Before reading, if you don’t like sweating, getting a little dirty, and a little adventure, this article is not for you.
The city of Quito, at an elevation of 2,850 metres (9,350 ft) above sea level, lies beneath an active volcano called Pichincha. The two highest peaks of the mountain are Guagua Pichincha and Rucu Pichincha. Both peaks have become common touristic attractions for those who seek some adventure into conquering an active volcano. For me, it was Rucu Pichincha (4,698 metres (15,413 ft)).
What is the best route to get to Rucu Pichincha
The easiest (and safest) way to start the hike is to arrive to the “Teleferico”. You can take a cab from any part of the city to arrive here (cab prices are fairly cheap, chance are you won’t pay more than $10). The ticket costs $4.50 for Ecuadorian residents, and $7.50 for foreigns. The cable car runs from 9 in the morning until 8 at night. If you are planning on hiking Rucu, it is preferable you leave as early as possible, you don’t want night time to catch up with you. Since Quito is located in the equator, the sun sets at 6pm every day, and it is not recommended to hike the peak at night time, specially if you are not familiar with the area,
After taking the Teleferico, the adventure begins. (The view of the city is one of a kind starting from this spot, so don’t forget to take out your camera!)
At this point, get ready for long, sweaty, and dirty hike.
The hike takes between 3 – 6 hours depending on your fitness condition. For me, it was 5. So don’t forget to bring some water and snacks along the way. And one thing to always remember is the altitude. Remember there will be a lack of oxygen, and it will be harder on your body. Recommendation: drink lots of water and eat some sugar. But if you have a headache it would be better for you to stay at Teleferico, there is no medical attention higher in the mountain.
Wear the right equipment.
A short reminder to wear warm clothes. Mostly for the top, or if you are planning on staying still up in Teleferico. Bring a jacket that you can easily carry when you get to hot, which you will once the hike begins. A scarf and some gloves are highly recommended as well. During the hike, you will get hot, so make sure you have a back pack to save all your gadget as you make it to the top. But make sure you can easily take them out for the moment you arrive and stop for some picture. It will be cold. Rucu is not known for having snow, but this doesn’t mean it never happens. A few times a year a storm will come that will leave some snow at the top, so keep in mind, it will be cold.
And sunblock! Although you can’t feel the sun as strong, consider you are higher up, and closer to the sun. No sunblock could equal a pretty bad sun burn. So don’t forget to constantly apply it to your skin as you climb Rucu!
The first 2 hours of the hike are fairly easy, and you can enjoy a clear view of the city of quito plus the diversity of it’s agriculture. If making it up to the top is not your priority you can enjoy other activities such as a horse ride (30min – $5) that will take you to different parts of the volcano, with a guide with you at all times of course.
But if you decide to continue, higher up, the hike only gets more challenging, but don’t sweat it, once the climbing gets harder it means you are getting closer!
The whole way up consists of amazing views, so stop and take some pictures! (use this as an excuse if you are tired)
The path should be very clear, and you will most likely meet other people heading towards the same goal. Not everyone will make it though. A few parts will be steeper, and will take you longer to hike. Don’t feel bad if after taking 10 steps you need to stop and breath. Remember the altitude is no joke.
After a couple hours, the peak would be closer, and in front of you, you will see the famous “Arenal” – or sand wall. This is considered one of the hardest parts of the hike. It consists of mostly sand, making it harder to go all the way up. The “Arenal” would lead to the final stretch, the rocks.
Have you ever experienced rock climbing with no ropes? Well this is your opportunity!. This last part would be around 15 minute, and remember not to look down. But once you’ve conquered all the obstacles admire the view. Chances are you will be standing on top of clouds, and if you are lucky you will be able to see the peaks of other volcanoes kilometers away.
Don’t do it alone.
This hike is not recommended to be done alone, or in a group of 2. Make sure you are accompanied with a group of friends with a certain level of fitness, and if you would like, it is preferable to get a guide.
On the way down, be ready to use your balance skills. El “Arenal” is no joke when coming down. With tiny rocks and lots of sand, you could slip at any time. And remember to always follow the road. Don’t try to take a shorter path just to arrive “faster”. You have no idea where those paths will take you, and you could end up lost on the way down. Remember there is no medical assistance, or cellphone signal up there.
By far, climbing Rucu Pichincha is one of the greatest adventures in my life. I’m not a professional hiker or a professional athlete. Just a simple person that enjoys adventure once in a while. I recommend this hike for those that are looking to leave their comfort zone and try something that will help you meet your limits.
Don’t forget to take a bunch of pictures, and tell of your friends and family back home you just climbed an active volcano in Quito-Ecuador!