Due to it’s relative remoteness, El Altar or Capac Urcu is yet to become a top destination for locals and foreigners in Ecuador. Nonetheless, the muddy and long hike to reach this extinct volcano and see the iconic “Laguna Amarilla” is definitely one of the most amazing places in the Andes. The Spanish named it El Altar because of it’s resemblance and each of it’s peaks has religious names.
To access this volcano, the trail begins at hacienda Releche (located about an hour away from Riobamba). From there, there is a 5-hour hike through a very muddy trail that will take you to the hut or refugio. The trail is well marked so it’s difficult to get lost. During this hike, you’ll traverse throughout a beautiful variation of vegetation; tropical climate and paramo that also includes crossing small rivers.
It had been raining a lot for the past few days which is usual around this place so it’s extremely important to wear rubber boots or waterproof hiking boots. You will certainly get wet and muddy! After almost 6 hours of walking through deep mud, we could finally see the refugio and a cloudy background of one Ecuador’s most incredible places. There is also the possibility to hire “arrieros” to carry all your belongings in horses.
At the refugio, there is no electricity so you’ll have to carry your own food/snacks, sleeping bag, extra dry clothes, flashlight, etc. A night at the refugio and hacienda releche starts at about $15 per person and $2 to use the kitchen.
The next day at 6am, we started the final hike to reach “Laguna Amarilla” and after almost 2 hours of going uphill, we made it. The day was clear and somewhat sunny with almost no wind or too much coldness.
When you are lucky enough to see a place like this one, there are no words to really describe it. You just experience it in that particular moment and truly feel connected with nature and its beauty. On the right, Obispo summit stands as the tallest of the many peaks of this volcano with a reflection of the volcano on Laguna Amarilla. El Altar is one of the most technically difficult peaks in Ecuador, if not the most. It’s easy to see why.