While there are plenty of spots in Ecuador to add to your travel itinerary with countless national parks, stunning beaches, and lush forests, nothing stands out along Ecuador’s skyline like its impressive volcanoes.
Ecuador is home to over 48 volcanoes, spread between the mainland and the Galapagos Islands in the Pacific Ocean. While most of the Ecuador volcanoes are located in either the Galapagos or the Andes Mountains, you’ll never be too far from a volcano while you visit – Ecuador is just the size of the state of Colorado, after all.
This guide to the best, most impressive, and most unique volcanoes in Ecuador will show you the very best Ecuador volcanoes to add to your travel itinerary. Get ready for an adventure!
Volcanoes in Ecuador
From unique volcanic crater lakes to towering active volcanoes that you might get to see in action, visiting Ecuador volcanoes is a highlight of a trip. These are the most impressive volcanoes in Ecuador and the best to visit on your Ecuador itinerary!
Cotopaxi Volcano is Ecuador’s most famous and perhaps the most visited, and with good reason: it is stunningly beautiful, easily accessible from Quito, and very active.
So active, in fact, we had to cancel one of our trips to Cotopaxi National Park when it began exploding ash and gases in August 2015, just miles away from where we lived in the Valle de los Chillos outside of Quito. Don’t worry; after a year of activity, Cotopaxi calmed down and was reopened to visitors and climbers in late 2017.
Cotopaxi National Park is one of the best day trips from Quito, easily accessible and providing visitors with plenty of activities like leisurely hikes, horseback riding, and mountain biking. Of course, visitors can also hike to the volcano’s glacier line and visit the José Rivas refuge or make a push to the summit.
This is a challenging summit climb you should be acclimatized for and need specialized gear to complete, but not impossible for fit travelers that are up for the challenge, even without having much experience.
Read More: Cotopaxi Day Trip from Quito: Ultimate Guide
The long-inactive Imbabura Volcano towers over the small town of Otavalo and contributes to the stunning scenery in this mountainous northern section of Ecuador. While the last eruption of Imbabura was thousands of years ago, several lava cones and peaks are visible on Imbabura, speaking to its ancient activity.
Imbabura forms an important part of indigenous history and tradition and is considered a protector of the land by the Otavaleño people.
You’ll get great views of the volcano as you explore Otavalo. However, the most impressive view of it comes from the rim of Cuicocha crater lake, another must-visit volcano in Ecuador.
Climbers consider Imbabure to be one of the relatively easier volcanoes in Ecuador to summit but don’t take the altitude lightly. Even the base of this volcano is at a high altitude, meaning at the summit you’re bound to feel the effects of the altitude. Take a day trip to Imbabura from Quito or stay nearby if you’re looking to conquer this climb.
Read More: Otavalo, Ecuador: Ultimate Guide
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3. Sierra Negra
The Galapagos Islands, formed ages ago by volcanic activity, are another area of the country home to several volcanoes. Visiting the Sierra Negra volcano on Isabela island is considered one of the best things to do in the Galapagos and an obligatory stop on any Galapagos cruise. This shallow, wide volcanic crater is very active, with the most recent activity occurring in 2018.
Sierra Negra also has a quite flat caldera sloping up to its volcanic field, making it very easy to hike and explore even for casual visitors. Regular excursions leave from the town of Puerto Villamil, including visits to the most active areas of the volcano and new lava fields, making for a memorable trip.
You won’t find the impressive domes of mainland Ecuador volcanoes at Sierra Negra, but you’ll get up close and personal with the volcanic activity and power of this incredible volcano in Ecuador. It’s an impressive one to say the least!
One of the most unique volcanoes in Ecuador, Quilotoa is a high-altitude volcano located in a remote corner of the central Andes, best known for its stunning blue-green crater lake. After a massive explosion centuries ago led to this volcano’s massive dome explosion, the crater lake formed in its empty interior, creating one of the most beautiful natural sites in Ecuador.
Fumaroles are visible below the water’s surface, and chemicals in the water mean you can’t swim here – though the altitude here is so high (12,841 feet / 3,914 meters!) that it’s chilly and windy even during sunny summer days. You can rent a kayak at the water’s edge to kayak, a great way to explore the crater.
Quilotoa is also well-known as the start of the famous Quilotoa Loop Trek. This three-day or four-day trek takes hikers through some of Ecuador’s most stunning landscapes and to remote indigenous villages. You’ll stay at basic but welcoming guesthouses and hostels along the route of this incredible trek.
Whether you complete the multi-day Quilotoa Loop trek or not, Quilotoa is absolutely worth its place on any Ecuador itinerary. Though remote, Quilotoa can be visited on a day trip from Quito. Spend at least one night here to make travel times easier and enjoy the stunning scenery of the caldera and surrounding mountains.
If you want to visit a unique volcanic crater lake but can’t make it to remote Quilotoa, consider visiting Cuicocha. Yet another stunning volcanic crater lake, created by an explosive volcanic dome collapse, this crater lake is located just a few miles from Otavalo, one of the most popular day trips from Quito and a must on any Ecuador itinerary.
Cuicocha is a unique volcano in Ecuador in that within its crater lake, you’ll find two “islands.” These islands are actually lava domes connected below the water’s surface. Cuicocha plays an important role in local indigenous culture and is a part of purification baths during the Inti Raymi celebration of the summer solstice.
