Ecuadorian Andes Information
The Ecuadorian Andes crosses the country from North to South. The Andes is characterized by its amazing landscape of volcanoes, lagoons and glaciers in the highlands and in its surrounding fertile valleys. The highest volcanoes are the Chimborazo (6,310 m), the Cotopaxi (5,897 m) and the Cayambe (5,790 m).
On the eastern and western Andean slopes, at a lower altitude, you can find the tropical cloud forest, a unique zone with a very high biodiversity where you can experience the great wildlife of Ecuador.
The Andes also offers some beautiful colonial cities, such as Quito. Quito is the capital city of Ecuador.
The highlands have a moderate climate with year-round spring weather (except the mountain tops, of course).
Explore this unique landscape with one of our Andes tours and get some more specific Ecuadorian Andes information below.
Ecuador’s capital Quito is located just a few kilometers south of the equator line. The name Quito comes from the indigenous Quitus who lived here in pre-Hispanic times. Today, about 2.2 million Quiteños live in this beautiful city high in the Andes (2,850 m). Surrounded by mountains, Quito stretches out for about 50 km from North to South. Quito’s treasure is the old town, which became the first UNESCO World Heritage Site worldwide in 1978. Magnificent palaces, lovely plazas and impressive churches build the townscape. Exquisite restaurants and cafés invite you to take a rest while watching the bustle on the streets. The narrow street of La Ronda, close to the hill Panecillo, is one of the oldest in town and was already built by the Indigenous. While enjoying a drink in one of the cafés, visiting the galleries, the traditional artists’ workshops or listening to a concert, you can feel the breeze of the old times of colonial Spain. Renaissance, baroque and neoclassicism became a colonial architecture mixture. Since Quito was founded on the 6th of December 1534, it has been destroyed by earthquakes several times and had to be rebuilt. Baroque churches and monasteries stayed unharmed and are the reason why Quito is the most beautiful city in Latin America and is part of good Andes tours.
In northern Quito is its “New Town”. Quito’s nightlife, international restaurants, and guesthouses are situated here. La Mariscal, also called “Gringolandia,” is the hub for many travelers, but also many young Quiteños visit the bars and restaurants frequently.
Once Cuenca was the northern capital of the Incas. Today “the city of the four rivers” is a charming art and culture center of Latin America. Cuenca is situated at the southern part of the Andes with an elevation of 2,500 m. With its beautiful buildings, narrow cobblestone streets, gorgeous plazas and magnificent churches Cuenca was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001. Cuenca is home to many museums and art galleries and is the place to visit especially for those who are interested in culture and history.
Indigenious markets and haciendas
Otavalo is one of the biggest trade centers for arts and crafts in Latin America. It is famous for its giant Saturday market. But not only on Saturdays can you buy traditionally crafted products like ponchos, original paintings, ceramics, blankets, tapestries, hammocks, carvings and more from the traditionally dressed Otavaleños. The animal market, which only takes place on Saturdays, is worth a visit and an interesting alternative to take a break from the bustling crafts market at Plaza del Poncho. The food market Mercado Copacabana and the vegetable and fruit market are another lively part of the city Otavalo.
South of Quito, close to the Cotopaxi National Park, every Thursday an impressive indigenous market is held in Saquisilí. On 8 Plazas you find piles of fruits, vegetables and potatoes, welded watering pots and tin cans, pots, and a wide range of handicrafts. Another highlight is the animal market a bit outside of town. Until about 9 o’clock in the morning you will see the local indigenous population milling around town with mules, lamas, pigs, cows and sheep.
Along the Avenue of the Volcanoes many historical farmhouse-style Haciendas with thick brick walls, creaky floors, canopy beds, and heavy curtains can be found. Hummingbirds and butterflies circle around the blooming gardens. Sleeping in these charming haciendas brings you back to the epoch of the colonial land owners. Somewhere owned by former Ecuadorian presidents, some are still working farms, and most have been transformed into beautiful luxury or comfort hotels.
Avenue of the Volcanoes
The name “Avenue of the Volcanoes” was coined by Alexander von Humboldt who found the Ecuadorian volcanoes lined up from North to South in the Andes Mountains.
The Avenue of the Volcanoes crosses the mountain chains Cordillera Occidental and Cordillera Oriental. Driving through these mountain chains allows breathtaking views of a half dozen snowcapped mountains. South of Quito to the left is the Antisana, Sincholagua, Cotopaxi, Tungurahua and Altar. To the right you find Guagua Pichincha, both Illinizas, Carihuairazo and the highest Ecuadorian mountain the Chimborazo. In between are the smaller mountains Pasochoa, Rumiñahui, Morurco, Quilindaña, Atacazo, Corazon and Yanaurcu. A drive on the Avenue of the Volcanoes is one of the must dos during Andes tours.
