The Most Epic Hiking Destinations in Ecuador

Discover some of South America's most breathtaking hikes in Ecuador
Discover some of South America's most breathtaking hikes in Ecuador | © Raquel Mogado / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Vibeke Johannessen
15 October 2021

Even though Ecuador is a relatively small country, it boasts some of the most awe-inspiring and lesser-known hikes in South America. From high-altitude mountain and volcano trails to stunning coastal routes, here’s our selection of the best hiking spots in Ecuador.

Keen to get hiking across Ecuador? With Culture Trip, you’ll have the opportunity to do so on our exclusive eight-day Ecuador adventure, led by our Local Insider.

Quilotoa Loop

Hiking Trail, Natural Feature

Quilotoa Lake fills the crater of the Quilotoa volcano – with its highest point at 3,914m (12,841ft) above sea level – and is renowned for its ethereal, emerald green color. If you’re up for a challenge and are already acclimated to the high altitude, you can hike a four-day loop in the region around the volcano, passing through small towns such as Quilotoa, Chugchilán, Isinlivi and Sigchos along the way. The shortest trail is to the Quilotoa Shalalá Overlook, which shouldn’t take more than an hour from the parking area at Quilotoa.

Cuicocha Lake

Natural Feature, Hiking Trail

Translating as Guinea Pig Lake, the deep blue Cuicocha Lake was named as such because of the shape of the biggest island which supposedly resembles the furry creature. The crater was created after a huge eruption around 3,100 years ago – and the hike around the lake is just under 14.4km (9mi) and can easily be completed in a day, or half-day. If you’d rather not walk that far, rent a kayak or take a boat trip to check out the island.

Cajas National Park

Natural Feature, Park
A scenic view of Cajas National Park near Cuenca, Ecuador.
© All Canada Photos / Alamy Stock Photo

The national park is located in Cuenca in the Azuay province and is between 3,100m (10,170ft) and 4,450m (14,600ft) above sea level. Because of the enormous size of the national park – 70,000 acres (28,327ha) – you’re best planning ahead to decide which hikes you want to do, as they vary from a few hours to a few days. Alternatively, there are plenty of organized tours you can join – either for just a day or several days. There are eight marked trails of varying lengths and difficulty, passing through forests and páramo – grassy shrubland above the treeline, typical of South America – two of which start at the information center.

Tortuga Bay

Natural Feature

Don’t worry if hiking at a high altitude is not your thing. Tortuga Bay – on Santa Cruz Island in the Galápagos Islands – features a beautiful hike with a chance to spot endemic wildlife. The hike only takes about an hour starting from Puerto Ayora and the most eye-catching part of the route is when you reach Brava Beach. Here, you’ll see plenty of Marine Iguanas chilling in the shade. The best beach to swim on along the way is Playa Mansa. It can get pretty hot, so remember to bring plenty of water with you.

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Rucu Pichincha

Natural Feature, Hiking Trail
The peaks of the Rucu Pichincha volcano in the Andes mountains with the aerial view over Quito city 2000m lower, Ecuador.
© Sébastien Lecocq / Alamy Stock Photo

Rucu Pichincha is a 4,784m (15,695ft)-high volcano just outside Ecuador’s capital, Quito. For $8 (£5.81), you can take the cable car to the start of the hiking trail.Walking towards the summit of the volcano fromthe cable car will take you around three t0 four hours up and two to three hours coming back down. You’ll also see lots of interesting birds along the way – such as the Curiquingue, which is the sacred bird of the Incas. It’s best to hike up Pichincha with a group and – unless you’re an experienced climber – with a local guide. Remember to bring warm clothes and plenty of water, too.

Cotopaxi National Park

North entrance of Cotopaxi National Park, in the background the volcano and stream in the foreground
© Patricio Hidalgo / Alamy Stock Photo
Cotopaxi Volcano is one of the highest active volcanoes in the world, reaching a height of 5,897m (19,347ft) above sea level at the summit – Ecuador’s second-highest peak. It last erupted between 2015 and 2016, at which point it was temporarily closed for hiking. Hiking at this altitude requires plenty of preparation and is not recommended for people with vertigo or health issues. There are several other less extreme trails within the national park and also many good camping spots. If you want to experience being up close to an active volcano, hike up to the first shelter – which shouldn’t take more than one hour to reach.

Machalilla National Park

Natural Feature, Hiking Trail

Machalilla National Park is located in the Manabí region of western Ecuador – and is one of the most extensively protected areas on the country’s Pacific coast, encompassing tropical dry forest, cloud forest, desert and coastal ecosystems. One of the main attractions of the park is the uninhabited Isla de La Plata – around 40km (25mi) off the mainland – where you’ll see lots of Blue-Footed Boobies and Magnificent Frigatebirds. Get here by joining a guided tour from Puerta Lopez. On the mainland, Playa Los Frailes is one of the most beautiful beaches in Ecuador, characterized by pristine white sand, secluded rocky coves and warm, clear water.

These recommendations were updated on October 15, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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