lake quilotoa trail in ecuador

Hiking in Ecuador- 15 Incredible Trekking Spots

Ecuador is a small country known for its diverse landscapes and natural beauty. There is plenty of great hiking in Ecuador. 

In this helpful guide, we will look at the 12 best hiking spots in Ecuador! Be sure to read this guide to its fullest as there will be many helpful tips for your adventure!

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Don’t Hike Unprepared!

Hiking in Ecuador, although amazing, can be dangerous if you go unprepared. Here is a brief list of essentials for hiking in Ecuador along with some recommendations.

  • Lightweight Hiking Backpack– This Osprey Rook 65 Backpacking Backpack is a great option.
  • Comfortable Hiking Shoes– These super comfy Columbia Hiking Shoes are available in both men’s and women’s sizes.
  • Warm Down Coat– Some of the hiking in Ecuador is on the cold side, so you will need a good coat. This North Face Insulated Jacket is warm in cold climates and breathable in warmer climates.
  • Good Hiking Pants– Want good hiking pants on a budget? Check out our guides to the best hiking pants on a budget for men and women.
  • Breathable, warm socks– Moisture wicking socks are a necessity, especially if you are going to be hiking for long periods of time. These bamboo socks are great for just that.
  • Plenty of food
  • Plenty of water
  • First aid kit

1.) Lake Quilotoa

Hike one of many trails to Lake Quilotoa.

The Quilotoa Lagoon is a beautiful, emerald green lake located in the Cotopaxi province. In fact, this lake is among the most popular hikes in the entire country of Ecuador! 

The sparkling green is a result of the once active Quilotoa volcano. The large lagoon is the only thing left today [Quilotoa Lagoon].

There are many hiking options in this area. You can either take the shorter hike down to the lagoon and back, or you can take a guided, multi-day tour through the mountains. I’ve only taken the 6+ mile hike down and back and I have to be honest; it isn’t for everybody.

The hike down to the lake is pretty easy. You can get down there pretty fast going downhill. However, the hike back up is a different story.

The hike back up from the lagoon is strenuous and tiring, especially if you are not acclimated to the higher elevation.

Also, I strongly recommend bringing a jacket as it is pretty chilly there most of the day. 

On top of that, bring some extra food and water with you since there are few options on the trail.

Once you get down to the lagoon itself you will be able to go kayaking! Each kayak only cost us $3 when we visited, although it could be a little more now.

The bottom line is that this experience is completely worth it. Especially since you will have an up close view of the volcanic crater.

2.) Tena & Misahuallí

El Arbol Milenario in Misahuallí, Ecuador

Want the all-in-one Amazon rainforest experience? Tena has everything that you could ask for including tubing the rivers, hiking in the rainforest, bird-watching and seeing lots and lots of monkeys!

Nearby, you will encounter the small village of Misahuallí. Walking around the village you will encounter many curious primates. But be careful, because the monkeys will steal your stuff (and it is nearly impossible to get it back).

There are many hiking trails around the Tena and Misahuallí area. If you like the rainforest then you will not be disappointed!

During your stay, be sure to visit “El Árbol Milenario”. This is an enormous thousand year old tree that is the home to many different kinds of wildlife. You can either visit by yourself, or you can hire a local guide that will take you there.

Along with hiking, you can go swimming in the Napo River. Just be careful as this river is home to many piranhas!

Don’t want to go swimming? Boating is also a popular activity in the Napo River.

The Tena experience will leave you feeling like you were in a movie. Especially because there is an adventure at every corner!

3.) Llanganates National Park

Paramos make up much of the landscape in Ecuador.

Llanganates National Park covers an impressive 219,707 hectares (542,907 acres) of land area. This park includes vast cloud forests, the famous Cerro Hermoso and a variety of lagoons.

This park is so well conserved that there is barely any trace of human activity in it, making it a great hiking spot in Ecuador [Llanganates National Park].

On top of that, much of the park still hasn’t even been mapped out! This incredible park is also the center of many urban legends including hidden treasures throughout the mountains.

Llanganates National Park is a great way for hikers to explore nature without much human interruption.

4.) Mindo Nambillo Cloud Forest

The heavy rainfall in the forests promote great biodiversity.

Mindo, Ecuador is a paradise filled with many species of birds, butterflies, and plants. Among the most popular activities here is birdwatching.

In fact, scientists claim that there are at least 350 species of birds among this forest!

The trekking here is superb, as nature will greet you with some of its most fascinating landscapes. While hiking in Mindo, you will literally be walking in the clouds! 

This forest is dense with life, so expect a new adventure each trail that you take.

Other activities in this forest include tubing, rafting and zip-lining. Don’t skip out on these adventurous activities [Mindo Ecuador].

It should be noted that if you decide to include bird watching in your itinerary, consider hiring a local guide. This is the best way of getting the full experience.

A nice bonus too is that Mindo is only 2.5 hours away from Quito by bus; making it a reasonable trip from the capital.

5.) El Pahuma Orchid Reserve

Discover some “hidden” waterfalls in the rainforest.

