with permission.
Photos by Dominic Hamilton.


King of the national parks near Quito is Cotopaxi. Access is pretty straightforward from the two entrances off the Panamericana, or else every adventure tour operator worth its salt in Quito offers transport and/or guides to the park. You can enjoy both short hikes around the refuge, or longer trails to Volcán Rumiñahui, for example. If you're lucky you might spot a condor or herds of wild bulls or horses, even a mountain lion. Parts of the park are so remote that you can camp there for a week and not see one other person.
Also popular close by is hiking in the shadow of the two Ilinizas volcanoes.

Close to Quito itself, you can hike up both Rucu and Guagua Pichincha. The best access to the latter is from the pretty town of Lloa, reachable by bus from the capital.


North of Quito, possibilities abound. Around Otavalo, you can hike round the Laguna Mojanda or the Lago de San Pablo in a day, passing through lots of villages on the latter circuit.

Also enjoyable is hiking around the Laguna Cuicocha, further to the northwest, part of the enormous Cotocachi-Cayapas Ecological Reserve.

Further west from here, the Intag Cloud Forest Reserve, in the vicinity of Apuela, has basic accommodation and great trails. Nearby is the Bosque Nublado de Santo Tomás. For more information on these, contact Safari Tours (022) 552505 or 223381 fax (022) 220426 e-mail web site, Calamá 380 and Juan León Mera, Quito.


Heading up to Ibarra, the best access to Volcán Imbabura is from the small hamlet of La Esperanza, where you can base yourself at one of the friendly, family-run hosterías.

Further north still, there are some great trails up to the haunting Páramo El Angel close to Tulcán on the Colombian border. Fundación Golondrinas, an Ecuadorian NGO, is active in conservation work in the area and organiteles treks from the village of El Angel up to the páramo. For details contact Piet Sabbe, Cerro Golondrinas Project Coordinator (022) 226602 fax (022) 566076 e-mail .


One of the most popular, demanding treks south of the capital is the Trek of the Condor. It begins at the village of El Tambo, close to the Papallacta springs, crossing the Antisana Ecological Reserve between the two peaks of Antisanilla and Antisana, before following various streams all the way down to Cotopaxi National Park. It takes three to four days to complete.

Wedding at Tigua's churchQUILOTOA AND TIGUA

Further south of Quito, basing yourself at the Black Sheep Inn, the owners can point you in the right direction for many hikes in the stunning Quilotoa/Tigua region. The trek up, and round if you wish, to lake of Quilotoa is probably the most raved about.


Around the popular spa-town of Baños there are many trails to villages, ranging from the day-hike to great viewpoints, or longer four-dayers. Hikes up to Volcán Tungurahua, inside Parque Nacional Sangay, may or may not be off-limits when you read this. For excellent guides to Sangay, contact Alta Montaña in Riobamba (03) 963694 fax (03) 942215 or in Quito tel/fax (022) 504773, Jorge Washington 425 and 6 de Diciembre, e-mail .


Riobamba is the natural spring-board for hiking around both the mammoth Chimborazo and the spiky El Altar volcanoes. For the former, contact the community-based project of Pulingue San Pablo (or 'Waman Way') (03) 949510 or 949511 e-mail (Spanish only) on the road up to the refuge. You can stay in simple cabins nearby. For more information contact Tom Walsh e-mail



Resting at the Inca ruins of IngapircaNot to be outdone by Peru (it is in most other things...), Ecuador has its own Inca Trail. The three-day trek begins at Achupallas, some 25 km (15 miles) from Alausí on the Panamericana (south of Riobamba). The best day to start the trek is Saturday, when you can stock up on food at the market of Achupallas. The trek climbs to some 4,000 m (13,120 ft), passes various lakes great for camping, as well as parts of the old Inca cobbles, and finally reaches the Inca ruins of Ingapirca, and the town of the same name.




From the capital of the southern highlands, Cuenca, the most popular hikes explore the wild, cloudy and cold expanses of Cajas National Park. There are plenty of rivers, lakes and stunted forests, as well as stunning hummingbirds. Access to the park is straightforward by bus, and for guides you can contact various competent tour operators in the city.

In the very south of the country, both Loja and Vilcabamba offer good access to the much-lauded Podocarpus National Park. From Loja, the bus can drop you off close to the entrance to the park, from where you proceed to the first refuge.

Good information in Loja is available from the Ministerio del Ambiente headquarters tel (07) 563131 on Sucre between Imbabura and Quito, and from the Fundación Ecológica Arcoiris tel (07) 577449 e-mail , on Segundo Cueva Celi 03-15. Recommended tour operator include Biotours TEL/fax (07) 578398 e-mail on Colón and Sucre, and Aratinga Aventuras Birdwatchers TEL/fax (07) 582434 e-mail , on Lourdes between Sucre and Bolívar.

