The first rays of light creep in, shyly hiding behind the mountains as the car races along the highway. The cool breeze starts heating the atmosphere and lets out the first scents of the morning. It is the highland smell that characterizes the Ecuadorian Andes, bringing refreshment not only for the body but also for the soul.
The mountains and landscapes are guilty of forcing the car to a few stops along the way for pictures or simply gazing at them like a painting that could only be made by the supreme creator: spectacular, wonderful, extraordinary.
Ecuador is a country for early morning birds and night owls, for warm-weather seekers and cooler mountain winds. For walkers, hikers and sportspeople and for those who just want to sit by the fireplace drinking coffee.
No matter what you want to do, Ecuador is a place where everyone is welcome and can enjoy it on diverse activities. But for this particular adventure, it’s better to seize the day from early hours to make enough time to see it all. So, grab your jacket, poncho and hiking boots…
Discover Ecuador at a whole new level!
Ecuador is one of the few places that allows you to enjoy so much diversity from a stone-throw away. For this experience in particular, Quito will serve as your checkpoint towards the destinations you wish to see. Wherever you point your map and compass towards, you can be sure you’ll find different worlds that perfectly fit into the country’s definition of multi-cultural.
Depending on your time here, we can’t guarantee you’ll see them all, but you’ll certainly enjoy each one more than the other. A perfect head start would be to set your compass north towards the land of the mountain ranges, volcanic lakes, artisan souvenirs and local treats for all tastes and palates.
Northern Ecuadorian Andes
Cayambe volcano is the first one to be seen on the road, marking the separation of the border between Pichincha and Imbabura provinces. It is extinct and the third highest peak in the country: its magnificent ice cap, glaciers, and summits welcome tourists who are left in awe of the view.
Located exactly at the equatorial line, it rises at 5.790 meters above sea level. Visitors are welcome to drive and hike up to the refuge through the highlands. Reaching the top is reserved for more experienced climbers, an approximate seven-hour climb with an accompanying guide. The endeavor is surreal, whichever way you decide to experience this volcano, you can be sure it’ll stay with you. Cayambe makes way, like a drumroll preparing the crowd for the next stop: Imbabura.
If you’re interested in taking a piece of Ecuador with you for yourself or your loved ones, Otavalo is the place to find it. Located in towards the city, it is unmistakable, revealing itself with colored fabrics in the middle of the dimmer colors of the houses and shops surrounding it.
Known as the biggest indigenous market in the Americas, our advice is to not pass it by briefly. Take your time to stroll and observe the variety of talented handicrafts made by the indigenous “otavaleños”. From quilts, rugs, ponchos, and scarves made from llama and sheep wool, to the typical indigenous shoes, the “alpargatas” (handcraft shoes similar to espadrilles), hand-made blouses, sweaters, jewelry, and trinkets. It’s something you’ll definitely want to make room for in your suitcase.
This particular area of the Ecuadorian Sierra is home to other attractions, Imbabura’s own natural water parks: San Pablo lake being the main one. San Pablo, guarded by Imbabura volcano, is host to different water sports including speedboat, jet skiing, kayaking, paddleboard and boat trips.
Swimming in these waters is an option if you’re skilled and experienced with cold temperatures. In fact, during the Yamor festivities held in September every year, hundreds of contestants get to swim 3.8 kilometers across the lake.
Give yourself the opportunity to experience the local life by also putting your appetite to the test. Some dishes to check off your Ecuadorian gastronomic check listEin Imbabura are “fritada” (fried pork), “locro” (exquisite potato soup), “paila” ice-cream, empanadas de morocho and, if you’re looking for braver choices, try the famous guinea pig dish and “yahuar locro” (which means blood soup in quechua). And for those of you who have a sweet tooth, Cayambe is the perfect place to try “bizcochos”, queso de hoja, manjar de leche, Ecuador’s best milk caramel.
Southern Ecuadorian Andes
Cotopaxi guards the south. Easily spotted from Quito, its perfect cone-shaped peak serves as the compass that guides travelers towards its territory. “Neck of the moon” is its quechua name, and the tallest active volcano in the world measured from the center of the earth.
It is a master of entertainment, a magician that reveals its tricks and wonders to those fortunate enough to bear witness. There are different ways to approach the volcano itself, the main one being the road from the park checkpoint entrance towards Cotopaxi National Park. However, we suggest you set fuel to your adventurous spirit and try other less paved roads, like the north approach from Machachi.
Before you begin your ascension, we suggest taking little detours into other surroundings, such as Limpiopungo lake and El Boliche, ideal for flora and fauna observation hikes. Nearby haciendas are also a great opportunity to get to know more about the farm life in the highlands and the “chagras”, the authentic indigenous mountain cowboys. And then there’s the climb towards the colossus.
After an approximate 30-minute drive up, you’ll be able to hike up to the first refuge. Make sure to bring comfortable shoes, winter clothes, and a good camera. If you’re looking for another adventure nearby, we suggest making way south towards Quilotoa, the lake inside a volcano crater! This is another natural wonder from Cotopaxi treasures that you’ll not want to miss. If you’ve visited these two spots, in particular, you’ve visited the heart of the center-north of the Ecuadorian Andes.
The Ecuador mountains are like a best-seller novel that adventurers cannot wait to explore. Its pages have the power to capture your passion and keep you flipping pages until you reach the end. And, also like a great story, it’ll leave you with a nostalgic, but fulfilled sensation, as if you’ve completed one of your greatest quests in life. Dare to step into this Middle-earth-like experience and start writing your own Ecuador story in the Andes.
How can you make this experience happen? Find our tours.