Orchids, bears, and ancient trails are just a few of all that the Pahuma Orchid Reserve offers. In this colorful forest, you will encounter over 300 species of orchids!

This miraculous forest includes trails that are famous for the wide variety of orchids. In fact, these orchids can be found both on trees and on the ground. 

This forest has a unique ecosystem as there are birds that don’t exist anywhere else in the world!

In the Pahuma Orchid Reserve, you will also encounter incredible waterfalls. Just a few of many in these cloud forests. This reserve fits most people’s definition of paradise.

The Pahuma Orchid Reserve is only one hour away from Ecuador’s capital of Quito; which is very convenient if you are staying there.

Whether you are in Ecuador for a brief visit or an extended stay, you must take a hike in the cloud forest!

6.) Santa LucÍa Cloud Forest Reserve

There are many hiking options in the Amazon.

Santa Lucía Cloud Forest Reserve is a gem among the cloud forests of Ecuador. This reserve provides many great hiking opportunities in a tropical environment.

This massive reserve covers an area of about 730 hectares (about 1,800 acres) of Ecuador’s forests [Welcome to Santa Lucía Ecuadorian Cloud Forest Reserve]. The official website mentions that there are more than 400 species of birds and 300 species of orchids! 

The Santa Lucía Cloud Forest Reserve even has crystal clear rivers and waterfalls that you can hike down to. 

You are also likely to run into many species of hummingbirds on your hike. In fact, these cloud forests are home to the most diverse variety of hummingbirds in the world! 

Trekking here at the Santa Lucía Cloud Forest Reserve is like walking through paradise. In fact, this picture-perfect forest is constantly being studied by biologists. 

Enjoy hiking at night? There are tours that will guide you through this unique experience. Once the sun sets, the forest turns in to a whole different world. 

The Santa Lucía Cloud forest reserve is among the most unique hiking spots in all of Ecuador.

7.) The Mysterious Yasuni National Park

One of the many unique plants in the Amazon Rainforest.

Imagine hiking in a place that is bustling with life, yet humans know very little about it. This place would be the Amazonian Yasuni National Park in Ecuador. 

This park contains species of animals, plants and insects that haven’t even been discovered before. Despite its significance in biology, it hasn’t been studied much up until recently [One of the Most Biodiverse Places on Earth].

During your journey at Yasuni, expect to run into colorful toucans, curious monkeys, and mighty jaguars!

This forest is unfortunately becoming a victim of commercial mining and illegal logging. Throughout the park you will learn about its current conservational efforts to preserve Yasuni National Park.

Ecuador Hiking Tip: Bring a good raincoat! Heavy rainfall supports the dense biodiversity of this park. A good option for a cool, yet waterproof raincoat are these Columbia jackets.

8.) The Ancient Ingapirca Inca Trail

When talking about Inca trails, most people think about the famous Inca trail to Machu Picchu in Peru. Surprisingly though, this trail in Ecuador had far more historical significance than its Peruvian cousin. 

This trail is not your usual day hike as it takes about 3 days to complete the journey!

Importantly, you should not attempt this trek on your own. I strongly recommend that you hire a local guide, since this Inca trail is a strenuous trek [Ingapirca Inca Trail Ecuador].

Interestingly, this Ecuadorian trail used to have armies that would march down it, so expect to see cemeteries and ruins throughout the expedition.

This trail eventually reaches an elevation of 4,200 m (13,776 ft.) which is one of the highest points in the entire Incan empire.

Ecuador Hiking Tip: During your trek, you will see many beautiful lagoons and ancient ruins. I strongly recommend bringing a good camera. This Canon EOS Rebel T7 DSLR Camera is a great option.

9.) The Daunting Ilinizas

Prepare well before trekking up the Ilinizas.

The Ilinizas are a personal favorite of mine. Firstly, they have several volcanic hot springs on the trail. Also, there is a beautiful lagoon nearby called “La Laguna de Yambo”.

This Ecuadorian hike is a difficult one since the Ilinizas reach a maximum elevation of 5,162 meters (16,936 ft). Because of this, you will need to prepare plenty in advance for this trek [Iliniza].

There are a couple of ways of hiking these mountains; you can drive part of the way up, or you can hike the entire way starting at the bottom.

If you decide to take a truck to the volcanic hot springs, then you can make the hike in a very reasonable amount of time. Although just don’t plan on staying too late as you might not have a ride back down.

Ecuador Hiking Tip: Did you know that you can swim in these volcanic hot springs? They make for a relaxing experience. However, the air is a bit chilly up there. Just be sure to bring a good coat!

10.) The Beautiful Sierra Negra Volcano Trail

The Sierra Negra Volcano Trail in the Galapagos is a great trail for hikers of all types. It is a moderately challenging trail, so you don’t need to pack too much.

Unfortunately, this trail is only accessible via a guide [Sierra Negra Volcano Trail]. But if you were planning on visiting the Galapagos anyways then this might not be an issue for you.

