Cajas National Park

As one of Ecuador’s greatest National parks, Cajas is a must when visiting the city of Cuenca. Just about an hour away from the city’s bus terminal, this park has everything you wished for in the paramo, from high altitude summits to foxes hanging out outside of the refugio.

For $2 you can take a bus going towards Guayaquil. Buses usually leave every other hour from the bus terminal and will drop you off right next to the main refugio of the park, which is surrounded by the beautiful “Laguna Toreadora”.

Laguna Toreadora

Britt and I arrived there during carnival weekend with the plan of camping at the park. Surprisingly the refugio was almost empty and we were recommended by the park ranger to sleep there at night with no extra cost. Park entrance fee is only $2 for Ecuadorean nationals and $4 for foreigners.

We took the advice of the park ranger and left our things at the refugio. In the afternoon we had some time to walk around Laguna Toreador, an easy and straightforward trek. At night, while having dinner at the refugio porch, a paramo Fox appeared close by. The first I’ve seen one of these guys in almost 2 years of hiking mountains in the paramo!

Routes are well marked throughout the park


There are many trekking routes with different difficulty levels throughout the park and the next morning we decided to do route 1. After an hour or so, we saw some waterfalls that were part of a different route so we did a little change of plans as our main goal was to climb Cerro San Luis at 4,252 m.

Waterfall views

Cerro San Luis is an awesome hike with some steep parts and loose rocks. As you climb this Cerro, it seems like you’ve reached the summit only to find that there is still some climbing to do. This happened like 3 times until we finally reached the main summit. It’s definitely worth it, as you have beautiful views of the surrounding lakes and mountains. Make sure to try the truchas at the park’s restaurant next to the refugio!

Cerro San Luis summit at 4,252 m

Cajas is a massive park that will surely take more than two days to explore.



It’s been 24 years since I last visited the city of Cuenca, when my father was stationed there in the Ecuadorean military. As a 4-year-old, I don’t recall the majority of my time in Cuenca so when I went back for the long carnival weekend, it was like going for the first time. It’s Ecuador’s third largest city and it’s noted for having a historic center listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Trust site with beautiful and well conserved old buildings.

One of the city’s well conserved buildings

Luckily through my dad, my travel buddy (Britt) and I, received free accommodation just a 15-minute walk from Cuenca’s historic center! We started our first day with a nice little breakfast in a place called Windhorse Cafe. Try the Guatemala Sunrise for a cheap but great morning start! Just across the street from this place is the well-known “Tomebamba River”. Carnival in Ecuador means throwing lots of water and foam to strangers and kids from the nearby school were having an awesome last day of classes splashing water on this river.

Kids playing carnival in Tomebamba River

After that, we headed to Pumapungo museum, where you can learn some native Ecuadorean history and find some interesting arqueological artifacts. It’s a big museum that has it all, from modern art of local artists to an outside garden that includes a bird centre! The best part? It’s a free admission museum! One of the things that I liked the most about this city, are the murals that you find while walking around downtown. They are well made by artists and sponsored by the city government! In the afternoon, head to Inca Bar and Lounge for some pints of IPA’s with awesome views of Tomebamba River!

Cool downtown mural

The usual spot that you can’t miss if you visit Cuenca, is the new cathedral. Make sure to pay the $2 that cost to go all the way up as you will have views of the city that are well worth it! And wrap up your day with the traditional “mote pillo” at Raymipamba restaurant, located in the main square! Cuenca is known for being the most beautiful city in Ecuador and I can see why it has that perception. It might be small but there is plenty to do, I’ll be back to try your famous “cuy” Cuenca!

View from the New Cathedral
Mote Pillo

Next Stop: Cajas National Park

Cotopaxi (5,897 m)

At 5,897 m (19, 347 ft), Cotopaxi is one of the highest active volcanoes in the world and Ecuador’s second highest peak. Due to volcanic activity, access to it’s summit was closed for over 2 years. Last month, conditions of the volcano went back to normal and its summit was re-opened for climbers.

