The Avenue of the Volcanoes: Exploring Two Hours South of Quito

In 1802 German explorer Alexander von Humbolt in a visit to Ecuador´s Sierra coined a phrase that is now part of the tourism vocabulary for mainland Ecuador: Avenue of the Volcanoes.

Between the eastern and western cordilleras of the Andes Mountains, along a stretch of 300 kilometers, all of Ecuador’s highest mountain peaks (nine are above 5,000 meters) are part of a protected area, either a national park or an ecological reserve.  The mountain peaks are actually volcanoes, both active and inactive, which offer the opportunity to experience their beauty in many ways.One of the most popular daytime excursions out of Quito is a trip to Cotopaxi National Park.  Located just an hour south of Quito, the park is 34,000 hectares of pristine Andean countryside smack in the middle of the “avenue.”  Cotopaxi Volcano is a symmetrical, cone-shaped volcano, 5,897 meters in elevation and offers spectacular views.  Though it is considered active, the last eruption was in 1904.

Cotopaxi is not technically difficult to climb, but most visitors seem content to simply visit the refuge at 4,800 meters, reachable with a moderate hike from the parking lot.  Though the climb to the refuge is only 300 meters, allow an hour, due to the thin air.  From the refuge, it is only another 200 meters to reach the lowest point of the glacier, at 5000 meters.

Another great way to enjoy the Avenue is downhill biking.   Many mountain biking excursions offer downhill jaunt from the Cotopaxi parking lot to the Limpiopungo Lake.  Similar experiences can be had nearby at the Illiniza Mountains, two twin peaks located due west of Cotopaxi, across the Pan American Highway.

Near Riobamba, Chimborazo Volcano offers a A 32km descent from the Whymper Refuge which begins at 5,000 meters, to San Juan at 3,200 meters.  Twenty-four km are paved and the technical level is easy.

For those who want a greater challenge then consider a 2-5 day climbing expedition on Cotopaxi.  For two-day trips, Cotopaxi is the most popular destination.  The first day is spent reaching the refuge, where you turn in early, to awaken at midnight and begin a 5-7 hour ascent to the top.  Though challenging, it is not considered technically difficult.

For new arrivals to Ecuador, a brief period of acclimatization is recommended.  For that reason, agencies will offer 3-5 day tours which begins with climbs to smaller volcanoes before attempting Cotopaxi, such as Pasochoa (4,200 meters), Corazon (4,788), or Rumiñahui (4,712).

And for the experienced climber, the technically difficult expeditions are directed to three primary peaks: Antisana (5,755), Illiniza South (5,245) and Chimborazo (6,310).

Just as tours operators offer hiking and biking in one-day excursions or one-week adventures, the same is to be found with horseback riding.   Rent horse for one hour or take a multi-day cattle drive across the highland plains.

But if you just prefer to sip wine near the fireplace and just admire the view, the options are even greater.  All the haciendas of the Andes mountains were made for fireside relaxation, reminding you that where you go is not as important as simply going.

Ecuador’s Tallest Peaks along the Avenue of the Volcanoes

Mountain Peak Height
Chimborazo 6,310m
Cotopaxi 5,897m
Cayambe 5,790m
Antisana 5,704m
Altar 5,320m
Illiniza Sur 5,263m
Sangay 5,230m
Carihuairazo 5,020m
Tungurahua 5,016m

For climbing and camping information visit:

Cotopaxi Climbing

Ecuador Climbing

Tierra del Volcan

Haciendas in or near Cotopaxi National Park

Tierra del Volcan
Hacienda San Agustin de Callo

Hacienda Hato Verde
Hosteria Papa Gayo

Hacienda La Alegria

Hacienda Yanahurco

Hosteria La Cienega


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