Experience the rugged beauty of the Ecuadorian Andes firsthand and hike through the country's most famous active and dormant volcanoes on this 11-day itinerary. Get your bearings in Quito, exploring the capital city's historic center, before taking on high-altitude hikes in Antisana National Park and Cotopaxi National Park, among other reserves. Visit crater lakes and frosty peaks before spending a day unwinding in Papallacta's hot springs.


  • Tour Quito's UNESCO-recognized historic center
  • Hike to the summit of the extinct volcano of Pasochoa
  • Visit the Jose Rivas refuge on the slopes of Cotopaxi
  • Explore the shores of crater lakes like Cuicocha and Quilotoa Lagoon

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Quito, Explore Quito
Day 2 Tour Quito's Historic Center, Ciudad Mitad del Mundo Quito
Day 3 Hike to Laguna de la Mica at Antisana National Park Quito
Day 4 Hike the Extinct Pasochoa Volcano Quito
Day 5 Hike to Rucu Pichincha Quito
Day 6 Transfer to Cotopaxi, Hike in Cotopaxi National Park Cotopaxi
Day 7 Transfer to Quito, Hike Quilotoa Lagoon Quito
Day 8 Transfer to Otavalo, Hike the Fuya Fuya Volcano Otavalo
Day 9 Hike Cuicocha Lake, Visit Otavalo Market & Transfer to Papallacta Papallacta
Day 10 Relax at the Termas de Papallacta Papallacta
Day 11 Transfer to Quito, Depart  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Quito, Explore

View of Quito on a clear day with mountains in the background
Quito is in the foothills of the Ecuadorian Andes

¡Bienvenidos! Welcome to Ecuador! Your flight will touch down in Quito, Ecuador's capital city, where a private driver will pick you up and take you to your accommodation. During the 45-minute trip, they'll introduce you to Quito and give you a rundown of the itinerary for the next day. After settling into your hotel, you'll have the rest of today to explore the city.

You're in for a fantastic adventure in the city, from the incredibly well-preserved colonial center to the lively bars and nightclubs around Plaza Foch. Take a walk through Parque Metropolitano Guangüiltagua, the largest urban park on the continent, or ride the TelefériQo to the top of Cruz Loma for dramatic views of the city's skyline.

Day 2: Tour Quito's Historic Center & Ciudad Mitad del Mundo

View of Panecillo Hill in Quito framed by colonial style buildings on either side
Panecillo Hill, as seen from Quito's historic streets

Today, join a walking tour of the famous colonial center of Quito. Named one of the first UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Sites in 1978, this historic area is filled with stunningly well-preserved architecture. Start in Independence Square and visit La Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús, nicknamed simply "La Compañía," a 17th-century church covered inside and out in detailed carvings made of volcanic rock and cedar covered with gold leaf.

Next, visit another church with a nickname, La Basílica y Convento de San Francisco, also called "El San Francisco." The sprawling complex is the largest of its kind in the historic centers of South America. Wrap up the historical center leg of your tour with a walk down La Ronda, a street that began as a pre-Columbian walking trail that has slowly transformed over the years into a romantic destination full of cafés, live music, and eclectic shops.

Later on, head north of the city to visit the Ciudad Mitad del Mundo ("Middle of the World City"), a park dominated by the 98-foot (30 m) tall Monument to the Equator created in honor of the Spanish-French Geodesic Mission to research the Equator. Stand on the yellow line marking the equator, posing with one foot in each hemisphere (though the true equator is a few hundred feet away), and then visit the planetarium, a small-scale model of Quito, or the many museums in the area.

Day 3: Hike to Laguna de la Mica at Antisana National Park

Aerial view of Antisana National Park in Ecuador with Laguna de la Mica in the right side and the Antisana Volcano in the middle background
La Laguna de la Mica with the Antisana volcano in the background
This morning, head southeast from Quito for a day trip into Napo Province, home of the Reserva Ecologica Antisana ("Antisana Ecological Reserve"). The park gets its name from the snow-capped Antisana volcano, but today you'll visit a different landmark: Laguna de la Mica ("Mica Lagoon"). Hike to the high-altitude lake following trails of varying difficulty. Along the way, you might spot the wildlife that calls the area around the lake home, like deer, condors, and rabbits.

Day 4: Hike the Extinct Pasochoa Volcano

Aerial view of the peak of the Pasochoa Volcano with hikers
The peak of the Pasochoa volcano
Today, a private transfer will take you south of Quito for a hike up the extinct Pasochoa volcano. At 13,800 feet (4,200 m) in elevation, this volcano offers stunning views of the surrounding landscape, including a rare original Andean forest tucked within its crater. This unique landscape supports hundreds of birds and other wildlife, like wild horses and the Andean condor. Take in the sights and sounds of the Ecuadorian Andes on this five-to-six-hour hike before heading back to Quito for a well-earned rest.

