How To Discover Your Next Alpine Dream: El Altar

How To Discover Your Next Alpine Dream El Altar

Trek through the steep and sometimes extremely muddy trail to the green valleys and mountainous terrain that is home to waterfalls, multi-colored glacial lagoons, and the extinct El Altar Volcano. One of the most remote summits through the Ecuadorian Andes will welcome you with a spectacular vista of the crater lake in the middle of the extinct El Altar Volcano enclosed by dramatic volcano walls.

Surrounded by 9 peaks, the off-the-beaten path trekking destination will literally and figuratively take your breath away. A spot for those who love adventure sports and nature, the snow-capped mountains, lagoons, volcanoes, and vistas expose this region’s true beauty. Continue reading to learn about all the ways you can experience one of Ecuador’s most remote trails in your upcoming Ecuadorian adventures.

About El Altar Volcano

Altar volcano

A quick hour flight from Quito to Riobamba followed by a drive to the farming town of “La Candelaria” you will find the beginning of the trail in Sangay National Park.

Some say El Altar Volcano was once the tallest mountain on Earth, however, years after its eruption this ancient and extinct volcano is now among the most impressive peaks in Ecuador’s Andes.

One of three volcanoes in Sangay National Park, El Altar Volcano is famous for its cathedral altar resemblance filled with a turquoise green crater lake and surrounded by 9 impressive peaks formed over years of history. Reaching up to 4,800 meters/ 15,748 feet you will be able to appreciate the spectacular vistas of Chimborazo, Sangay National Park, and the divide of the Ecuadorian highlands bordering the rainforest during clear weather.

The El Altar Trail

Altar volcano Ecuador

 Spectacular 3-day hike

Climb the green valleys and mountainous terrain, which have been carved out over time by glaciers, and today are full of multi-colored glacial lagoons and waterfalls inside Sangay National Park. This expedition is not for the faint of heart, however, you do not have to worry about carrying your pack as there are mules for this. Uncover the truth about El Altar Volcano along this multi-day trek that will bring you closer to Mother Nature than ever before. 

Day 1 of El Altar Trek:

Starting day 1 from Riobamba, you will need to take transportation to the entrance of the National Park in a quick early morning ride to begin your big adventure. To begin, you will start walking from Hacienda Releche at 3070 m/ 10,072 ft altitude with an easy ascending trail.

Do not be fooled, soon the path will turn into a muddy trail through the valley following condors along the glacial streams.

Finishing the day off spending the night at Altar Refuge, accommodations atop a small hill, you will rest up for another big day. Under the stars in the Collanes Valley surrounded by glacial peaks, you will understand why the Ecuadorians gloat about its beauty.

Day 2 of El Altar Trek:

After an early breakfast start your climb up to 4,500 meters towards your destination one last time. Trek across more swampy grasslands, dry grasslands, and small streams to explore the five multi-colored lagoons and waterfalls all while admiring the white peaks of El Altar awaiting your arrival. On this day, at the peak of your adventurous journey, you will reach the magical extinct volcano filled with a crater lake, Laguna Amarilla.

After taking in the views, you will need to head back to Altar Refuge to break up the return to Riobamba.

Day 3 of El Altar Trek:

Now comes the time to make it all the way back to Riobamba before dark falls. Typically hiking downhill is faster, however, here it is likely you will spend the entire day hiking down crossing over muddy paths through the lush valley surrounded by snowcapped Andes Mountain.

The Overnight Trek

If you are not up for a multi-day trek, there is a shorter hike to Laguna Amarilla, the crater lake found in the middle of the extinct volcano. While you will start and end in the same points, you can follow the same itinerary for day one and enjoy the tranquility of glacial streams, muddy paths, the lush valley, and the white peaks of the Andes Mountains.

On day 2 of the overnight trek, you will arrive at the main attraction of the extinct El Altar Volcano filled with Laguna Amarilla. After some time and lunch overlooking the volcanic walls surrounding you, you will need to head directly back to Riobamba before it gets dark.

While this option is great for those who do not have time on their side, it is preferable to take your time on the multi-day trek.

Sights Not to Miss

Altar volcano


Located at different elevations, each composes its unique color accompanied by mountain streams connecting to nearby waterfalls. The most astonishing of them all is located inside the extinct volcano, Laguna Amarilla, a turquoise green crater lake.

However, along your multi-day trek, you will cross paths with plenty of other lagoons that will leave you speechless and ready for more. As you follow the road of lagoons you will explore the five multi-colored lagoons: Laguna Estrellada (Star Lagoon), Laguna Verde (Green Lagoon), Laguna Azul (Blue Lagoon), Laguna Mandur (Mandur Lagoon), and Laguna Pintada.

Other Adventure Sports in El Altar Volcano

If multi-day trekking is not your cup of tea there are other outdoor adventure activities from small hikes, ice climbing, rock climbing, mountain biking, camping, or simply viewing the many stunning glacial lagoons. If you are a proven alpine mountaineering and have rock climbing experience, this is also the optimal location to partake in these adventures.

How To Prepare

Not only do you need to pack a backpack, but you will need to be in good physical shape for this trek. Even with good physical shape, it is a good idea to acclimatize to the altitude in Quito for a few days.

While some of these things you will pack, most of these will be provided while in Ecuador. With highly unpredictable weather conditions, it is best to be fully prepared if not over-prepared.    

Bring From Home

When packing we always want to take more than we need, however, you will not be able to take everything on the trail with you. But along the trail, you will need plenty of layers, knee-high socks, rain gear, a headlamp, trekking poles, sunscreen, and hiking boots.

Buy Here

However, if you are not the extreme hiker with all this equipment, you also will be able to rent gear before the trip. While this is an extra expense, these are essentials for the trek of a lifetime. The most important objects of clothing that you buy here and will not be able to go on the trek without are ponchos or rubber boots that reach knee-high to help with the muddy trail.

Visiting El Altar Volcano With Kuoda

This trek may sound intimidating with its muddy passages and steep incline, but it continues to welcome responsible tourism to appreciate its beauty. While hiking through remote and rugged locations it is important to have a trusted guide that can assist you with any potential obstacles. With so many different trekking options across The Andes, this off the beaten trail should be at the top of any avid hiker’s curated Latin American adventure.

For a memorable journey, this adventure can be combined with other Ecuadorian tourist destinations such as Ecuador’s Cloud Forest, Galapagos Islands, or Cotopaxi. Contact us today and allow Kuoda to take the stress away from planning your upcoming trip to El Altar Volcano.

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