Reaching an altitude of 17,454 feet (5,320 m), El Altar is one of the three volcanoes in Ecuador's Sangay National Park, a 1,000-square-mile reserve in the Andes. Though El Altar is extinct, the other two volcanoes — Tungurahua and Sangay — are constantly active. Following a tremendous eruption centuries ago, El Altar is now in the shape of a horseshoe. The volcano has nine jagged peaks that rise high into the sky and appear like guard towers around the volcano's mile-wide crater lake. The vertical walls of the volcano’s caldera are covered with a glacier that supplies this lake with icy water on a regular basis. In the indigenous Kichwa language, El Altar is known as “Capac Urcu” (meaning "Almighty Mountain" in English). When the Spanish arrived here 300 years ago, they thought the mountain resembled a cathedral, hence its present name: “The Alter.” Moreover, some of the peaks have been named in accordance with this theme (e.g. “Bishop,” “Great Nun,” “Devout Friar,” and “Tabernacle”). To take this tour, we will drive from Quito for around 5 to 6 hours until reaching Hacienda Releche. Here, you will load your gear onto a pack-mule and then head out on your exciting and unforgettable adventure!
“My wife and I just completed a 5-day tour around the Cotopaxi volcano and the stunning Quilotoa loop – overall an excellent trip and wonderful experience.”
We will leave Quito early in the morning and drive south along the "Avenue of the Volcanoes" on the Pan-American Highway. From the town of Riobamba, we will head further southeast, leaving the highway and driving along a small country road into the Andean highlands, having lunch along the way. Eventually we will reach the Hacienda Releche guest house, located on the slopes of El Altar Volcano at an altitude of about 10,105 feet (3,080 m). You will have time to enjoy sitting by the cozy fireplace, savoring a delicious dinner, and then spending the night at this hacienda.
After a hearty breakfast to prepare for our first major hike, we will head out from Hacienda Releche and start walking uphill towards El Altar. On the way, we will pass though different types of Andean paramo (mountain grasslands) vegetation until reaching Collanes Valley. If you're lucky and the weather is clear, you may see condors or hawks in flight. You will have dinner and spend the night at the Collanes Refuge (cabins).
Today we will continue our trek to the beautiful “Yellow Lagoon.” Afterwards we will climb to the end of the valley, which will give you an excellent opportunity to explore the Andean highlands, which is characterized by its polylepis and quishuar trees, varieties of bushes, and also its typical high-altitude flowers. During this hike, we will be walking up to an altitude of over 5,000 meters, where you will have a wonderful view into the extinct El Altar volcano. In the afternoon we will return to refuge for dinner.
Today, a cross-country trek will take us through Andean vegetation, into mountain highlands and past some rocky areas at the northern edge of the crater. From there you will have a striking view of the snow-covered peaks of the Chimborazo, Sangay, Cubillín, and the Quilimias volcanoes. Again, you may see condors if you're lucky, as they're native to this area. In the afternoon we will return to the refuge for dinner and the night.
Today we will start the trek back to Hacienda Releche, where transportation will be waiting to take us back to Quito. On the return journey to the capital city, you will again pass through the Andean towns of Riobamba, Ambato and Latacunga, and catch glimpses of several volcanoes as we make our way northwards along the "Avenue of the Volcanoes." After stopping for lunch en route, we should reach Quito sometime in the late afternoon.
“Thanks so much again! Surtrek, a realiable travel partner and service provider of Operation Earth for our Galapagos Expedition program!”