Explore Ecuador’s Avenue of the Volcanoes

Following a 200 km route between the Eastern and Western Cordillera mountain chains, the Avenue of the Volcanoes (Avenida de los volcanes) offers adventurers the opportunity to view up to fourteen of Ecuador’s magnificent volcanoes. Some of the volcanoes are active, while others are dormant, and each has its own unique characteristics, making it worthwhile to take a trip along this spectacular ‘avenue’. There are a number of tours for visitors to choose from, many of which start and end in the country’s capital city, Quito.

At a height of 5,897 meters, snow-capped Cotopaxi is one of Ecuador’s most readily recognized volcanoes. Its virtually symmetrical cone rises up from a highland plain and with its last eruption being in the early 1940s, Cotopaxi is considered to be active. The volcano was first ascended by Wilhelm Reiss and Angel Escobar in November 1872 and climbers have been tackling this challenging ascent, which includes glacier climbing, ever since.

Cotacachi is a dormant volcano along the avenue which features a 3 kilometer wide caldera and crater lake called Cuicocha. A caldera is generally formed when land collapses following a volcanic eruption, and Cuicocha was formed more than 3,000 years ago when the volcano erupted. It has been dormant since then, but the eruption contributed to the fertile soil found in the Otavalo valley.

The westernmost volcano in the Ecuadorian Andes is Quilotoa, featuring a 3 kilometer wide caldera filled with water which was formed around 800 years ago. The distinctive greenish color of Quilotoa’s water is as a result of minerals from the volcanic ash and the lake floor has fumaroles, which the eastern flank of the volcano features hot springs. There is a small town at the summit of Quilotoa and this can be reached from Zumbahua by vehicle.

With its permanent snowcap,Cayambe boasts the highest point in the world on the Equator (4,690 meters on its south slope), and is also the only point located on the Equator to have snow cover. The highest point of Cayambe is 5,790 meters and was first conquered in 1880 by British mountaineer Edward Whymper, along with Italians Luis Carrel and Juan Antonio. It remains a favorite destination for mountain climbers today. Classified as a Holocene compound volcano, Cayambe last erupted in 1786 and is considered dormant.

Traveling the Avenue of the Volcanoes also gives visitors the opportunity to stop off at villages along the way to enjoy the local markets and some warm Ecuadorian hospitality.