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Climbing The Rucu Pichincha Volcano, Ecuador – Hiking To The Clouds

Just north of Quito, Ecuador‘s capital city, the Pichincha Volcano towers above the city and last covered it with ashes in 1999. It gave its name to the Province of Pichincha to which Quito belongs.

The volcano actually summits in two main peaks: the Rucu Pichincha (“Old Pichincha” in Quechua) at 4698 m and the Guagua Pichincha (“Child Pichincha”) at 4784 m. It is the smaller Rucu Pichincha that I climbed, as it is directly accessible from Quito’s Teleferico (the cable car).

It was my third time in Quito and even though I had visited the Teleferico every time, it was my first attempt at climbing Rucu Pichincha. As a trekking and mountain enthusiast, I was happy to finally get to do it!

When I did my usual research before the trip, I read that this trail used to be a little dangerous, with some gangs roaming around attacking tourists. Seeing that the trail to the volcano was an increasingly popular attraction for tourists, the Ecuadorian government did a great job at making the area safer, and I can confirm that this hike is now safe from thieves.

Nowadays, it’s a popular climb and chances are that you will share the trail with other hikers who will show you the way if at some point you feel a little lost in the mountain.

Quick Info

GPS (start of Pichincha trail): 0°10’55.71″S, 78°32’19.25″W

Best way to go: Taxi to the cable car

Entrance fee: 8.50 USD

Opening hours: The cable car is open every day from 8 am to 8 pm. Go as early as possible to climb the volcano.

Duration of the hike: 3-6 hours go and back

Maximum altitude: 4,784 m / 15,696 ft

Best season: June to August

Official website: Quito’s Teleferico

Rucu Pichincha: An Accessible but Challenging Hike From Quito’s Cable Car

The trail to the volcano is easy to find, just follow the path with the beautiful view of Quito on your right, and you will quickly spot the Pichincha Volcano sign. The path is easily visible, you just need to follow the track where the vegetation is gone (but becomes a little less clear in some areas closer to the top).

VIRTUAL TOUR – Climbing the Rucu Pichincha

See what it looks like to climb the Rucu Pichincha volcano, all the way to the top (11 panoramas).

The virtual tour opens in a lightbox. Use your mouse to move around the 360° panoramas.

At first, you are going up and down some hills covered with grass, from which you can keep contemplating this amazing view of Quito occupying the whole valley. At this point already, you understand that it will not be a walk in the park! The altitude is already above 4100 m (13,500 ft) and breathing is not that easy. Climbing the long slopes is already really tiring.

Slowly, the landscape becomes more rocky, wild, and austere. As you go up, the weather conditions worsen, the wind gets stronger, the clouds hit your face, and the oxygen is seriously lacking.

At some point, the clear path turns into wild rock climbing. It can be a little confusing when you have been following a clear path and suddenly find these rocks in front of you. You wonder if you have to avoid them, if you are following the wrong path, or if you have to climb them. The answer is yes, you have to climb them! Rock climbing can be a little challenging for people who are less fit and those who easily suffer from vertigo. It is important to not rush it, take your time and pay attention to where you put your feet.

When you start climbing rocks, you know the top is not too far anymore. And it gets really steep! Now at around 4500 m (14,800 ft), it’s really difficult to just walk. You force 10 steps up the slope and need to take a break. Then force 10 more steps and stop again to regain your breath.

Your heart beats much stronger and faster than normal. Since there is less oxygen in the air, each heartbeat carries less oxygen. As a result, it is beating faster to try to catch up with the lacking oxygen and provide the body with a normal level of oxygen.

In these conditions, you can almost hear your body scream “stooooop! Go back down right now!!” It’s all in the mind, you can’t rely on your muscles and your lungs anymore, it’s just between you and your motivation to reach the top! Rucu Pichincha may be an accessible volcano, but it doesn’t mean it’s easy!

Just before the top, you have to climb a sandy slope that is pretty fun to go down, but going up this slope is hell. Sand is not a firm and stable ground, making the climb even harder. The clear path is just a remote memory and you have to follow the footprints to guess where the path actually is. Don’t hesitate to ask other hikers. But when you think about it, as long as you are going up you are in the right direction anyway!

Reaching the top of the mountain is amazing. The suffering makes way for joy, and you instantly feel really proud of yourself for not giving up. It feels good and quite effortless to finally walk on flat land again.

I wish I could describe the view from the top, but all I will be able to describe is how plain, featureless, and white the clouds are from the inside! The view was totally blocked but I admit I quite liked the idea of “exploring” the inside of a cloud without being in a plane.

Going down is of course easier, and I enjoyed myself like a kid running down the long sand slope. After a bit more than 4 hours of intense efforts, I could catch sight of the cable car station again, and treated myself to a well-deserved long break sitting in the grass. I am quite impressed to see what our body is able to withstand, even without being fully acclimatized to high altitude.

As an exploration junkie, on top of exploring a volcano, I can say that I have explored my physical limits!

Video of The Trip

Live this experience in video and watch me struggle my way up the volcano!

Climbing Rucu Pichincha – Final Tips

When I went climbing the volcano, I had landed in Quito only 40 hours before, coming from Europe. As a result, my acclimatization to the altitude was a little limited. I may be a well-trained hiker, but I can say that I really suffered on this mountain.

Therefore, I advise you to not follow my example and stay at least two or three days in Quito before attempting the ascent of the volcano to give your body enough time to generate more red blood cells. It is even better if you can visit a few places around Quito at a higher altitude, to stimulate the acclimatization process.

