Reaching an altitude of 17,454 feet (5,320 m), El Altar is one of the three volcanoes in Ecuador's Sangay National Park, a 1,000-square-mile reserve in the Andes. Though El Altar is extinct, the other two volcanoes — Tungurahua and Sangay — are constantly active. Following a tremendous eruption centuries ago, El Altar is now in the shape of a horseshoe. The volcano has nine jagged peaks that rise high into the sky and appear like guard towers around the volcano's mile-wide crater lake. The vertical walls of the volcano’s caldera are covered with a glacier that supplies this lake with icy water on a regular basis. In the indigenous Kichwa language, El Altar is known as “Capac Urcu” (meaning "Almighty Mountain" in English). When the Spanish arrived here 300 years ago, they thought the mountain resembled a cathedral, hence its present name: “The Alter.” Moreover, some of the peaks have been named in accordance with this theme (e.g. “Bishop,” “Great Nun,” “Devout Friar,” and “Tabernacle”). To take this tour, we will drive from Quito for around 5 to 6 hours until reaching Hacienda Releche. Here, you will load your gear onto a pack-mule and then head out on your exciting and unforgettable adventure!


Ecuadorian Andes, Camping, El Altar’s Crater, Avenue of the Volcanoes

Detailed Itineraries

altar volcano

Quito – Hacienda Releche

AM: We will leave Quito early in the morning and drive south along the "Avenue of the Volcanoes" on the Pan-American Highway. From the town of Riobamba, we will head further southeast, leaving the highway and driving along a small country road into the Andean highlands, having lunch along the way. Eventually we will reach the Hacienda Releche guest house, located on the slopes of El Altar Volcano at an altitude of about 10,105 feet (3,080 m). You will have time to enjoy sitting by the cozy fireplace, savoring a delicious dinner, and then spending the night at this hacienda.


AM: After a hearty breakfast to prepare for our first major hike, we will head out from Hacienda Releche and start walking uphill towards El Altar. On the way, we will pass though different types of Andean paramo (mountain grasslands) vegetation until reaching Collanes Valley. If you're lucky and the weather is clear, you may see condors or hawks in flight. You will have dinner and spend the night at the Collanes Refuge (cabins).


AM: Today we will continue our trek to the beautiful “Yellow Lagoon.” Afterwards we will climb to the end of the valley, which will give you an excellent opportunity to explore the Andean highlands, which is characterized by its polylepis and quishuar trees, varieties of bushes, and also its typical high-altitude flowers. During this hike, we will be walking up to an altitude of over 5,000 meters, where you will have a wonderful view into the extinct El Altar volcano. In the afternoon we will return to refuge for dinner.


AM: Today, a cross-country trek will take us through Andean vegetation, into mountain highlands and past some rocky areas at the northern edge of the crater. From there you will have a striking view of the snow-covered peaks of the Chimborazo, Sangay, Cubillín, and the Quilimias volcanoes. Again, you may see condors if you're lucky, as they're native to this area. In the afternoon we will return to the refuge for dinner and the night.


AM: Today we will start the trek back to Hacienda Releche, where transportation will be waiting to take us back to Quito. On the return journey to the capital city, you will again pass through the Andean towns of Riobamba, Ambato and Latacunga, and catch glimpses of several volcanoes as we make our way northwards along the "Avenue of the Volcanoes." After stopping for lunch en route, we should reach Quito sometime in the late afternoon.


Price per person


USD$ 1344

Included in the price

  • Private transportation,
  • English-speaking guide
  • Meals, as indicated in the itinerary
  • Refuge accommodations or collective camping equipment (1 or 2-person tents, foam pads, kitchen gear, pack animals, etc.)
  • Entrance fee to the national park
  • One night of lodging at the hacienda

Not included in the price

  • Personal equipment
  • Gratuities
  • Travel insurance (highly recommended)
  • Meals not indicated in the itinerary

back cafeok1

Get in touch with us

Interested in more information about any particular South American destination or trip?

Simply let us know your interests or question, and one of our travel experts will be more than happy to assist you -- at no charge, of course!

Plan your trip (Top)

El Altar Gallery

Welcome to the "El Altar" photo section! Here you can explore the beauty and charm of this incredible destination through a selection of stunning images. Let yourself be inspired by the natural and cultural wealth of El Altar, and start dreaming about your next adventure in this hidden paradise.

Best Destinations of the Season by Surtrek

Discover the best destinations of the season with Surtrek, your guide to extraordinary travel experiences in South America. This season’s top picks include the awe-inspiring Galapagos Islands, where you can explore unique wildlife and pristine landscapes, and the enchanting Amazon Rainforest, offering unforgettable eco-adventures. Plan your ultimate seasonal adventure with Surtrek’s expert recommendations for a truly remarkable journey.

Sacha Lodge

Discovering the Ecuadorian Andes

Andes & Amazon

Cuyabeno Lodge

Sacha Lodge

Discovering the Ecuadorian Andes

Andes & Amazon

Cuyabeno Lodge

Tripadvisor Reviews

default avatar 2020 1

Jen L

May 2024 • Family


We went to Quito, Isabela and Santa Cruz islands in the Galapagos. Jorge planned an amazing trip - all details were taken care of and the trip was seamless. We stayed at Patio Andaluz Hotel in Quito, Casita de la Playa in Isabela, and Ikala Galapagos in Santa Cruz - all were great. The tours and guides were all fantastic! Evelyn and the team at Surtrek ensured that the trip went smoothly. It was a trip of a lifetime. I would highly recommend!
default avatar 2020 58

An S

Feb 2024 • Solo


Sutrek - Juan Pablo - helped me plan a 2 week solo trip to Chile (the entire length frim North to South) with arrival in Santiago. It was really well planned, even though it was a last minute request. The communications were prompt and clear. Throughout the trip - i had full detailz and felt safe & well taken care off. Even when I wanted to change anything / or wanted improvements during the trip - it was addressed. I highly recommend Surtrek.
default avatar 2020 24


Jul 2023 • Family


We used Surtrek for our Galapagos trip. It was the best decision we made. Karla Leon created our itinerary and was amazing. She was always available and communicated with our group all the time while in the Islands. We will be using them again in the future. I recommend them 100%

default avatar 2020 51


Feb 2024 • Friends


And amazing trip and great organisation. Everything went smoothly which made the trip a pleasure. All guides and tours were excellent and I recommend highly. Booking was a pleasure with Juan helping us to build a customised trip to see everything we wanted to in Brazil, Bolivia and Chile.
default avatar 2020 52


Nov 2023 • Solo


I traveled with Surtrek and the team made everything orgnized and meanwhile I had a wonderful time with local people. The guides were very friendly and answered my questions about local nature and history. The operation team made every aspect smooth and I didn't have to worry about anything. recommend highly.

see all reviews