The rules are a little stricter in the Galapagos; one being that you cannot bring pets with you. Understandably, this is a conservation area under heavy study, so there are stricter rules for tourists.

This trail is about 14.5 km (9 miles) around. Not only is it fairly simple, but you can also visit at any time of the year.

11.) The Guagua & Rucu Pichincha Summits of Quito

A view of Quito from the Guagua mountain.

Guagua and Rucu are two of three peaks that are part of the “Pichincha” mountains. Guagua is the taller of two, reaching an elevation of 4,794 meters (15,728 ft) at its peak [Guagua/Rucu Pichincha]. 

These mountains are very simple to get to as you can use both private and public transportation to get there. They make for great hikes for both expert and novice hikers alike.

I’ve personally visited the Guagua Pichincha and hiked most of the trail. Just keep in mind that this is a hot hiking spot (mainly among locals) so there might be a lot of people here.

You can hike this mountain at any time of the year. I personally recommend going in the morning so you can see more of the landscape, but that’s just my personal preference. 

Without a doubt, these summits make for great day trips. However, these trails are not really long enough for an extended hiking trip.

If you are planning on staying in Quito, then be sure to read this guide before you visit.

Ecuador Hiking Fact: There is a cable car or “Teleferico” that will take you part way up the Guagua Pinchincha. Even though this is an active volcano, it is still considered safe for hiking and tourism. 

12.) Cotopaxi National Park 

Picture taken right before our hike up Cotopaxi.

The Cotopaxi Volcano is one of the most daring hikes in all of Ecuador. Not only is it among the tallest volcanoes in the world, but the temperatures are constantly well below freezing. 

This hike is only for experienced hikers as it becomes increasingly difficult to acclimate to the extreme elevation. The elevation reaches up to 5,897 meters (19,347 feet), which is one of the highest points in all of Ecuador. To be honest,  I personally had a difficult time acclimating as my home state in the U.S is barely above sea level.

This hike is nearly impossible without a warm jacket. The one mentioned at the beginning of this article would be more than warm enough. 

If you decide to hike the whole way, expect your hike to take up to 6 hours. The downhill hike is far easier and less strenuous.

Don’t want to hike the whole way? There is a parking ramp part of the way up if you want to drive.

An important thing to note, however, is the summit is not always open. If there is more volcanic activity than normal, then the park may restrict hikers to go past the visitors station.

Ecuador Hiking Tip: Please don’t force yourself any higher than you can handle. It can be potentially dangerous- even fatal- to push yourself too far. In fact, I recommend using an elevation mask while working out to get accustomed to the extreme elevation.

This is the elevation mask that I use.

13.) The Extinct Rumiñahui

Rumiñahui is located about 14 km (about 8.5 miles) northwest of the active Cotopaxi [Cerro Rumiñahui]. 

I would recommend this hike if you want the challenge of Cotopaxi without all of the crowds.

The trail is about 7 miles long and would take you about 5 hours to complete. In addition, you can visit this trail at almost any time of the year.

Rumiñahui is perfect for the avid hiker that is trying to avoid the heavy tourism.

14.) The Active Tungurahua Stratovolcano

Also known as the “The Black Giant”, the Tungurahua volcano is the 10th highest peak in all of Ecuador [Tungurahua]. In fact, this might be the most dangerous active volcano on this list as there is rising activity within the mountain.

Tungurahua is close to the city of Baños, making it a good option if you were planning on going there anyways.

Need a place to stay nearby? If you do, check out this useful guide here.

Please note, however, that this trail might not always be open. It would be a good idea to check with local guides to see how much of it you can hike, if at all.

There is a refuge or “Refugio” about 4 hours up the mountain. Conveniently, there is water and gas up here for a small fee. Also, you can stay up there overnight if you bring your own bedding such as a sleeping bag or hammock.

Virtually anyone can hike the Tungurahua, making it great for families and non-hikers alike.

If you want to read a full travel guide on Baños de Agua Santa, be sure to check out this guide on “15 Exciting Things to do in Baños, Ecuador”.

15.) La Ruta de las Cascadas

One of several waterfalls in Baños, Ecuador.

La Ruta de las Cascadas (The Route of the Waterfalls) is an incredible experience that everyone will enjoy. There are several trails leading to the many waterfalls of Baños, Ecuador.

Among these waterfalls are the popular Pailón del Diablo and El Manto de la Novia. You would need to stay in Baños for multiple days in order to hike all of these trails. Also, each of these popular waterfalls have both short and long trails, which is convenient if you are tight on time.

Also, be sure to check out my guide here on the “Top 3 Waterfalls in Baños, Ecuador”!

The Countless Options for Hiking in Ecuador

Cotopaxi National Park.

Whether you decide to explore the rainforest or conquer the Andes, you will have a story to tell for a lifetime. The most important advice that I can give you is to please hike prepared and don’t ignore advice from the locals. Hiking safely is the best way to hike.

We hope you enjoyed this article! Please be sure to check out our other hiking guides to help you to be fully prepared!


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