Since I started climbing mountains a year and a half ago, Cotopaxi was always present in my mind. Being the most iconic peak in Ecuador, I was happy to be able to finally climb it.

Cotopaxi National Park is one the country’s main attractions, surrounded by beautiful Andes scenery of paramo, lakes and volcanoes. It’s located about an hour away from Quito and also the location of “Jose F. Ribas” refuge where most climbers spend the night before attempting the climb.

José F. Ribas Refuge

A night at the refuge with dinner and breakfast included is $32. Bring your own sleeping bag and you’re all set. Mountaineering regulations in Ecuador require that all people must climb with a certified guide as well with a permit done through a tourism agency. The refuge was packed with climbers from all over the world. Cotopaxi is Ecuador’s most popular peak to climb.

After a solid “locro de papa” (potato soup) I tried to get some sleep with little success. Before a big climb, many things go through my head and it’s a bit hard to get proper rest. I was woken up at 11:15pm and it was time to get ready. My partners for this climb (Hernan and Jorge) were the same as my previous big climb of Illiniza Sur.

Locro de Papa “4,864 msnm”

The night was young and calm and the climb begins with a hike up through sand and rocks. Crampons were not necessarily just yet. I looked up and could see a canal of lights, head torches of the climbers who started their summit push before us. I looked down and same story. As we were finally reaching the glacier, we saw to our left what looked like fireworks, a beautiful scenery of thunderstorms in a far distance. My body wasn’t warm yet and I felt a bit tired.

Climbers getting ready in the dark

Putting on your crampons can take some time if you’re not use to it. So we took advantage of this and went ahead of most groups. One step up, one deep breath. There is plenty of time to think while at the mountain, it keeps your mind busy while putting yourself to the limit. Cotopaxi is an active volcano to the point of almost erupting not too long ago and as we were getting closer to the summit, we passed through a couple of crevasses that produced a smell of sulfur. I began to feel nauseous for moments but luckily there were strong winds that made the odor go away.

Fellow climbers taking a break

We made it to the summit ahead of time. It was 5:09 AM. Still dark and very cold. Many of the groups that arrived around the same time, decided to go back down but we stayed until we could catch some light to see the crater of the volcano. The wait was worth it as we had amazing views of Antisana, Reventador and Chimborazo. Another great and beautiful ascent but success is when you finally get home safely. Thank you Taita Coto. I’ll see you soon but not yet.

Myself, Hernan and Jorge standing in the summit of Cotopaxi


Illiniza Sur (5,263 m)

It was time to climb Illiniza Sur, one of Ecuador’s most technical climbs at 5,263 m (17,267 ft). It’s located about an hour drive from Quito at Reserva Ecologica Los Illinizas, next to it’s neighbor Illiniza Norte (5,126 m / 16,818 ft.).

As a high altitude peak, the climb starts before sunrise so we headed on Friday afternoon to the refuge to get some rest beforehand. Rainy season usually ends in April but it has been raining a lot this month of May. Once we arrived at “La Virgen” parking lot, it started pouring and we had to wait an hour in the car. From “La Virgen” parking lot, there is a 2 hour hike up to “Nuevos Horizontes” refuge, the oldest mountain refuge in Ecuador.

Nuevos Horizontes Refuge (Picture taken the weekend before when I climbed Illiniza Norte).

We arrived at the refuge at 8:30 pm, had some potato soup and chicken with rice. People can bring their own food and cook it at the refuge but we decided to eat there in order to lower the weight of our backpacks. After preparing our gear and backpacks, we hit the bed in our sleeping bags. I only managed to get a couple of hours of sleep and woke up at 4:00 am. After some hot tea with bread, we were on our way to climb Illiniza Sur. It takes about forty minutes before reaching the glacier/wear crampons. This initial part of the “normal route” has high possibilities of rock fall so our guide Jorge recommended my friend Hernan and I to move fast.

Just before the glacier part of the climb

The day seemed to be with good conditions and at sunrise we had beautiful views of Illiniza Norte. The first snow/ice ramp was of 50 – 60 degrees. It was particularly tiring to start the glacier section with this kind of effort and I used different climbing methods like the “French technique”.

