My top 5 hiking peaks near Quito

My Top 5 Hiking Peaks near Quito

Quito - a hiker's paradise

Many tourists arriving in Ecuador spend about 3-5 days on the mainland before heading to the Galapagos Islands. On the mainland, Quito’s Old Town, the equator line (or middle earth) together with volcán Cotopaxi are the main tourist attractions. But if you are a lover of the great outdoors, then you might discover there is more to Quito and the surrounding area than meets the eye. The problem is there are many 4000m peaks that actually make Quito – a hiker’s paradise, but few tourists rarely get to hear about them.

So below, I have chosen to write about my top 5 hiking peaks near Quito based on the following criteria: They need to be within a two hours drive from Quito and achievable within a day. Also, you should not have to take a rope or any mountaineering equipment. Oh yeah and access friendly – who wants to phone a farmer or government official to gain access. Hablas español? So in short, you should be able to leave Quito around 6 am, summit, and then be back in time to hit the Plaza Foch for celebratory drinks in the early evening. So below are my top 5 hiking peaks near Quito. 

1. Pasochoa (4200m)

Pasochoa is an hour drive just south of Quito near the town called Sangolqui. If you like the long, gradually inclining hikes, then you will enjoy Pasochoa. There are a few routes up this volcano. But for the majority of tourists, it would be easier to start at the Refugio de Vida Silvestre (altitude = 2600m). The first two hours of the hike, you walk on a trail near a river through a lush forest. Then the path abruptly opens up and you are greeted with views over the south of Quito. From this point, there are a series of steep hills to navigate and bit of easy rock scrambling as you near the summit. On the final part of the ascent, you can look down into the extinct crater which is incredibly deep and heavily foliaged. On a clear day from the top of Pasochoa, you will be able to see one of the most iconic volcanoes in the world, Cotopaxi, as well as Antisana and Cayambe. (Total hike time = 8 hours.)

My top 5 hiking peaks near Quito
Photo taken near Pasochoa with Cotopaxi in the distance.

2. Fuya Fuya (4260m)

Fuya Fuya is located north of Quito near Otavalo. It sits directly above Mojanda Lagoon (or Laguna de Mojanda) in what I can only describe as serene alpine wilderness. Despite the beautiful setting, Mojanda is isolated and therefore infrequently visited. So don’t be surprised if you find that your group are the only people here. But isn’t that what we want as hikers? The trail to the summit is straightforward and moderate in effort compared to Pasochoa. The best way of climbing Fuya Fuya is to travel to Otavalo and then get a taxi ride through some amazing pastoral countryside to the north side of the lagoon. The taxi will drop you off at a small parking lot at 3800m next to the lagoon’s edge. From here, you follow a path through alpine meadows towards an easy 4200m summit (around 2-3 hours). Beware if it is raining. The path near the top gets slippery. Although, not dangerous, it is really awkward. From the summit rim, the views over the Mojanda lagoon are incredible. (Total hike time = 4-6 hours.)  

Alpine lagoon wilderness
Early morning view of Fuya Fuya over Mojanda Lagoon.

3. Rucu Pichincha (4784m)

Rucu Pichincha has been referred to as an “urban volcano” as it dominates the west skyline of Quito and has easy access via the teleférico. Despite this tagline it is a good peak to climb. Basically, you catch the teleférico at 3000m and arrive 15 minutes later at 4000m. How easy is that? I suggest taking the teleférico early in the morning to avoid the crowds. From the top of the teleférico (known as Cruz Loma) you set out on an easy, well trodden path towards the summit. After about two hours, you will reach the start of an obvious ridge line (4400m). Here you need to split right and navigate a few rocky sections to a steep, sandy slope directly below the summit. Here you will be slowed down by the altitude. It’s hard work trudging uphill at 4600m if you are not well acclimatized! However, once you reach the summit, the views over city are worth the sweat. From here you can scamper back down and drink beers (or a cappuccino) in the Mariscal by early afternoon. (Total hiking time = 6 hours.)

Climbing Rucu Pichincha in Quito
The well trodden path to the summit of Rucu Pichincha.

4. Imbabura (4630m)

Now we getting into the big leagues as far as hiking peaks are concerned. Imbabura is an inactive volcano situated 60km north of Quito between the towns of Otavalo and Ibarra. Imbabura is a long day out by anyone’s standards and a great peak to really your sink your teeth into. You start from a place called la Esparanza and trek up a winding path with a few steep uphill sections to reach a col (3-4 hours). From the col, you do a bit of easy scrambling along the broad crater rim to the summit (1 hour). As you make your way along the rim, take a look into the desolate crater. I imagine this is what the planet Mars must look like. It’s a fairly long day out from Quito with close to two hours of travelling to reach the start. My advice would be to stay the night in Otavalo and save almost four hours of driving. (Total hike time = 7-8 hours.)

My top 5 hiking peaks near Quito
Approaching the crater of Imbabura.

5. El Corazón (4790m)

El Corazón is my personal favorite hiking peak. I have written in more detail about climbing el Corazón before (read here). This inactive volcano lies to the south of Quito, near the town of Machachi. This hike which borders on climbing is a committing day out with two exhilarating ridges that lead direct to the summit. From Quito, these ridges look very steep giving it a heart shape, hence the name, el Corazón. However, when you rub noses with it, the ridge line although fairly narrow in parts is not that dangerous or technical enough to warrant a rope. But be careful as there are loose rocks. I don’t believe El Corazón, receives many ascents. Those who do come here are mountaineers preparing for the bigger peaks in Ecuador, like Cotopaxi (5897m) or Chimborazo (6320m). Because of its remoteness, I would recommend this one to those of you who are seasoned hikers seeking a challenging outing. (Total hiking time = 6-7 hours.)

My top 5 hiking peaks near Quito
The summit of el Corazón obscured in the clouds to the far right.

Get out there and be safe!

I have not given specific details on my top 5 hiking peaks near Quito, but have chosen to write a reasonable description of what to expect. All these peaks will provide incredible alpine scenery and are worth the effort to get to. I would recommend for Imbabura and El Corazón, getting specific beta or hire a local guide to take you up. As for the other three, they are fairly straightforward. However, it goes without saying, always hike in a group. It can get cloudy in the afternoon and even the locals can sometimes get lost. For all peaks, it worth remembering that you are in the Andes and the weather is unpredictable. Go prepared. Take a headlamp, decent map, rain jacket and cell phone. For more information, you most welcome to pop me an email at marc@latinamericanalpine.com

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Professional adventure company based in Quito specializing in adventure tours around the alpine regions of Ecuador.

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