For guides from Vilcabamba, contact Orlando Falco of the Rumi Wilco Ecolodge and Nature Reserve (no phone) e-mail, or Charlie and Sarah of Cabañas Río Yambala (no phone) e-mail or web site .


On the eastern side of the Andes, there are some great hikes to be enjoyed around Baeza and the San Rafael Falls, very popular with birdwatchers, and there are some tough treks back up into the Andes from Puyo, Tena and Macas which can be arranged with local tour operators. In the Oriente itself, independent trekking is discouraged by the local Indians, and you should join a tour, preferably an indigenous-run one, for exciting hikes through the jungle, canoe trips down rivers and encounters with local communities.Heading down towards the coast, many people stop in the Mindo and surrounding area for some great trails through dripping, epiphyte-clad cloudforests. The best way to enjoy these is to stay at one of the lodges.


Machalilla's unspoilt coastOn the coast itself, the most popular hikes are in and around Parque Nacional Machalilla, where you can find guides in the local villages to explore the dry and lower reaches of cloud forest. Operators in Puerto López can help with practicalities.

Further north, in Bahía de Caráquez, contact Guacamayo Bahíatours TEL (05) 690597 fax (05) 691412 e-mail web site , Avenida Bolívar and Arenas, for information about the great Río Muchacho area.

In the south, contact Fundación Pro-Bosque TEL (04) 416975 or 417004, Edificio Promocentro, Cuenca and Eloy Alfaro, in Guayaquil, for more information about the park and guided tours in the Bosque Protector Cerro Blanco, or other reserves close to the city .


Most people's first port of call are the national parks and reserves which ring Quito. It's important to remember that even if you're not attempting to summit a peak, you should acclimatize before attempting long hikes at high altitude. Spend a few days in Quito before hitting the hills, and drink water like the clappers when you're on them. Sunburn and harsh conditions can also be a problem, so come well prepared.

There are plenty of outdoor outfitters in the Mariscal area if you've forgotten to bring anything. On anything but rocky terrain, I would recommend investing all of $10 in a pair of rubber boots. Not the height of fashion next to your $100-turbo-goretex-latest-purchase, but tried-and-tested by highland villagers throughout the country!

Although in some parks (Cotopaxi, for example) or on popular routes (up Imbabura, around Lagos Cuicocha or Mojanda) trails are well-marked, in other wilder areas trails are faint. You should bring a compass, have map-reading skills, and basic Spanish for asking directions (always ask at least three different people if possible!). For extra safety, bring a Geographical Positioning System (GPS), and plan your route carefully with a topographical map. Or else, hire a knowledgeable guide.

You should also be aware that the popular gringo hikes have suffered from robberies and worse in the last years. It's essential to inquire locally about the current situation. A last word of warning: be very wary of dogs. The second most important piece of equipment after good footwear is a strong stick. The Indian women who sell goods up and down Avenida Amatelonas in Quito sell sticks with brass handles. Otherwise, always approach a highland house rock or stone in-hand, or if you encounter a dog, pretend to pick one up - that usually does the trick.

Independent hikers wanting to spend some time in the country's national parks or wilderness areas should obtain topographical maps (the best are 1:50,000 scale) from the Instituto Geográfico Militar (IGM) at Venezuela 573 and Sucre (by the Casa Museo de Sucre, old town) or Senierges and Patel y Miño (above Parque El Ejido) e-mail (the better one). They can also be ordered from abroad through the SAE.

The South American Explorers (SAE) TEL/fax (022) 225228 e-mail website , Jorge Washington 311 and Leonidas Plaza, Quito, can be an invaluable resource for advice, information and up-to-date travel news, as well as a place to meet fellow travelers. They often organize weekly group outings to various parks and peaks around the capital.

Finally, excellent, how-to information for climbers and hikers is found in Rob Rachowiecki and Mark Thurber's Climbing & Hiking in Ecuador, Bradt: London, 2000.

To celebrate the deal, Guide2Galapagos is offering Ecuadorial visitors an exclusive offer: Book a Luxury class yacht with them, and they'll give you THREE AIRPORT TRANSFERS FOR FREE; two for first class and one for tourist-superior. So, what are you waiting for? Check out their highly-informative site. Blue boobies, giant tortoises, sealions and marine iguanas are only a click or two away!

SMALL PRINT: On the request page, you must state you came from Ecuadorial to benefit from the airport transfer offer.
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