Key information: Sangay NP
- Ecuador's largest mainland national park extends from the peaks and paramo grasslands of the high Andes to the Amazon rainforest, containing a remarkable variety of ecosystems.
- This superb World Heritage Site wilderness contains waterfalls, lakes, rivers and of course volcanoes. Two of Ecuador's most active volcanoes, Sangay and Tungurahua, as well as the dramatic extinct volcano, El Altar, all lie within the park.
- There is a lot of very varied walking to be done in the park.
- Walkopedia rating88
- Natural interest18
- Human interest4
- Negative points2
- Total rating88
- Length: Variable
- Maximum Altitude: 5,319m
- Level of Difficulty: Variable
Ecuador's largest mainland national park lies in the Cordillera Oriental, some 200 km south of Quito. It extends from the peaks and paramo grasslands of the high Andes to the Amazon rainforest, containing a remarkable variety of ecosystems, from rainforests, to cloud forests, to high grasslands, to alpine highlands to crag and glacier.
This superb World Heritage Site wilderness contains waterfalls, lakes, rivers and of course volcanoes. Two of Ecuador's most active volcanoes, Sangay and Tungurahua, as well as the dramatic extinct volcano, El Altar, all lie within the park.
There is a lot of walking to be done in the park. Here are the best (or best known anyway).
This jagged 5,219m remnant of an exploded volcano 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.
The 25km, 3 day hike to the lake at some 4,200m and back is one of Ecuador's walking glories.
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.
Sangay is claimed to be the most continuously active volcano in South America, so climbing it is dangerous at best. It is a great cone which changes shape and height and contains numerous craters.
Enjoy a huge variety of vegetation zones and wildlife, enjoying the striking journey, from the lowland forests to snowcapped peaks. You have a chance to see rare indigenous species, such as the mountain tapir and the condor.
This superb, intermittently active volcano is in the Sangay NP, but in the Banos area, to the north of the heart of the park.
There are plenty of other superb walks in Sangay NP, which we have not yet got information on. Recommendations requested, so we can give more information.
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.
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.
Books and Maps
Books on this walk
Ecuador Climbing and Hiking Guide – Viva/ Rob Rachowiecki and Mark Thurber. THE walking book. But evidently out of print and vilely expensive second hand on Amazon, as of end 2015. Available as an e–book. There is a Bradt predecessor from 2004, which is, obviously, out of date in places but much cheaper!
Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands– Lonely Planet/Regis St Lois.
LIVE Travel Guide to Quito, Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands.
Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador Footprint Handbook by Robert Kunstaetter and Daisy Kunstaetter
Ecuador and Galapagos, Viva Travel Guides by Lorraine Caputo and Chris Klassen
The Rough Guide to Ecuador & the Galápagos Islands by Melissa Graham and Harry Ades
Ecuador – Insight Guides
Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands, Moon Handbooks. We have to say we were underwhelmed in 2015.
Travels Among the Great Andes of the Equator – the great C19 mountaineer Edward Whymper’s classic account.
Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands - Travellers’ Wildlife Guides – gorgeous, good illustrations.
Find the books and maps listed above, and many more:
Maps aren’t great, but there are topographical maps available and worth getting. These can be got in Ecuador, but it isn’t that easy, see Useful Links below.
GPS is therefore worth having.
http://travel.nationalgeographic.com/travel/ - worth checking their travel maps.
Best times to walk/weather
Best times to walk
Lying across the Equator, Ecuador does not have seasons as those from temperate climates would understand them. The weather is amazingly different between areas of the Ecuadorean Andes. December and January are probably the best months in the Sangay area, with a rainy season in June to August.
Very changeable. Even if you are there in the “dry” season, come prepared for both hot sun and rain.
It often gets cloudy in the afternoons, so usually best to start early.
Baños, Riobamba and Cuenca are the main local towns/cities.
Most people fly in to Quito or Guayaquil. You can fly internally in Ecuador. Skyscanner is an excellent (relatively new) site for finding the flights you need; otherwise try Lastminute.com, or look at what’s available on TripAdvisor.
There are plentiful buses in Ecuador, and it is viable to get to most places this way, but they can be crowded.
