Explore the Grand Beauty of El Altar

Approximately a hundred and seventy kilometers outside of the bustling city of Quito lies an extinct volcano, one of the highest in Ecuador. It is believed that the volcano once proudly stood as the biggest volcano on earth until a massive explosion tore the volcano apart, leaving it fragmented in nine different peaks. The locals of the area once called it Capac-Urcu, Lord of all the Mountains, but the collapse of the volcano has left El Altar as the fifth highest in the country.

Geologists have studied the caldera and have determined that it is much older than the time line that the Inca set of its collapse, round about 1460. There are now nine large peaks that make up the horse shoe formation of El Altar, all of them are at a height of five thousand meters and higher. In the centre of the horse shoe, which stretches across for an estimated three kilometers, is Laguna Collanes, also referred to as Laguna Amarilla, a crater lake that is located at four thousand two hundred meters above sea level. The nine peaks of El Altar are Obispo (Bishop) at 5 319 meters, Monja Grande (Great Nun) at 5 160 meters, Monja Chica (Small Num) at 5 080 meters, Tabemaculo (Tabernacle) at 5 180 meters, Fraile Oriental (Eastern Friar) at 5 060 meters, Fraile Beato (Devout Friar) at 5 050 meters, Fraile Central (Central Friar) at 5 070 meters, Fraile Grande (Great Friar) at 5 180 meters and Canonigo (Canon) at 5 260 meters. Canon peak was climbed for the first time on 7 March 1965, with Bishop Peak being the first peak to be explored on 7 July 1963.

The peaks have now become popular with hikers, but do offer technical difficulty, so many visitors opt to just hike to the lake instead. Most expeditions start from Riobamba, with visitors being transported to the Sangay National Park, where the volcano is situated. There are lodges and refuges along the way that can be rented to rest for the evening, as the trail takes approximately four to seven hours to complete, depending on the weather and trail conditions. Most people opt for the four day excursion package, allowing them to enjoy the beauty of the park, as well as the magnificence of the volcano.