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This trekking takes place in the Cotopaxi province, along the most occidental valleys and ridges of the Western Cordillera, starting and ending in typical Andean villages. Some parts of the area we’ll be trekking through belong to the ecological reserve Los Ilinizas. During this hike you’ll be passing along a great variety of different landscapes and vegetation zones. We start in the green Angamarca valley, climbing to the high paramo with altitudes of 4500 m, crossing Andean forests, grassy paramo as well as paramo wetlands, open valleys full with local cultivations, the marvellous Quilotoa lake and a profound canyon to reach the hidden village of Chugchilan. Besides the great diversity in flora and sceneries you’ll also observe a many different local inhabitants, with their authentic lifestyles, traditions and houses like the high paramo grass huts and the tapial and adobe constructions of the Andean villages. To be short, this trekking trip is an interesting mix of nature and local Indian highland cultures, offering an unforgettable experience and impression of the Ecuadorian Andes.

Climate:

Generally, the dry season in this area is between June and January. In normal conditions it hardly rains during these months and the trails will be mostly dry. During the months of July and August it can be dusty in the area between Zumbahua and Chugchilan. (Passengers using contact lenses are recommended to take a pair of normal glasses or sun glasses with them). In the rainy season, between February and May, it normally rains at least three days a week. The first and last days of the trip turn quite muddy at this time of the year. At night, it normally freezes lightly at the campsites above the 3500 m altitude.

Angamarca Trekking

Itineraries

Day 1

Quito to Angamarca. Trekking to Los Pinos

Early in the morning we leave Quito to start our trip to Angamarca, situated in one of the most remote areas of the Western Cordillera within the Cotopaxi province. First we will pass famous volcanoes such as Cotopaxi and Ilinizas, before arriving in Latacunga. From here we start driving up the Western Cordillera, through the beautiful Zumbahua highlands. We’ll trek along high paramo landscapes and see colourful indigenous people maintaining a traditional lifestyle, working on their lands cultivated with potatoes, broad beans and onions, herding lamas and sheep and living in authentic ‘chozas’ (grass huts). We'll pay a short visit to Tigua, a small community known for its local artisans who make beautiful paintings on sheep hides as well as wooden masks. Within a few more hours we’ll reach Angamarca (3100 m), situated on one of the most western mountain ranges. In this village we’ll meet our horse drivers with their horses, who will be in charge of the equipment transportation during the trek. After a short break we’ll start our first hike towards Los Pinos camp. We leave Angamarca, cross a small bridge and start walking upwards to reach a valley northeast of Angamarca. We keep on walking through this valley that offers remarkable views of the rural countryside. Further on we’ll cross an Andean forest with different wood species like the Andean bamboo. After having crossed this small forest we’ll reach a nice green plain with many conifers where we’ll set up camp. (3300 m). Transfer Quito - Angamarca: 6 hours. Hiking time: 2-3 hours.

Day 2

Trekking from Los Pinos to Llallichanchi and Río Pigua

After packing up our camp, we follow our route in a north eastern direction through the valley. There is an obvious trail up the mountain that brings us to the higher situated paramo. We’ll pass by some Andean vegetation with local species like bomáreas and taxos (passion fruit) and higher up we find cultivations of the indigenous inhabitants of Llallichanchi. Within a few hours we’ll reach this tiny community (3800 m), located in a paramo valley, surrounded by rocky peaks. Most of the houses in this village are authentic ‘chozas’, simple wooden constructions thatched with lots of ‘paja’, the specie of grass that grows on paramo. The friendly local people make a living from agriculture and cattle ranching and have many llamas grazing in the surrounding area. These members of the camel family are used to cold climates and survive easily during the low nightly temperatures. We follow a trail upwards, through grassy paramo until we reach a mountain pass, at approximately 4200 m. From here we’ll be amazed by the great views of the surrounding area. We descend on the other side of the pass, towards a valley, where we’ll set up camp close to the Pigua River (4000 m). Hiking time: 5-6 hours.

Day 3

Trekking from Río Pigua to Cerro Tixán and Zumbahua

After breakfast we’ll start with the wonderful hike towards Zumbahua. First we’ll cross the Pigua River and walk towards the other side of the valley where we start to climb the Cerro Tixan. There is an easy trail leading us along paramo grasses and later on some rocky parts, with stones deformed by wind erosion, towards the summit of Cerro Tixan (4500 m). Once on top we will be surprised by the unforgettable scenery. Towards the south we can see the Chimborazo (6310 m), Ecuador’s highest mountain, to the east we’ll see the central highlands with their many volcanic peaks, to the north we’ll distinguish the crater rim of the Quilotoa lake, which will be reach in a few days and to the west we’ll see the the Western Cordillera ending up with its steep slopes dropping down to the coastal lowlands. From Cerro Tixan we’ll descend into a wet valley, full with cushion plants (plantago rigida) that leads us to the broad and green valley of Michacala. This beautiful valley surrounded by rocky peaks on both hillsides and tiny settlements of grass huts goes directly to Zumbahua. The trail through the valley is easy to follow. Now and then we will meet the friendly local people with men wearing thick ponchos and women protecting their faces from the cold winds with colourful shawls. We’ll come across some typical villages with a few dozen of chozas scattered on the surrounding hillsides. At the end of the valley we’ll descend a small canyon in order to get to another valley opening where we’ll walk along a well defined trail towards Zumbahua (3600 m) in an environment of cultivated lands with different crops and tubercles. Hiking time: 6-7 hours.

Day 4

Trekking from Zumbahua to Quilotoa

If today is a Saturday we will visit first the Zumbahua Market in the early morning. People from the surrounding area come to the market to sell their animals or local produce like potatoes, broad beans and different vegetables. At the same time negotiators of the western lowlands sell products of other regions, like rice and green bananas. It’s very nice to see all the bustling and negotiating by the indigenous people with their colourful dress. After our market visit we start with a soft trek towards the Quilotoa crater. We’ll be hiking along a dry and sandy plain with many cactuses, little houses and grazing sheep accompanied by local shepherds, mostly children. At some places there are superb views into the canyon. As the dry track starts to climb we’ll pass a small village from where we can enjoy the beautiful scenery of the Zumbahua area behind us. The road going up brings us to the rim of the huge Quilotoa crater, where a village with the same name is situated. We’ll be staying at the house of a local family, beds with mattresses and blankets are provided. In the afternoon we’ll walk along a nice sandy trail down into the crater to the lovely emerald green lake. If you would like to, the locals will bring down their mules and for a couple of dollars you’ll get a ride up to Quilotoa.

Day 5

Trekking from Quilotoa to Chugchilán. Return to Quito

Today we’ll make the fantastic hike to Chugchilan. We start this scenic loop following the rim of the Quilotoa crater for about an hour, walking through paramo vegetation and some sandy and rocky parts, decorated by stone formations caused by the heavy wind erosion. The stunning views at the turquoise Quilotoa lake several hundreds of meters below us and from Ecuador's highest volcanoes are definitely worth any effort. Afterwards we leave the crater rim and start walking down along a sandy trail towards the Indian village of Huayama. We pass the typical houses of local inhabitants and their patchwork cultivated lands. After Huayama we take a path left, towards the Sigui canyon (3000 m). Before descending the narrow and steep trail into the canyon we’ll admire the fantastic views from here. At the bottom of the canyon we'll cross a small river before we climb a steep trail to Chugchilan (3200 m). In this Andean village our transport will be waiting to drive us back to Quito.