Car hire is reasonably easy, but driving isn’t straightforward, not least because of the lack of roadsigns. Local taxi services generally exist in the towns, can (eg) take to or pick you up from a roadhead, or transport luggage.
Those on organised expeditions will be transported from/to arranged points.
You can arrange a guide and pack animal for some walks.
See Walk Summary above.
Possible problems, health, other warnings
·Altitude: can affect some; potentially fatal. Acclimatize appropriately, come prepared to cope, be ready to evacuate people in extreme cases
·Extreme mountain weather: snow, rain, severe cold and wind are possible at any time of year and the weather can change rapidly. Come prepared.
·Heat , humidity and strong sun. Carry enough water and protect yourself.
·Heights: can be dangerous; not for those who have difficulties with heights.
·Harmful animals,including snakes in lower areas, stinging/biting insects and plants. Take all appropriate precautions.
·Active volcanoes: a range of potential dangers including flying rock and lava, lava flows and lahars and toxic gases. Beware and check current conditions.
·This is remote country: you will have to carry all your food and other supplies and help will be hard to get if things go wrong.
·Health risks: you may not get prompt medical help of a standard available elsewhere if you become ill. Potential problems can include malaria. Come prepared, including getting all appropriate inoculations/medications in good time.
·Be sensitive about photographing people: don’t without permission. Ask permission if in doubt about whether they would mind.
See also the websites in our useful links page for more detailed, and up-to-date, information.
Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and problems can arise on any walk. Many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks and possible problems. This website cannot, and does not purport to, identify all actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to a walk or a country. 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.
Make sure you have appropriate insurance.
Guided or independent?
You can walk independently, but you will need to be self-sufficient, so come fully prepared.
Many people form or join organised/supported expeditionswhen doing multi-day walks. Given the remoteness of the country and difficulty of getting supplies, many will prefer to do it this way, and travelling here (whether on short or long walks) with a knowledgeable guide has real advantages.
Choosing a suitable guide or company is of course vital, and the guidebooks contain good advice in this regard.
If hiring a guide locally, meet him/her and get comfortable before committing. Make sure all requirements are understood and agreed – including how you will eat and the importance of avoiding illness, as well as overnighting and, of course, remuneration!
Expedition organisers include:
Check TripAdvisor for some reviews of this walk and walk organisers which may prove helpful.
PLEASE HELP Walkopediaby recommending any reputable tour organizers that you know of – local or otherwise.
The guidebooks have a selection of possible accommodation. There are relevant accommodation websites. See Useful Websites below.
Camping is generally the only realistic option once on trail.
See what the commentary on TripAdvisor is on possible places to stay – although do take their reviews with a pinch of salt, as they can be “interested”.
A good range of hotels can be found on the unimaginatively named but effective Hotels.com.
If you’re on a budget, Hostelbookersusually has a good selection of cheaper-end accommodation.
Other information and tips
Useful websites and information
There are many websites with relevant information. Here are some that we think are useful or have been recommended to us.
·South American Explorers (www.saexplores.org) in Quito is a fabulous non profit group with a clubhouse in Quito with a wealth of information (including on current status of safety/volcanic issues).
·Try www.flickr.com for pictures of this walk.
·Have a look at TripAdvisor – there are tens of millions of reviews, so you may get good, current views on this area
·Wikiexplora is a useful site if you can read Spanish. The automated translation means it’s not ideal for non-Spanish speakers, but it does have some good trail maps.
Other things to do in the area
Ecuador has a huge variety of great walks. There is likely to be a good walk within range wherever you may be, in the mountains at least.
Mountain biking, climbing, some white water rafting, birdwatching.
Culture, history (Inca, other pre-Spanish, colonial) and people watching.
Coastal/sea fun and chilling.
We are not a shopping website. But, there are beautiful and interesting things to be found, and anything bought from local people must be of some help to this poor area. So, wallets out! (And don’t try to extract the very last cent when bargaining…)
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.
share your experiences
Add your experiences, suggestions and photos. We would be delighted to receive your writing and ideas (which will be attributed appropriately where published).
Anyone planning an expedition to this place should see further important information about this walk.
Responsible travel matters, a lot. How you travel will make a real difference - for better or worse. PLEASE consider this when making plans. Read more