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How to Visit the Most Active Volcanoes in Ecuador

Tungurahua is an active volcano visited by tourists throughout the year
Tungurahua is an active volcano visited by tourists throughout the year | © Steve Bloom / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Richard Collett
18 October 2021
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With 47 volcanoes located across the country, Ecuador is one of South America’s most exciting adventure travel destinations. This is where the Pacific plate collides with the Northern Andes, forming a vast line of towering volcanic peaks known as the Avenue of Volcanoes. You can join a multi-day volcanoes tour or hiking expedition into this famous region, tackling snow-capped peaks and camping below smoking calderas. Or travel over to the Galapagos – an archipelago formed in the wake of violent volcanic eruptions – and you’ll find sunken crater lakes and active volcanoes waiting to be explored. To inspire your next adventure, here’s how to visit the most active volcanoes in Ecuador.

Cotopaxi

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The volcano Cotopaxi north of Quito in Ecuador
© James Caldwell / Alamy Stock Photo
South of Quito you’ll find the Cotopaxi Stratovolcano rising 5,897m (19,347ft) high. Surprisingly, it’s not the highest volcano in Ecuador, but Cotopaxi has erupted at least 50 times in the last 300 years, making it one of the most active volcanoes in the world. Many travelers just visit the nearby town of Latacunga to enjoy views of Cotopaxi, but adventure travelers can join expeditions to the summit. Another option is to take a four-by-four vehicle on the Cotopaxi volcano road to a refuge halfway up the slopes. Be warned, it’s unpaved, off-road and not for the faint of heart.

With Culture Trip, you can visit the Cotopaxi National Park, including a horse riding adventure, as part of our specially curated eight-day Ecuador trip – led by our Local Insider.

Quilotoa

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Young male backpacker walking along the magic Quilotoa crater lake on the hike named Quilotoa Loop in the Andes mountain range near Quito, Ecuador.
© Sébastien Lecocq / Alamy Stock Photo
Quilotoa could be the most beautiful volcano near Quito. Located high up in the Andes, just south of the capital, Quilotoa is 3,914m (12,841ft) above sea level and one of the most popular multi-day hikes in Ecuador. A four-day circular hiking route takes you through the Avenue of Volcanoes, with the highlight being the spectacular views over the flooded crater lake when you reach the summit of Quilotoa. Alternatively, you can join a day tour from Latacunga, enjoying panoramic views on the road upwards, a kayak session on the volcanic lake, or a hike around the rim.

Tungurahua

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View of the town of Banos de Agua Santa and Tungurahua volcano (5023m) in Ecuador.
© Eric Nathan / Alamy Stock Photo
Tungurahua is one of Ecuador’s most dramatic and active volcanoes. This monstrous stratovolcano is 5,023m (16,480ft) in height, and ongoing eruptions over the last decade have seen Tungurahua intermittently spew ash and lava across the Andes. Continued volcanic activity, combined with its high altitude location in a remote part of Ecuador, makes any ascent of Tungurahua extremely hazardous. Considering the name Tungurahua means “throat of fire” in the local Quechua dialect, you might want to view this volcano from a distance. To visit Tungurahua, head to the southern city of Banos de Agua Santa.

Cayambe

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Mountain climbers ascend Cayambe volcano, Ecuador, South America
© robertharding / Alamy Stock Photo
At a staggering 5,790m (18,996ft) in height, it’s no easy feat summiting Ecuador’s third highest volcano. Make it to the top of Cayambe though, and you’ll be standing on top of the only volcano in the world that’s divided by the equator. You’ll also be amongst the select few mountaineers who’ve summited Cayambe. It takes at least two days of uphill climbing, traversing ravines and tackling Ecuador’s largest glacier before you finally make it to the summit of Volcan Cayambe.

Reventador

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Reventador Volcano erupting, November 2015. Situated in a remote region of the Ecuadorian Amazon, Reventador has been erupting since 2002.
© Morley Read / Alamy Stock Photo
Don’t get too close to the Reventador – it’s been erupting since the Spanish first arrived in eastern Ecuador in the 16th century. They named the volcano The Exploder, such was the ferocity of its activity. Reventador is 3,562m (11,686ft) high and you can join trips from Quito – a four-hour drive away – into the national park of the same name. From the comfort and safety of a lodge several kilometers away, you can watch lava flows crashing down the slopes and smoke billowing into the clouds.

Guagua Pichincha

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Viewpoint on the edge of the Guagua Pichincha volcano
© Patricio Hidalgo / Alamy Stock Photo
Guagua Pichincha volcano is one of the closest volcanoes to Quito, and it’s so close that the capital city is built right up to its eastern slopes. It’s a twin-peaked stratovolcano, with the tallest peak reaching a height of 4,784m (15,696ft). There are several routes to the top, and you can easily visit one of the peaks on a day trip. Tour agencies shuttle travelers most of the way, leaving a short hike to the top. Alternatively, take the cable car up to 3,800m (12,467ft), for blistering views over both the volcano and Quito.

Sangay

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For 500,000 years the Sangay volcano, in central Ecuador, has been erupting almost continually. It never stops, and although the most recent eruption occurred in 1934, the volcano has been throwing up magma and lava ever since. That makes organizing an expedition to the summit very challenging, and, for most people, viewing this 5,286m (17,343ft) snow-capped peak from a safe distance is the preferred option. Sangay is located in Ecuador’s Avenue of the Volcanoes and sits proudly amongst the tallest and most active stratovolcanoes in the country.

Cerro Azul

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Volcanic caldera with tuff cone and lake, formed by collapse of shield volcano. Cerro Azul, Isabela Island, Galapagos, Ecuador.
© Nature Picture Library / Alamy Stock Photo
The Galapagos Islands formed due to volcanic eruptions below the seabed, and the archipelago is constantly shifting and changing due to tectonic activity in the Pacific Ring of Fire. That means there are a lot of volcanoes to visit, including Cerro Azul on the largest island of Isabela. At 1,689m (5,541ft) in height, Cerro Azul is the second tallest peak in the Galapagos. It’s also very much an active volcano, making this a difficult place to visit.

Chimborazo

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Stunning volcanic landscape with wild vicunas at the foothills of Chimborazo National park, Ecuador
© Photogilio / Alamy Stock Photo
Standing a whopping 6,263m (20,548) tall, Chimborazo is the highest peak in Ecuador. Luckily, the last known eruption of Chimborazo was 1,500 years ago and the summit has become a particularly popular place for mountaineers looking to bag their first 6,000m (19,685ft) plus summit. Despite the altitude, Chimborazo is considered to be an easier ascent than many other mountains in its height range. If you’re fit, have experience using crampons, ice picks and axes, then you can reach the summit year-round using the established routes up the mountain and local guides.

Sierra Negra

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Latin America South America Ecuador Galapagos Islands Isabela Island Couple hiking along edge of Sierra Negra volcano with smoke
© Chad Case / Alamy Stock Photo
Sierra Negra is not only one of the most active volcanoes in the Galapagos Islands but one of the most famous in Ecuador. Despite this recent activity, tours regularly take visitors to visit the fresh lava fields strewn down the slopes on Isabela Island. At 1,124m (3,688ft) tall, Sierra Negra is an impressive contrast to the surrounding coastal landscape, and, perhaps surprisingly, you’ll find plenty of giant tortoises have made the volcano’s hazardous base home.

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