Written by Lucie
Mark and Lucie did a few day walks in Ecuador in April 2018: two in Otavalo, a small market town to the north of Quito, and one from Quito.
Fuya Fuya volcano, Otavalo
approximately 2-3km one way, 3711-4279m above sea level
Our day started at 5:45am we were woken up by a loud parade in the street below our window. There were vehicles with flashing lights, lots of singing, people walking in the street carrying small floats and a loud brass marching band with drums. We still have no idea what was going on.
Our hiking day began about an hour and a half later. We got a ‘taxi’ (a pick-up truck – cities seem to have yellow cars as taxis, more rural places tend to have a mixture of yellow cars and white utes.) and went out to Laguna Caricocha, roughly 16km out of town, up a very bumpy road. Once at the lagoon, we gazed up at Mount Fuya Fuya and planned our approach. From the drop-off pint, where there is a small shelter and sign about the hike, we could see several tracks through the tussock grass, but we could find a proper path or starting point. One blog we had read suggested heading up the right hand side of the hill, so that’s what we did. We first scrambled up a very short but steep hill, then walked across flat land. After a short way, the hill really kicked in and we spent the next thirty minutes climbing up a very steep slope, trying to find a sensible, non-ankle breaking path through the tussoc and using the grasses to pull ourselves up the steep slope. We reached the top of this first section, turned left towards the mountain and continued up a slightly gentler gradient, still trying to pick a path.
Then, the gradient ramped up again and we were back to pulling ourselves up with handfuls of tussoc, while pseudo-bush bashing through the long grass. Another 30 minutes or so of this and we reached a section that was almost completely vertical and fought our way up to the rocky top of the mountain. It turned out not to be the top, not even close. We stopped for a snack on a big rocky ledge, and marvelled at the view around us. To our left (north) was Cotacachi volcano (4944m) and the crater lake of Laguna Cuicocha. Straight in front and a long way below us was the lagoon we had started at, plus a few smaller lakes. And past the lagoon was the snow-capped Cayambe volcano (5790m). Panning right, there were many other peaks, including the snow-covered Antisana volcano (5753m), and finally the very impressive conical form of Cotapaxi volcano (5897m).
After a lot of gawking we got up to investigate the next part of the climb: rock scrambling and rocky ridge lines, then a bit more hard climbing through waist high, thick grass. We pushed our way up the ridge line, turned right to walk through grass when the rocks got too crazy and reached another false peak.
Here, we turned right to continue along the ridge and after a bit more rock scrambling and grass bashing we finally made it to the peak of Fuya Fuya volcano at 4279m. The views were incredible and we enjoyed lunch while gazing at volcanoes and lagoons.
Alas, then it was time to go down. As we were headed down we found a path off of the ridge to our right (we had arrived from the left), which looked like a real path. We followed it and sure enough the path was clear, easy to follow and had a much kinder gradient the entire way down. What had taken us about 3 hours, scratched legs and muddy hands on the way up was less than an hour’s pleasant walk down! This nice path still didn’t have an obvious starting point from the road, and, like the other ‘paths’, it would have started by scrambling up a short muddy bank. It started from past the shelter on the road and swept around to the left hand side of the mountain (as you are looking at it).
Back at the lagoon, we strolled along the shore for a while before heading back into Otavalo with our driver who had come to collect us.
13km, approximately 3250-3800m above sea level
From Otavalo, we took a local bus to the nearby village of Quiroga and then a taxi to Laguna Cuicocha, which is a volcanic crater lake. It was very beautiful and the surrounding scenery of farmlands and volcanoes, including Cotacachi volcano (4944m), which sits above the lagoon.
The walk around the crater is a clear path the whole way. It is not difficult, although it was very hot and very sunny, and at about 3500m above sea level the altitude can make the climbs more taxing than normal. We took our time walking around, stopping at the different viewpoints and admiring the different plants and animals (mostly insects, small lizards and birds) that we saw.
In total, we took about four hours to wander around the lagoon, and at the agreed time our taxi driver returned to take us back to the bus stop in Quiroga, where we got a bus back to Otavalo.
10km, 3945-4776m above sea level
We took Quito’s TeleferiQo cable car up to 3945 with two friends we had made in the Galapagos – Hannes and Oliver. At the top, Oliver decided to stay in the cafe and the rest of us went for a walk up to Pichincha volcano.
It is possible to rent a donkey at the top of the TeleferiQo and ride around the top of the mountain, but we opted for the two-legged version and set off, first along a paved path (not for long!), then on grass, dirt or rock. We had some lovely views of Quito and the surrounding mountains on the way and watched some of the native birdlife swooping around.
The hike was more strenuous than we had anticipated. This was partly because there were quite a few false peaks that made us think the end was much closer than it actually was, and partly because coming from sea level at the Galapagos to hiking up a 4776m volcano was very tiring! About 45 minutes from the top the clouds really closed in and it started getting cold and damp. We met a few people coming down who said that it was even colder and cloudier at the top (reducing the visibility to a few tens of metres). Given that all views were now hidden from us we decided to turn around and find Oliver, then head back into town.