The Pichinchas are two volcanoes in the west of Quito. The inactive volcano, Rucu Pichincha, is closer to Quito and has an altitude of ca. 4680m. The active volcano, Guagua Pichincha, lies to the west of Rucu Pichincha (11km west of Quito) and has an altitude of ca. 4794m
Because of their accessibility from Quito and their fascinating activity they have attracted many adventurers over the centuries: La Condamine, followed by Humboldt about 60 years later. Humboldt actually climbed it twice as he was so fascinated by the volcanic landscape. Guagua Pichincha is an active stratovolcano, its last big eruption was in October 1999, when it covered the city of Quito with several inches of ash.
Starting off from Quito, you drive in the morning (an early start is highly recommended) to the Andean village of Lloa (3500m) which is situated in the basin southwest of Quito. From here, a path leads you over the foothills of the slopes of Guagua Pichincha to a little plain from where you can start your hike up to the refuge situated below the crater edge.
This short hike lakes about 1 hour. Depending upon the climate you may need a four wheel drive vehicle, which can bring you up all the way to the refuge. From the refuge it is a short hike up to the 4.794m high summit. From here you have an amazing view into the horseshoe-shaped crater, which is open on the western side. The smoke that emerges from the inside of the crater, as well as the cones of scree and ash, are a testament to this volcano’s activity.
Furthermore, for the more adventurous hikers, there is also the possibility of entering the wide crater and visiting the dome where fumaroles, sulfurous odors, and noise at various locations within the crater can be experienced. This hike is much longer and more demanding than the hike up to the summit, taking approximately 2 hours from the crater edge down to the dome and about 3–4 hours back. There is hardly any shade within the crater so bring plenty of water! Still it is a great (long) day hike through the caldera of an active volcano!