As the Andes are considered a young mountain range by geophysical standards, almost all the higher elevations are of volcanic origin. On this extensive two-week tour of the Andes we get to know all the different formations of the stratovolcanoes, from old, extinct volcanic calderas and crater lakes to presently active volcanoes with continuous eruptions. But not only the volcanic aspects we consider on this expedition but also we get to know the distinct flora and fauna of the high Andes mountains. This itinerary is planned for more active people as it involves some hiking yet the trip can be customized for all levels.
Arrival on international flight to Quito. Transfer in to your boutique hotel.
We start our tour visiting the Pululahua crater, which is located close to Mitad del Mundo, the Equator Line Monument. This crater is considered one of the largest in the world with a diameter of up to 6 km and one of only two, where people actually live and farm. After getting to the bottom, we hike up the huge hill in the middle of the crater, which is actually an old lava dome rising some 500 m from the bottom and having a base of 2 km. We spend the night in the crater at a small farm called Finca Colibri.
We spend another day in the Pululahua crater, this time hiking around the lava dome and moving down along the deep gorge. On that walk we can appreciate a cloud forest with many flowering plants like orchids and bromeliads. If you wish we also can do this tour on horseback. We spend another night at Finca Colibri.
In the morning we leave the crater and we stop at Mitad del Mundo (Equator line monument) and the Inca fortress Rumicucho, which are just outside the crater. After those visits, we drive north to Otavalo, where we visit the famous Indian market in town. Later in the afternoon after you have done shopping, we continue on to Cuicocha crater lake, which is located at the foot of Cotacachi volcano at 3200m. We will stay by the volcanic crater at a small country inn.
In the morning we hike around this crater lake, which is similar to the Pululahua crater but not as wide and with no natural opening or breach. That's why over the years, water gathered in the caldera and formed a lake, which is now around 200m deep. Three islands stick out of the water level in the middle of the lake and are old eroded lava domes. On this hike we have great views into the caldera and also interesting flora can be seen.
After breakfast we leave the area and drive up to the Mojanda lakes, which are also craters filled with water but of smaller dimensions. We hike around the lakes where shore birds of the high paramo regions can be observed. Later we drive then on to Quito, where we spend our next night.
Early in the morning we drive up to Guagua Pichincha, the active volcano near Quito. In summer of 1999, the volcano re-activated itself and covered Quito twice with ashes. Presently it is more quiet but still lava builds itself up in the large crater bottom and steam always escape vents, producing fumaroles of various intensities. Apart from the volcano, this area boasts of one of the best nature area with many paramo plants and birds as diverse as the huge condor and tiny hummingbirds.
Today we drive to Cotopaxi, which is considered by many, one of the highest active volcano in the world. This beautiful and perfect volcanic cone rises from a high plain of 3800m and reaches almost a height of 6000m. The top is covered by permanent ice and gives the volcano a nice, white coating. After the visit we drive to the Patate valley, where we spend the night in a historic hacienda, which has a perfect view to Ecuador's other presently active volcano Tungurahua. With luck and good weather we see some pyroclastic eruptions at night and lava flows down its steep flanks.
We spend the day in the vicinity of Tungurahua and observe its eruptions and fumaroles. Later we visit Banos, a tourist town of 20 000 people which was evacuated in 1999 when the volcano became very active again. In the town we have opportunity to visit its zoo, waterfalls or take a bath in its hot springs, which are always a sign of volcanic activities. We spend another night in the Patate valley.
Early in the morning we leave Patate and drive to Riobamba. However we do not stop there yet but continue on to the Hacienda Releche, starting point for visiting Altar, an enormous eroded volcano. We spend the first night there and hire the horses for tomorrow's trek to the refuge.
After breakfast we start our hike 4-hour up to the valley of Collanes to the refuge of Capac Urco where we stay for the next night. In the afternoon we undertake shorter hikes, from where we have splendid views of the Altar massive.
In the morning we hike up to the Laguna Amarilla (Yellow crater lake), which is located at 4300m, right in the center of this mountain area with its 9 majestic peaks. Also at such close proximity it is possible to see traces of past movements of the glacier. Afterwards we return to Hacienda Releche and drive straight to Riobamba where we spend the night at a country inn.
Early in the morning we head up to the refuge of Chimborazo, the highest mountain in Ecuador, where we arrive at an altitude of 5000m in this adventure. From there we have the mighty glacier just in front of us and a great view to the valleys below. Later on we head by way of Guaranda to Ambato and Latacunga, where we take the road up to Quilotoa crater, our last stop of our volcano tour. We spend the night at a boutique lodge by the crater.
Today we hike around the beautiful crater lake, located in the Western Cordilleras at a height of 3800m. It takes 5 hours to circle the caldera but we are rewarded by great views and an interesting paramo vegetation with many birds present.
In the morning we descend to the bottom of the lake, where we have the beautiful but poisonous waters right in front of us. The descent and consequently ascent takes 3 hours and after that we return to the Quito by way of Sigchos passing the Ilinizas, two peaks left over from another huge volcanic explosion. We arrive later in the afternoon in Quito, where we end our explosive expedition. Check in at your boutique hotel.
Transfer out for your international flight. You also have the option to extend your trip and take a Galapagos geology tour or a Amazon natural history cruise.
The above is a sample itinerary prepared for a geology class. It can be customized to fit the needs and special interests of your travellers.