Avenue of the Volcanoes
For lovers of the great outdoors the Avenue of the Volcanoes in Ecuador is a real treat. This Avenida stretches for some 300 km to the south of Quito and is formed by two parallel lines of seven cones reaching up to more than 17,000 feet. Chimborazo at a lofty 20,565 feet could be considered the highest mountain on the planet as the planet bulges around the equator meaning that the peak of the volcano is as far as you can get from the center of the Earth.
The term “Avenue of the Volcanoes” was first used by the German explorer Alexander von Humboldt who was considered the greatest scientific traveler who ever lived, by Charles Darwin. A fine compliment indeed coming from such an illustrious explorer and naturalist. You can see the eight volcanoes in close formation between Quito and Cuenca.
Two of the volcanoes, the 17,160-foot Sangay and the 16,480-foot Tungurahua, are among the 10 most active volcanoes in the world, particularly Sangay. The national parks in this area, stretched along the lower slopes of these smoking giants, are home to Vicuña, Llama, and Alpaca plus other fauna.
Things to do in the Avenue of the Volcanoes
- Hiking, biking, and horse riding at all skill levels
- Moderate to challenging volcano and mountain climbing
- Lodge to lodge multi-day trekking (example program below)
- A visit to Otavalo Market is always included
- Wildlife spotting and flora and fauna expeditions
- Handicrafts and local art in small rural villages
- Local market visits, rose farms, and artisan workshops
- Cooking classes at historic haciendas or local farms
Foxes and deer are seen here, condors often soar overhead, and this is one of the few places to see the giant hummingbird. High-altitude Polylepis forests are also a fascinating feature, as are the pre-Inca sites of worship on the mountain’s flanks, where local villagers still make ritual offerings.
Three Example Day Treks | Natural Beauty and Cultural Activities
1. Otavalo Market, Weaving Workshop & Rural Life
The city of Otavalo will be our first stop today, this village is host to the most famous market in Ecuador. We will take a look at the food side of things first as one of the best ways to get to know a culture is by learning about their food? You will roam around the market with your expert guide and learn about the different crops farmed in this part of the world. There will be no end of colorful, strange-shaped fruits and unusual vegetables and you will enjoy the interaction with local women at their stalls.
After the food stalls, we will head into the heart of this bustling market to the Plaza de Los Ponchos. Although there will be plenty of merchandise you are likely to see in other places it is still the biggest native arts and craftwork market in Ecuador. The people are often more interesting than the crafts and your guide will orientate you and let you wander around on your own for a while. Maybe don’t buy anything here and wait for Agato, ask your guide for advice if you are looking for something specific.
Next, we will wander up to the lovely Peguche waterfall a short distance from the town. You will get to see an indigenous ceremonial site here that still holds strong significance to local people. From here it is a short walk to the village of Agato. Here we will see how traditional backstrap weaving is done. This is a dying craft and the level of workmanship will astound you. You will see how the entire process works from raw wool to the completed garment, it is quite a lot of work.
For what remains of the day we will explore the rural areas on the slopes of the Imbabura Volcano. Smallholdings and farms dot the landscape and your guide will teach you a little about what you see. At some point, we will sit and enjoy our boxed lunch with a great view. At the end of the afternoon, we will meet our vehicle and be transported back to the lodge for a hot shower and dinner.
2. Zuleta Community and its projects
Zuleta is an interesting story of a beautifully restored historic hacienda, which has been home to two former Presidents of Ecuador that today is now an important social and eco-tourism project and indeed a small community. There is a wide range of activities that can be enjoyed at the hacienda, at it may be that you choose to stay here. Please ask us for the details.
We will spend the day in the vicinity of the hacienda, you can choose to hike, bike, or ride horses around the agricultural lands that surround the property. Our guide will teach you the inspiring Plaza family story and the work and projects being undertaken with the local community of Zuleta to help develop one of the best ecotourism destinations in the northern Andes of Ecuador.
This agricultural area is famed for its traditional embroidery, dairy products, alpaca farming, and highland crops such as wheat, maize, potatoes, lentils, and quinoa. “Zuletenos” and “Zuletenas” are proud defenders of their culture and traditions so be sure to notice the way the locals dress here and how different it is from the traditional Otavalo clothing that you saw earlier in your trip, or will see.
A couple of our favorite activities are the cooking classes at the hacienda under the guidance of a local chef and trying the creative tradition of Zuleta with embroidery classes with the help of our friendly local experts!
During the cooking classes, the ingredients you will have seen growing in the surrounding fields now end up in front of you. With the help of the chef, you can make your own lunch. On the other hand, or in addition to the cooking lesson, you can learn to embroider and take away something small that you managed to decorate in a traditional style. There are plenty of options as you can see, especially if you stay the night.
3. Cotopaxi Trail – The Great Outdoors
We will spend the day in the great outdoors and in the shadow of picture-perfect Cotopaxi. The Cotopaxi National Park is one of Ecuador’s most beautiful protected areas. On a clear day it is possible to see the impressive cone of Cotopaxi’s from far away, and even from some parts of Quito. The best way to experience this volcano is up close and personal and today we will hike around the slopes. The trailhead starts at the Pita River which provides essential drinking water to hundreds of thousands of Quiteños (as Ecuador’s capital city residents are known). This river is fed by meltwater from the snow cap on Cotopaxi, we will walk along this watercourse for a great deal of our hike.
Global warming means a reduction in snow caps and as a result, water will be more scarce. Activities in the area are designed to raise awareness among both locals and visitors alike regarding the importance of this body of water, how conserving and managing it is super important, and how melting glaciers will impact our lives going forward.
We will visit an archeological site called Pucara de Salitre, and learn a little about the history of this pre-colonial fortress. Flora and fauna will be admired along the way, Andean birds will be in evidence, and maybe some small mammals. Perhaps we will see some wild horses, deer, or llamas that call the park home? The scenery is always a spectacular backdrop for any photos you take. We will pick a spot along the way to enjoy a picnic “al fresco” and soak in the relaxing atmosphere and impressive vistas. We will end our Cotopaxi park hike at the lovely Limpiopungo Lake where our truck will be waiting. You will then be taken to your lodge for the evening to shower and refuel.
Remember: These are samples of what might be done, everything we do is custom made so if you have a particular interest just let us know and we will design a program to perfectly suit you and your traveling companions.