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The highlands of Ecuador have so many trekking options that you are completely spoilt for choice. Although there is no national system of making and protecting footpaths, the trails used by local people criss-cross the landscape. You can go for day hikes out of most of the towns you’re likely to stay in and you can also go on longer excursions to explore the natural wilderness. Some (but not all) of the national parks and reserves have clear trails to follow (eg. Cotapaxi, Cajas) There are also a few options for trekking in the western lowlands and the Oriente.

Getting Organised

Many treks can be undertaken independently. However it is not easy to get the right equipment outside of Quito and the altitude can make walking with a pack very tiring so you might want to consider hiring a local guide and/or mules for longer treks. Also remember that in many areas the weather is very changeable and you need to pack accordingly.
Ecuadorians aren’t great free time trekkers (there are plenty of campesinos who do it out of necessity) and so if you need to stock up on gear you should try to do so in Quito, where there are several shops in La Mariscal. In other towns the options to hire or even buy equipment are limited – which may force you to take a tour whether you want to or not. Click here for a list of shops which stock trekking equipment.

There are several books which provide specialist advice for climbing and trekking in Ecuador. Click here for a list. Books provide an outline guide to routes but you should also have the correct topographical maps, which are only available in the country from the Instituto Geographico Militar (IGM), which has offices in Quito and Guayaquil. Click here to read more about obtaining maps.


Where to Trek

As well as the parks mentioned above, some other great places for trekking in the highlands are the areas around:

Quito (Rucu Pichincha, Cerro Ilaló)
Puluhua Crater
Otavalo (Lagunas Cuicocha, Mojanda)
Vilcabamba (including Podocarpus National Park)
Quilotoa/ Chugchilán

On the coast you can trek in Machalilla National Park, the Mache Chindul Reserve and Cerro Blanco near Guayaquil. Land is generally in private hands and long trails do not exist.
There are many trails leading from the highlands down to the Oriente and then into the Amazon rainforest, where you will definitely require the services of a guide. You can also explore the Reventador and Sumaco volcanoes and surrounding lowlands.

In the experiences section or my blog you can read my account of the hikes and treks I have done in Ecuador including:

Inca path to Ingapirca
Cajas National Park
Cerro las Hayas
Cerro Blanco
Laguna Cuicocha

Bear in mind

Wherever possible check conditions with local people before you set out. Conditions can include weather, state of the trails, any crime reports.

Recognise your limits
Are you really able to complete the trek according to your plan? Can you speak enough Spanish to ask for help? Do you have all the equipment you need? Are you sure you can navigate the route?
If the answer to any of these questions is no then you probably shouldn´t set out to trek on your own.

Trek responsibly
Try to minimise your impact on the countryside, especially where you camp. Protect water sources. Respect local people.

Prepare physically and take care to acclimatise to the altitude where you are trekking.

Carry the appropriate clothing and equipment.


External rain cover and internal waterproof sack
Plastic bags to protect gear and collect trash
Tent (mosquito net in lowland areas)
Plastic sheet to put under tent
Sleeping bag and insulating mat
Camping Stove and fuel

Oats (avena) or cereal (cereal /seh-ri-AL)
Powdered milk (leche en polvo)
Sugar (azúcar) /Honey (miel)
Salt. pepper (sal, pimienta)
Packet soup (sopa)
Noodles /pasta (tallarines/fideos)
Whole grain bread /crackers (pan integral/galletas)
Vegetables (legumbres)
Water, tea, coffee (agua, té, café)
Rasins/ dried fruit / nuts (pasas, mani) (expensive in Ecuador)

Cooking pans, plate, cup etc.
Washing up brush or sponge
Water bottle + container to collect and purify water
Purification tablets (water takes an age to boil at altitude)
First aid kit
Sewing kit
Lip balm
Insect repellent
Torch/ head lamp + batteries
Matches/ lighter
Pen and paper
Hiking or rubber boots
Waterproof jacket
Gaiters or waterproof trousers
Woollen hat, scarf, gloves
Light fleece sweater
T-shirts, shorts, underwear
Woollen socks + cotton socks to prevent blisters
Sandals/ camp shoes
Sun hat + sunglasses

I also recommend camera, binoculars and some camp entertainment (it gets dark and cold early).


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