Hiking in the Andes of Ecuador
Thinking about Ecuador the first thing that comes to your mind might be the Galapagos Islands or the Amazon. But at the same time it is also a perfect destination for hikers. In the Andes of Ecuador you find numerous mountains and volcanoes you can climb, suitable not only for professionals but also for beginners – in other words: perfect for me.
If you are in Quito, a perfect day trip to tick off a mountain from your hiking agenda is the Rucu Pichincha (15,420 ft/4,700 m). Take the TeleferiQo up to 13,124 ft (4,000 m) and enjoy the great view of the world’s highest capital lying at your feet. Take a last deep breath and prepare yourself mentally for the next three to four hours, because on the way you might ask yourself why you are actually doing this. The answer reveals itself when you reach the summit: you are doing this for the adrenaline, for the thrill, for the indescribable feeling of gladness and pride. For some it is just a walk, a stroll up a nice mountain, but for me it was an exhausting hike that left me falling asleep at 8 pm the same evening. To my defense I have to add that it was my first hike at such an altitude.
The next hiking adventure took me to a volcano called El Corazón (15,748 ft/4,800 m), about an hour south of Quito, in the Western Cordillera of the Andes of Ecuador. To get to the top you have to overcome about 4,920 ft/1,500 m in altitude. The hike takes you first through beautiful páramo until you get to a point where you have to start climbing a little bit. Which is not too easy considering your freezing and numb hands. Due to my breaks every five minutes it took me a while to reach the summit (I definitely blame it on the missing air at this altitude, not on my missing stamina). When I was standing on the top of the mountain, the same incredible feeling like last time overcame me.
Nevertheless the absolute highlight of my mountain experience in Ecuador was the hike to the top of the volcano Iliniza Norte (16,816 ft/5,126 m), since for a few months now my goal had been to once in my life hike over 16,404 ft/5,000 m. Mission accomplished! I felt as happy as I could not have imagined before when I was finally standing on the peak – although standing was quite difficult because the wind blew like hell. To get there was quite difficult as well. Parts of the way are more or less sandy, so you take two steps, but you slide down one again. Definitely do this hike with a guide. On your way up as well as down you can easily get lost, and it is also reassuring to have a person who is securing you with a rope, because sometimes the path is really steep and it is hard to keep your balance.
For me as a beginner these hikes were more than enough adventure. If you are a little bit crazy and looking for a bigger thrill, there are even higher mountains in the Andes of Ecuador waiting for you: for example the Cayambe (18,996 ft/5,798 m) and the Chimborazo (20,720 ft/6,315 m).