Adventure of the Week: Quito and the Andean Highlands
There are some classic big walks in the world, the ones that adorn the glossy coffee table books. While we know them all intimately and love them dearly, our Product Team is constantly in search of trips that are a bit off the beaten path. Places where you can achieve the same sense of wonder, the same amazing hiking experience as the big named walks. In Ecuador, we have found a ton of beautiful, relatively unknown hikes which will allow you to see a corner of the world not visited by many, but never forgotten by those who visit. One of those magical trips is Quito and the Andean Highlands.
In a Nutshell:
Where: Tuito is the capital of Ecuador, situated in the north of the country and this is where your trip begins and ends. From Quito you will be transferred 2 hours north to Otovalo, where your Andean Highland adventure will begin. Here you will get a chance to explore the local area before hiking out in a loop to a couple of amazing, remote locations.
Distance: The official walking distance for this trip is 26 miles, however with all the cultural immersion you will be doing, you will definitely walk a little further than this, not hiking per se, but definitely walking.
Grade: We have graded this trip as moderate, as the daily distances are short, but the altitude makes it a little tougher going. The hiking is mostly on distinct dirt trails or double-track roads with moderate ascents and descents. On most days you will be walking between four and six hours. Our App will guide you the whole way and you get a guide for a couple of key days, just to make sure that you get the most out of this incredible region.
Why Walk Here?
Really, the first thing I should mention here is that this is a fantastic introduction to the country of Ecuador itself. Such an amazing country, rich in world-class tourist destinations, but to capture the essence of the country, this is a great place to start. With a guided tour of Quito, you get to understand how modern Ecuador thinks and feels, then out in the Highlands, you get to immerse yourself in a more traditional way of life. The people are immensely friendly, the food is excellent and their balance with the natural world is enviable.
Quito is sandwiched between deep-green mountain peaks, built on rolling hills and packed with vibrant Ecuadorian culture. There is a bustling modernity in Quito that transforms at the turn of a corner, into a peaceful and relaxing cultural wonder, filled with ancient shamanistic tradition, markets and flavoursome street food. The old town is a UNESCO world heritage site, packed with colonial architecture and a lived-in, welcoming feel that many other cities lack.
Your first stop outside of Quito is Otavalo, home of the famous Otavalo Market. This is the largest indigenous market in South America and showcases a wide range of traditional, hand-crafted goods that will have you reaching for your dollars (yes, US Dollars are the currency here, having switched from the Sucre in 2000) However, it is not all about the goods, the atmosphere is electric and it is a great chance to interact with the locals, take their recommendations and wander the red, yellow and blue pavements, enjoying this delightful little town.
The walking, as you might imagine, is outstanding. Your first true hike is a little jaunt to Cotacachi Crater Lake, a walk of incredible natural beauty. Cuicocha (lake of guinea pigs! I kid you not) is a 2-mile wide caldera, filled with deep blue water and dotted with four large islands. The last erruption here was about 3000 years ago and left the surrounding area deep in rich volcanic ash, so now you are treated to verdant fauna and sprinklings of wildflowers to accompany you on your circuit around the lake.
You will hike to Peguche, a 50-foot waterfall where shamanistic rituals are still performed and a true natural marvel. You will also walk out into the rolling farmlands in the shadow of the imposing Cayambe volcano to Zuleta where you will stay in the stunning Hacienda Zuleta, a working farm and 17th Century hotel. We have booked an extra night here, just so you have time to truly appreciate the sheer joy of staying somewhere so ridiculously beautiful and there are many excursions you can choose to take, such as seeing condors, making cheese or even helping milk the cows.
Planning and Preparation
To start the Quito and the Andean Highlands trip you simply need to get yourself to Quito, which you can fly to from any major international hub. From there, everything is taken care of for you, so you just need to relax and get ready to soak yourself in the Ecuadorian way of life.
If you have any questions about the route, don't hesitate to contact one of our Destination Specialists, who will be more than happy to help.