Visitors will enjoy the opportunity to take an inexpensive boat cruise through the crater lake and around the “islands,” offering a unique perspective on the volcano. If you’re up for it, you can also plan to hike the rim of the crater, which takes about five hours.
You’ll enjoy stunning views of the lake and the surrounding valley.
Even if you don’t hike the whole crater rim, you’ll get great panoramic views from the lookout on the rim near the entrance. You’ll see Imbabura Volcano and other nearby volcanoes and peaks in this stunning area of Ecuador.
What To Pack for Ecuador
Check out our Ultimate Ecuador Packing List to help you pack for your trip – we’re sharing exactly what to bring to Ecuador and what we never travel without.
Towering over the small town of Baños, the adventure sports capital of Ecuador, Tungurahua is one of most impressive Ecuador volcanoes that are currently active. In 1999, renewed activity caused the evacuation of Baños and the surrounding towns, as inches of ash fell over the entire city and significant lava spewed and exploded from the rim.
Since 1999, Tungurahua has experienced several periods of activity, including frequently shooting gas, ash, and even lava high into the skies. While the volcano doesn’t pose as much of an imminent threat now, the rim of the volcano can often be seen glowing at night.
Hiking Tungurahua – or even visiting by ATV! – is a popular activity in Baños, though travelers can also enjoy incredible views of the volcano by paragliding over the city, just one of the adventurous activities to choose from in Baños. Check with local guides before hiking, as routes are sometimes closed or changed due to volcanic activity and guidance from vulcanologists.
For a more leisurely way to enjoy this volcano, visit one of the thermal baths that give Baños its name, heated by the volcano’s geothermal activity.
Read More: Ultimate Travel Guide to Baños, Ecuador
One of just a few volcanoes in Ecuador located in the Amazon, Reventador is widely considered the most active of all the volcanoes in Ecuador, with frequent, recent eruptions of gas, ash, and even pyroclastic flow.
Located in a remote region, the volcano doesn’t pose much immediate threat to many people, though it is closely monitored. If you’re planning a visit to this active volcano in Ecuador, make sure to check local conditions closely as your trip approaches.
While Reventador isn’t as frequently visited as most other volcanoes on this list due to its location in the dense western Amazon, hiking is possible! It’s best visited with a local guide or group tour, who will be up to date about route closures, which are common due to changing volcanic conditions. You’ll have a chance to visit the stunning San Rafael waterfall nearby as part of a visit.
Snow-capped Chimborazo Volcano is undeniably one of the most impressive volcanoes in Ecuador. Located between the cities of Ambato and Riobamba, it is often visible from the Panamerican Highway, making for a memorable drive. When it reveals itself from behind a crown of clouds you’ll see travelers stopped along the highway to take pictures of this natural wonder.
This inactive volcano is only the 39th highest point in the Andes Mountains, but it is technically the highest point on Earth when measured from the center of the Earth due to the planet’s bulge around the Equator. Climbers that make it to the summit are further from the center of the Earth than even those that reach Mount Everest!
Chimborazo is a challenging mountaineering destination, the most challenging in Ecuador, and should only be attempted by skilled climbers. It requires specific gear like crampons for ice climbing and is a challenging but rewarding summit for the climbers who complete it.
Towering over Quito, the Pichincha volcano is one of Ecuador’s most well-known volcanoes and one of the most popular to visit. If you’re planning to visit and ride the TelefériQo (one the best things to do in Quito!) you’ll find yourself halfway up the volcano once you reach the top!
Pichincha has two different peaks – Rucu Pichincha and Guagua Pichincha, and both are popular climbing spots for visitors to Ecuador. While serious climbers use both climbs to help them acclimatize to Ecuador’s altitude for more challenging pushes to the summits of Cotopaxi, Cayambe, or Chimborazo, summiting Pichincha is doable if you’re relatively fit.
The volcano is active and, as recently as 1999, covered parts of Quito in several inches of ash. However, the volcano is closely monitored by vulcanologists and poses no imminent threat to the city.
Illiniza Volcano is one of the most unique volcanoes in Ecuador visually, as it has two twin snow-capped peaks that give it a distinctive and unmissable appearance. The date of the volcano’s last eruption is unknown, but it likely caused the singular dome to split in two.
The twin peaks of the Illinizas are challenging climbs, most often attempted by more experienced mountaineers acclimatizing before attempting to summit more challenging peaks in Ecuador like Chimborazo, Cayambe, or Cotopaxi.
However, travelers can appreciate these impressive peaks by visiting the Illinizas Ecological Reserve near Latacunga. Visitors can enjoy horseback riding, scenic drives, and more leisurely hikes. This reserve is also home to Quilotoa!
Whether you’re headed to the Galapagos Islands or the Ecuadorian mainland, make sure you bask in the beauty of some of these incredible volcanoes. From snow-capped peaks to smoldering mountains of ash, these sleeping monsters are part of what makes Ecuador such a one-of-a-kind natural destination.
Carley Rojas Avila is a bilingual New York-based travel writer, editor, content marketer, and the founder of the digital travel publications Explorers Away and Home to Havana. Carley is an expert on all things Latin America, the Caribbean, and Cuba, having lived and worked in four different countries in the region. Her writing has appeared on the Associated Press wires and in Travel + Leisure, Yahoo, MSN, Euronews, The Weather Channel, and more. When she's not writing about her travels, find her front row at a Bad Bunny concert, befriending street cats, and taste-testing every pizza in Havana.