A Guide to Ecuador’s Incredible Volcanos

Ecuador offers an incredibly diverse choice of volcano experiences, from both trekking in the remote Andes and flying up a cable car on the side of Quito’s neighboring active volcano to viewing turquoise-colored crater lakes and scaling across craggy moonscapes in the Galapagos. Keen to check out or trek the volcanoes of Ecuador yourself? Explore our tours to Ecuador here.

Photo Credits: Simon Matzinger

Cotopaxi

This dome-shaped, 19,348 foot (5,897 m) snowcapped stunner is the highest active volcano in the world. It’s part of Cotopaxi national park, which is filled with a outstanding variety of flora and fauna including the Sub-Andean paramo plains, which sits right above the tree line but beneath the snow line, as well as rainy tundra, notable for its low-growing mosses. The park also contains abundant wildlife including pumas, llamas, Andean wolves, hawks and condors. Adventure seekers can trek around the volcano on a hiking or mountain biking trip, or explore the area on horseback. It’s last major eruption occurred in 2015 and it still spits out fumes ever few days or so, but overall it’s quite calm. However, if you are planning a trip here keep in mind that it is an active volcano. Check the local news for the most up to date information.

Photo Credits: wikipedia (Diegoandrade)

Cayembe

Cayambe is another incredible volcano, and generally has far fewer visitors compared to its more famous cousin, Cotopaxi. At 18,996 feet (5790m), it is the third highest mountain in Ecuador and is known for its permanent ice cap as well as for being the  highest point on Earth with snow cover along the Equator.  Mountaineers from around the world come to scale its Hermoso Glacier, which is is a great place to learn and practice high altitude climbing techniques on snow and ice. It can be climbed year round, but the best time of the year to scale it is from October to January. Cayembe volcano is located 40 miles (65 km) northeast from Quito.

Photo Credits: David Torres Costales

Chimborazo

Chimborazo is the highest mountain in the world IF and only if it is measured from the center of the earth, rather than the usual tradition of measuring height from sea level. International alpinists frequently to scale the peak of the Chimborazo Volcano. Trekking this volcano requires little technical climbing experience and the summit can be reached with intermediate alpine skills, so its also a popular for less-experienced mountaineers.

Photo Credits: David Torres Costales

El Altar

El Altar is an extinct volcano that sits within Sangay National Park. The mountain is actually a series of nine peaks–when the Spanish first encountered it they thought it resembled four friars and two nuns listening attentively to a bishop, so they named it “El Altar” (the altar). The trek to reach its peak is considered one of the most technically challenging climbs in the Ecuadorean Andes–scaling this beast should only be attempted by experienced mountaineers. If that’s not you, do what most visitors do: embark on easier treks to its caldera, or crater lake, which features excellent views of the mountain.

The slopes of Sierra Negra Volcano are first misty, then crystal clear as we hike across into lava floes from eruptions in 1970s, 80s and most recently, 2005. Photo credits: Michael R Perry

The Galapagos’ Sierra Negra

Did you think visiting the Galapagos Islands is only about diving, snorkeling or wildlife-watching? Those might be the top draws, but there is plenty of volcano action. In fact, the second-largest volcanic caldera  (crater lake) in the world is located within the Sierra Negra Volcano, located on the island of Isabela in the Galapagos Archipelago. In order to see the lake you need a bit of stamina and and a good grip on your hiking boots– hikes often include some seriously muddy hillsides, but it worth it to reach the viewpoint overlooking this 23 square mile (60 sq km) crater.

Photo Credits: David Torres Costales

Tungurahua

The  very-much-still-active volcano, Tungurahua, is located roughly 26 miles (42km) outside of Baños, Ecuador–in fact, the heat from this volcano is what feeds Baños famous hot springs. Despite its frequent eruptions, the volcano has has not really interrupted life in this region. Locals are pretty relaxed about it and when ash falls or the mountain rumbles, they just get on with their day. The regional government has even proactively built bridges and roads to cross above the potential lava flow in case volcano erupts in a more major way. Tungurahua offers plenty of options to explore it, including several day hikes and mountain bike trails.

Photo Credit: wikipedia

Quilotoa Volcano 

The vibrant turquoise water-filled caldera, or crater lake, sits inside Quilotoa Volcano the most western volcano in the Ecuadorian Andes. The 2 mile wide (3 km)  caldera was formed after a major eruption roughly 800 years ago, which produced flows of hot gas and volcanic matter.  Several scenic viewpoints offer excellent views of the caldera, or you can opt to trek or ride a mule to the base of the lake for additional perspectives. A loop trail encircles the lake and you can also rent kayaks and tool around the water.

Photo Credits: wikipedia

Pichincha

Located right next to Quito–the city almost wraps around the side of the mountain– is the active volcano Pichincha. From the city you can easily hop on the Teleférico (cable car) which takes you from Quito up to the volcano in about 10 minutes, offering stupendous views of the city and the mountain. From there, you can opt to explore the hiking trails on foot or horseback. 30-minute hike to the crater rim. On a clear day, you may also see vapor and gas dramatically spewing into the atmosphere.

Caroline Sieg

Caroline Sieg is a half-Swiss, half-American writer, editor and content marketer focusing on travel, food, art, design & the outdoors. She's traveled throughout Latin America, is addicted to empanadas and tacos, and loves outdoor adventure, from trekking in Patagonia to zip lining in Costa Rica.