Volcanoes and National Parks
The Cayambe volcano is with its 5,790 m the third highest volcano in Ecuador. What makes this volcano special is that the Cayambe has the worldwide highest point (4,600 m) along the equator line. The Cayambe is nothing for inexperienced hikers. Many crevasses, permanent danger of avalanches, strong winds and surprising snowstorms make the climb to the summit very difficult.
The Cotopaxi (5,897 m), located 60 km south of Quito, is the worldwide highest active volcano. The name Cotopaxi has its origin in Kichwa and means “smooth neck of the moon”. Cotopaxi’s perfectly formed and snowcapped cone invites you to take picture-perfect photos. The Cotopaxi national park (33,000 km²) is a nature reserve and home to many animals like llamas, pumas, Andean wolves, marsupial mice, wild horses and different kinds of birds such as buzzards, condors etc.
The Chimborazo (6,310 m) is Ecuador’s highest mountain. Its peak is the furthest point from the earth’s center, even further then the peak of the Mount Everest. The Chimborazo and the Carihuairazo (5,020 m) are part of the Reserva de Produccion de Fauna Chimborazo. It is home to hundreds of vicuñas and alpacas. Climbing up to the climbers’ refuge requires snow- and ice-climbing gear and experience. But there are excellent trails between the Chimborazo and Carihuairazo for inexperienced hikers.
In prehistoric times, the Iliniza Sur and the Iliniza Norte were one unit. Today the peaks are separated by a 2 km long settle. Climbing the Iliniza Norte (5,126 m) is a good practice for the Chimborazo, whereas the Iliniza Sur (5,263 m) is only for experienced hikers.
The Ilinizas reserve protects mostly cloud forest and páramo with a total area of about 149,900 ha. The Quilotoa crater lagoon, the two volcanoes and the cloud forest are the main attractions in this park which offers hikers great trails and breathtaking views. The altitude within this reserve varies from 1,600 m up to 3,800 m.
Cuicocha Lake and Cotacachi Cayapas Ecological Reserve
Close to Otavalo is the Cotacachi Cayapas Ecological Reserve with its treasure Laguna Cuicocha. The altitudes of the Reserve range between 200 m and 4,939 m and are the reason why the Reserve contains different biological zones from coastal tropical forest to páramo. The reserve is home to an impressive wildlife. Jaguars, bears, monkeys, anteaters, caimans, bats and many more live in this 204,420 ha reserve. The Ecological Reserve counts around 20,000 different species of plants and 500 species of birds and is one of the most bio diverse hotspots on earth. The parks symbol is the Andean Condor which a lucky visitor can see hiking through this impressive Ecuadorian reserve.
Before Spain conquered Ecuador, the indigenous Cayapas lived at Cuicocha with its beautiful islands Wolf and Yerovi. In their language Cuicocha means “Lake of love” and it played an important role in their marriage ritual: The parents brought their daughters to the island. The marriageable boys had to swim across the 57°F – 61°F (14°C – 16°C) cold water to reach the girl of their dreams. Only the ones who survived could marry their girl. Today a swimming event across the lake is taking place every July.
The numerous guinea pigs on the two islands gave the islands the name of “cui cuy” which means the islands of guinea pigs. The lake is in the crater of the volcano Cuicocha which is still active, which can best be seen between the two islands where bubbles can be watched.
To hike around the lake takes around 3-5 hours and the level of difficulty is easy to moderate. There is also the opportunity to take a boat ride on the lake. The boat will bring you to the islands where you can observe the volcano’s activity.
Just 30 minutes northwest of Quito is the 3,383 ha big Pululagua Geo-botanical Reserve. The fertile crater is used for agriculture. There is a trail which leads from the edge of the crater down to the crater floor. Mornings are the best time to visit the crater.
The national park El Cajas is one of the most spectacular and stunning regions of Ecuador. In this Páramo zone there are 786 mountain lakes and small lagoons. With an elevation between 3,150 m and 4,450 m different animals, a terrific flora and around 157 different species of birds can be observed. Eight trekking tours and five easy trails run through this national park. The shorter trails already allow stunning views of the flora and fauna of this magnificent region, making at an ideal stop on the way from Cuenca to Guayaquil.
Ecuador’s only national park in the southern Andes is the Podocarpus National Park. The Podocarpus tree which can be found in the park in rich numbers gave the reserve its name. The altitude of this park ranges from 1,000 m to 3,600 m. Five different vegetation zones are distinguished in this 146,280 ha big area, which was declared a national park in 1982. A high diversity of fauna is found in the park and between 560 and 800 species of birds make the Podocarpus National Park a highlight of Ecuador’s nature. Ecuador’s national tree, the chinchona or quinea, which was once used as medicine against Malaria, grows in the paramo zone in the North of the park. Here are also 14 lakes and various ponds. The park can be discovered from two different entrances, Cajanuma park station and Bombuscara park entrance. There are many short trails to have a glimpse of the beauty of the park within a day tour.