Day 5: Hike to Rucu Pichincha

The peak of Rucu Pinchincha in Quito, Ecuador, with clouds and Quito in the background
View from the peak of Rucu Pichincha
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You won't have to travel far for today's hike. Rucu Pichincha, one of two summits of the Pichincha volcano, sits on the western edge of Quito. Kick off your hike by riding the TelefériQo cable car from the city center to about 12,900 feet (4,000 m) up the slope.

From here, hike for about three hours to gain 2,470 feet (753 m) in elevation and reach the summit, but be prepared—while much of the trail crosses through beautiful páramo (alpine tundra found in the Andes), it ends with a steep rock scramble. The views from the top should make that last push worth it, and you can always catch your breath on the 20-minute ride back down the TelefériQo to the city.

Day 6: Transfer to Cotopaxi, Hike in Cotopaxi National Park

View of the Limpiopungo lagoon with the Cotopaxi volcano in the background on a cloudy and overcast afternoon
The Limpiopungo Lagoon in Cotopaxi National Park

Early this morning, head south from Quito for an adventure in Cotopaxi National Park. It's impossible to miss the park's namesake, Cotopaxi, a 19,347-foot-tall ( 5,897 m) active volcano that towers over the páramo landscape with its nearly symmetrical, snow-covered cone.

Once you arrive, head over to Limpiopungo Lagoon, a calm, turquoise lake hidden in a valley. You might spot the wildlife that calls the lagoon home, like two dozen species of birds, llamas, and rabbits. Then, ascend to 15,800 feet (4,864 m) by car or on foot to visit the popular Jose F. Rivas Refuge, a great starting point for shorter hikes to the glacier field or longer hikes to the summit. Dress warm, bring water, and enjoy another day of adventure in the Andes before spending the night at a nearby hacienda (ranch).

Day 7: Transfer to Quito, Hike Quilotoa Lagoon

Aerial view of Quilotoa Lake, a crate lake in Ecuador
Traverse the ancient crater rim of Quilotoa Lake

Head west from Cotopaxi National Park to visit another volcanic wonder: Quilotoa. This 2-mile-wide (3 km) crater lake is filled with 820 feet (250 m) of mineral-rich green water. Hike along the lake's outer rim, enjoying the views from three lava domes, or follow a path to the lake itself. Hiking in the area, especially uphill, can be challenging, so consider renting a mule for some help along the way. After your visit, return to Quito to relax or explore as you choose.

Day 8: Transfer to Otavalo, Hike the Fuya Fuya Volcano

Fuya Fuya Volcano at dusk
A rugged trek takes you to the collapsed Fuya Fuya volcano

This morning, travel north from Quito to Otavalo in Imbabura Province, your home base for the next couple of hikes. You'll head south from Otavalo to find Fuya Fuya, one of two volcanoes in the inactive Mojanda volcano complex. Today's hike will be a little more challenging than the others you've experienced on the trip so far. 

Start at beautiful Laguna Grande de Mojanda, an alpine lake among rocky peaks. Surrounded by vegetation like achupallas (a species of bromeliad), the trail to Fuya Fuya's summit is challenging, with a few relatively exposed rock scrambles to reach either of its two peaks. The views and the feeling of accomplishment should make up for it, though! Once you've completed the hike, return to Otavalo to spend some well-deserved time relaxing.

Day 9: Hike Cuichocha Lake, Visit Otavalo Market & Transfer to Papallacta

Cuicocha Lake during the day with wildflowers
Cuicocha Lake and its lava dome islands

Head into nature today and visit Cuicocha Lake, a crater lake formed by an eruption of the Cotacachi volcano thousands of years ago. Walk along a path on the lake's steep shores or take a boat ride past the two islands formed by lava domes. After today's hike, you'll be transferred back to Otavalo for a final afternoon.

While in the city, visit the Plaza de los Ponchos for a chance to shop around its world-famous market. While it's at its busiest on Saturdays, you can find vendors, primarily Otavalos, the Indigenous people of the region, throughout the week. The Otavalo people are best known for their colorful, hand-woven textiles, and many market stalls offer tablecloths, blankets, scarves, and more. Then, head to Papallacta, home of the Termas de Papallacta, a spa made up of eight natural geothermal pools. 

Day 10: Relax at the Termas de Papallacta

Lake in a mountainous valley in Papallacta, Ecuador
The distinctive landscape of Papallacta
What better way to wrap up a long trip than a relaxing visit to a hot spring to unwind? Today, head to the Termas de Papallacta, a spa made up of eight natural geothermal pools. Take a dip in the warm water and let any stress from your long hikes melt away as you admire the views of polylepis trees and the Antisana volcano in the distance if the weather is nice. Speaking of, on clear days, you can take on short day hikes around the area, like the Island Path and Sendero del Río.

Day 11: Transfer to Quito, Depart

Aerial view of Quito at night with city lights and volcano smoke in the background
An evening in Quito while Cotopaxi erupts
All good things must come to an end, and so it's time to wrap up your adventure in Ecuador. A private transfer will bring you from Papallacta to Quito to catch your flight home or off to your next destination. Safe travels!

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Map of Hiking in Ecuador's Highlands - 11 Days
Map of Hiking in Ecuador's Highlands - 11 Days