The trek should definitely be done in the morning, as the weather at the top often gets worse in the afternoon. I strongly advise getting ready to climb as soon as the cable car station opens in the morning, to give yourself the best chances of a great experience and a great view from the top (which I didn’t have!).

I did this hike in April, and the weather was fine as there was no rain at all, but the top of the volcano got totally engulfed in the clouds quite early in the day. Later in the year (particularly July-August), your chances to have a clear sky and clear view from the top increase greatly.

Climbing the Rucu Pichincha is a must for anyone seeking a challenging hike that they can do on their own, without a guide. The path is clear most of the time, and there are always people around so you don’t feel totally isolated in the wild.

Good weather and good view are never guaranteed, but the clouds make a really special and mysterious atmosphere that I like, and at least I can really say that I touched the sky!

TRAVEL MAP – Rucu Pichincha Volcano

Visualize on the map the precise locations of panoramas in the virtual tour and places of interest to help you prepare for your trip to the Rucu Pichincha Volcano in Quito.

Click Here to View The Map

The map opens in a lightbox. Zoom in to explore!


  • Danik
    Posted September 28, 2017 at 6:15 pm

    I would so love to hike this volcano. Loving the video, its wetting my lips to put this on the list of hikes I hope to do in that region.

  • Swati & Sam
    Posted October 1, 2017 at 11:51 am

    This place looks fantastic for a hike. I hope I get to hike here someday. Looks difficult but insanely beautiful at the same time. Ecuador is such a stunning place.

  • Rahul Khurana
    Posted October 1, 2017 at 4:49 pm

    You climbed the mountain without acclimatization being not an expert and that’s a great achievement. I wish to see the volcano top someday. Loved the video and the view from the top surrounded by clouds. 🙂

  • Damien McGuigan
    Posted December 18, 2017 at 3:11 pm

    This looks like a fantastic hike. I am glad that you got to do it on your third visit! I think with mountain hikes, if they are difficult, they are also more rewarding when we get to finish them.

    • Post Author
      Posted December 20, 2017 at 12:58 am

      Indeed! Reaching the top is a huge reward when you have suffered!

  • Tara
    Posted December 18, 2017 at 6:10 pm

    Oh my goodness, Rucu Pichincha sounds like an amazing hike! How far is the trek, and did you go it alone? I’d love to check this out, and Quito too!

    • Post Author
      Posted December 20, 2017 at 1:00 am

      Hey Tara, yes I did it alone, no guide is needed. It’s a taxi ride away from downtown Quito to the cable car, very easy to get to.

  • Carol Colborn
    Posted December 19, 2017 at 5:46 am

    Wow, it’s really hiking TO the clouds. Quite difficult for me, I should say. Congratulations.

    • Post Author
      Posted December 20, 2017 at 1:05 am

      Thank you Carol! Very difficult for me too! It’s amazing to touch the clouds at the top 🙂

  • Meagan
    Posted December 19, 2017 at 8:09 pm

    Beautiful, and definitely worth the struggle! Climbing at elevation is definitely tough, but it looks like a wonderful hike and – despite the cloud cover (or because of it!) – a wonderful trip.

    • Post Author
      Posted December 20, 2017 at 1:06 am

      Thanks for your comment Meagan! For sure a memorable hike and awesome experience despite the suffering!

  • Jas
    Posted December 19, 2017 at 9:58 pm

    I loveeeeeee your panoramic photos! It’s almost like a 360 video and it feels like I’m right there with you. Sounds like a tough hike and scary hike though… But you know what they say, the best views come after the hardest climb! Great video footage you captured as well. I’m definitely compelled to do this hike although I think I need some training first hahhaaa.

    • Post Author
      Posted December 22, 2017 at 3:01 pm

      Hey Jas, thanks a lot for your comment! It was super tough but worth the experience. If you go for it, just make sure you have spent a few days in Quito to get used to the altitude first!

  • Mary
    Posted December 21, 2017 at 1:17 pm

    The trek looks absolutely beautiful! I always like hearing about relatively short and easily accessible hikes for countries I plan to visit. Thanks!

    • Post Author
      Posted December 22, 2017 at 3:03 pm

      Thanks Mary, this is defintiely a great hike to go for if you visit Quito!

  • Rye Santiago
    Posted December 21, 2017 at 6:33 pm

    I can’t imagine how much effort you put into your blog post. It looks so sophisticated and well thought of. I hope to climb this volcano in Ecuador when I visit it late next year.

    • Post Author
      Posted December 22, 2017 at 3:04 pm

      Thank you very much Rye! Glad you liked it 🙂 That’s great you are going to Ecuador! Just make sure to be acclimatized to the altitude before attempting the hike!

  • Catherine
    Posted December 22, 2017 at 4:39 am

    This definitely seems like a challenging hike – climbing a volcano, but wow, what a view!

    • Post Author
      Posted December 22, 2017 at 3:05 pm

      Thanks Catherine, it’s a challenging hike, but also a very rewarding one!

  • Rafaela Ely
    Posted June 6, 2018 at 4:27 am

    Thanks. Will be doing that tomorrow.

    • Post Author
      Posted June 6, 2018 at 8:55 am

      Good luck!

  • Steve
    Posted July 8, 2019 at 5:11 pm

    Hello. Great story! Does the round trip up to summit and back to gondola take 4 hours?


    • Post Author
      Posted July 9, 2019 at 8:06 pm

      Yes that’s more or less what it took me!

  • Steven
    Posted July 10, 2019 at 7:46 pm

    Thanks Julien!


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