Hernan with Illiniza Norte on the background

After this part of the climb which seemed long, we passed through a hidden crevasses section where falling was not an option. During the last part of the ascent, clouds began to emerge but winds were relatively low. I could see the summit and at this point, I was too tired to think straight. My focus was on taking every step slowly.

Crevasses section
Steep ice ramps

When I started climbing almost a year ago, I had a special respect for this mountain. It’s no place to learn. It’s no place to make mistakes. It can be dangerous and has proven to be fatal. Standing on the summit of Illiniza Sur was my biggest mountaineering accomplishment yet. It’s no small feat. I was tired but happy. The descent of every mountain is where most accidents happen. Usually it’s the most difficult part of the climb. I knew that it wasn’t over until we got back home safe.

Illiniza Sur summit at 5,263 m

Carihuairazo (5,018 m)

Overshadowed by it’s neighbor Chimborazo (the highest peak in Ecuador), Carihuairazo is not an often climbing destination. It’s located past Ambato and about 3 hours away from Quito and it’s also a good acclimatization peak since it rises over 5,000 m or 16,000 ft.

It has lost most of it’s glacier in the past 25 years and it’s expected to disappear completely in less than 10. Climbing this volcano is usually done in 2 days with camping included but we did it in one day with Zona Verde’s Jaime Gallardo.

View of it’s neighbor, Chimborazo

We left Quito around 4:30am and after stopping for a quick breakfast in Ambato, we started the hike up the mountain at 9:00am. Crampons and harness are not necessarily required anymore as the glacier part is relatively short. However, trekking poles for balance and Gore-Tex boots are definitely a must.

Going up the almost extinct glacier

Since the day was clear, we had the opportunity to see both Carihuairazo – Chimborazo perfectly and it took us about 2 and a half hours to reach the actual mountain. It’s not a technical or difficult climb but good scrambling skills are always a plus. After passing the short glacier part, there is short steep part with loose rock. Get past this and you’ll be rewarded with reaching one of the summits.

At the summit with Chimborazo on the background!
Views from the summit

At the summit, we had incredible views of Chimborazo, El Altar and the surrounding valleys and mountains. The 6-and-a-half-hour expedition was definitely worth it! Climb Carihuairazo soon as the glacier with certainly disappear shorty.


Baños, known by the Casa del Árbol or “Swing at the end of the world”, is a small city located about 3 hours from Quito. It has recently become one of Ecuador’s top touristic attractions. It’s thermal baths, diverse cuisine and prime location for outdoor activities like zip-lining or bungee jumping have made this place a must for first timers in the small South American nation.

Samari Spa Resort is definitely a good place to consider staying at. Just a couple of minutes away from downtown, this resort has comfortable rooms, a nice spa and pool for a relaxing experience in Baños.

You can start the day with some zip-lining for just $10 bucks and with amazing views of the rainforest and waterfalls surrounding the city.  There is also the option of enjoying this incredible views by riding in a cable across the waterfalls. For the more adventurous, bungee jumping is good an option to consider.

Waterfalls views before zip-lining

The day can continue with a visit of the famous waterfalls “Pailon del Diablo”. You can grab a taxi from your hotel and is a short trip that should cost around 5 bucks to get there. The walk to actually reach the waterfalls ($2 USD entrance) is about half an hour but certainly worth it. Expect to get wet so dress accordingly as you have the option to walk behind the waterfalls! 

Pailon del Diablo Waterfalls


Although a relatively small place, Baños has many good quality restaurants. Make sure to stop by Swiss Bistro for a top class steak or Casa Hood for middle eastern food. 

A visit to Baños wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the previously mentioned Casa del ÁrbolOn a clear day, this swing will give you views of Tungurahua volcano and the surroundings of the city that you will never forget. 

Casa del Arbol. Photo by Astisya S.

Baños is definitely a place to visit in Ecuador with a uniqueness and beauty that will make you want to come back one day!

Next Stop: Guayaquil.