El Altar

  • End of hike to El Altar - Laguna Amarillo - © Nathan Potter
  • El Altar - © David Torres Costales
  • Laguna Collanes - © Francesco Bailo
  • © Beatrice Murch
  • © Beatrice Murch

Key information: El Altar

  •  This jagged remnant of an exploded volcano is Ecuador's fifth highest peak. It is absurdly dramatic, a horseshoe of 9 snowy wildly broken peaks some 3 km across, replete with spires and crags and sporting a severe lake in the crater in the middle.
  • The 25km, 3 day hike to the lake and back is one of Ecuador's walking glories.

Walkopedia rating

  • Walkopedia rating88
  • Beauty34
  • Natural interest18
  • Human interest4
  • Charisma34
  • Negative points2
  • Total rating88

Vital Statistics

  • Length: 25km/3 days
  • Maximum Altitude: 4,200m
  • Level of Difficulty: Strenuous
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El Altar - © David Torres Costales

WALK SUMMARY

At 5,319m, this jagged remnant of an exploded volcano is Ecuador's fifth highest peak. It is absurdly dramatic, a horseshoe of 9 snowy wildly broken peaks some 3 km across, replete with spires and crags and sporting a severe lake in the crater in the middle. It is said that, pre-explosion, El Altar would have been the highest peak in Ecuador. From the lake you can hear the creaking of the high glaciers.

It is very wet here, June and July are the rainiest. The short 'good' season runs from late November to early February.

The 25km, 3 day hike to the lake at some 4,200m and back is one of Ecuador's walking glories. You are advised to have 1 guide per 3 people.

The trail starts from the small village of Candellaria, which is accessible by bus from Riobamba. After a short walk you come to Hacienda Releche. It is possible to spend the night here or in the hacienda's refuge, closer to the mountain.

The hike starts off muddy, as it is heavily used by horses. The first day's hike is a long slog up the side of the valley containing Candellaria, then up a side valley from which, you will be able to glimpse El Altar, to the refuge on the Collanes plain. Between 5 and 7 hours by foot or 3 hours on horseback. The refuge can be cold. Mattresses are provided, as are pillows, but these are often cold and damp. There is a kitchen available for a fee, which has a gas stove, cooking utensils, and hot water.

The next day is a 4/5-hour round trip to Lago Amarillo, the crater lake. The climb, starts off as a gentle walk up the valley, but becomes a very steep climb. The valley can be very wet. It will take at least 2 hours to reach the crater rim. The views of the crater and its lake are truly outstanding. It is surrounded by glaciers and cliffs, and the water is dull yellow from sulphur and other minerals. The return trip is quicker, and if you hurry can get back to the plain refuge from the rim in 1.5 hours. If you only want to spend 1 night, you will need to use horses. Although some sites say that you will pass a ranger's station on the way to El Altar and will have to pay the $10 park entrance fee, this is outdated, no fee was collected as of July 2010.

This is tough walking in remote mountains with uncertain weather, where altitude can cause real problems. Come fully prepared, including proper acclimatization.

Have a look at TripAdvisor - there are tens of millions of reviews, so you may get good, current views on guides, places to hike and places to stay.

Ecuador Climbing and Hiking Guide - Viva has a worthwhile section on this area. Find relevant books by using our Amazon search function:

This page is at an early stage of development. Please help us by making suggestions and sending photos! Thank you!

For more information and photos, including detailed practical information and some warnings, see our Sangay NP walk page.

Other accounts: share your experiences

Your comments on this walk, your experiences and suggestions, and your photos are very welcome. Where appropriate, you will be credited for your contribution.

© Beatrice Murch

Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and potential problems, and many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks, dangers and problems. Problems of any sort can arise on any walk. This website does not purport to identify any (or all) actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to any particular walk.

Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information.

Anyone planning an expedition to this place should see further important information about this walk.

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© Beatrice Murch...
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