Are you ready for a challenge? The Rucu Pichincha hike is an arduous one and that’s coming from an intermediate hiker.
The trail is 6 miles round trip and ascends to an elevation of 15,413 feet after a 2,400-foot climb. It takes roughly four to six hours of sucking wind the entire time!
If you come from a mountainous region, you might not have as hard of a time, but hailing from the flatlands, tackling the high altitude is a feat in itself.
But don’t let me scare you off, because even though it is tough, I’d do it again without any hesitation. It’s a super cool trail with gorgeous views so even if you can only manage a few miles, I still highly recommend it.
Watch the video below for a sneak peek of what it’ll be like to hike the trail!
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If you’re in the beginning stages of planning your trip, check out my article on all the Important Things to Know Before Visiting Ecuador. It goes over what to pack, what vital documents you need, how safe it is, and what apps to download.
Pichincha Volcano Facts
The Rucu Pichincha is the most popular of three summits of the Pichincha volcano, an active volcano west of downtown Quito.
Rucu, meaning “old person,” is the second-highest peak and is considered extinct.
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At 15,296 feet, Guagua Pichincha is the highest peak and an active volcano with its latest eruption in 1999.
Despite its recent activity, it is still considered safe to climb. So, if you’re looking for an even more challenging day, read about the Guagua Pichincha Hike here.
Is Rucu Pichincha Safe?
There have been reports of armed robberies previous to 2016 but is considered very safe nowadays in regard to criminal activity.
We passed an abundance of hikers throughout the day and never felt wary of any of them. They were all hikers like us just trying to reach the summit or make it back to the cable car before it closed for the day.
There’s always a chance, so I do recommend hiking with someone or in a group just in case. Let your hotel or hostel know and leave your valuables in the lockbox.
With some rock scrambling and high elevation, the main safety concern on the trail is falling or getting hurt.
One of the most recent deaths on the Rucu Pichincha volcano occurred in August 2022.
There are a few sections that gave us caution, but we managed, along with many other hikers, to make it back in one piece.
How to Hike Rucu Pichincha
First things first. If possible, try to plan to hike the trail a few days after arriving in Quito if you come from a low elevation. Acclimating is no joke.
My husband and I had no issues with the 9,350 feet in the city, but once we started to walk around after getting off the cable car we could feel the difference immediately.
In the steep sections, we had to take a break every couple of steps.
- Start Early. If possible, try to get on the cable car right when they open around 9:30 am because fog tends to arrive in the afternoon. It is recommended not to start any later than 11:00 am and to return by 5:00 pm. The best views are in the morning.
- Hike with someone. A Rucu Pichincha guide is not required but having a partner to hike with is beneficial.
- Brink a lightweight comfortable day pack and pack plenty of water, lunch, or major snacks.
- Wear layers. It will be hot hiking up, but at the top and on the way down you might need warm clothing, gloves, and/or a hat.
- If it’s a foggy or dreary day, rethink taking this hike. Not only is it dangerous, but considering how difficult it is you want to be rewarded with beautiful views.
- Wear non-slip shoes. Normally, I recommend Trail Runners for hiking, but a sturdy pair of waterproof hiking shoes work better for the rock scrambles and sand slopes.
- Remember 911 is the number to call in case of an emergency even in Ecuador.
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Teleférico Ride – Pichincha Volcano Cable Car
How to get to Rucu Pichincha? The trail begins after a ride on the Teleférico sky tram (the Pichincha Volcano cable car) which is one of the highest aerial lifts in the world.
A round-trip ticket currently costs $9.00 for visitors.
It takes roughly ten minutes to glide up 2,700 feet to the Cruz Loma plateau. If you are claustrophobic, make a note that the glass gondola has a window that opens and does not feel tight at all.
We took the ride up with three other people from Ecuador that were also hiking the volcano. It was a great conversation because one of them had already hiked the volcano and answered some of the questions that we had.
In no time, we were making our way to the restroom and then a quick detour to sway in the clouds.
There is a cafe at the top, but I recommend bringing your own snacks so you don’t have to wait in line and can start the summit as soon as possible.
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On the walk to the Teleférico, we picked up a few pastries at En-Dulce, a fantastic cafe in the historic district, to keep us fueled throughout the afternoon.
First, head over to the Rucu Pichincha swing because the views in the morning will be the best and you will not feel like taking the extra steps at the end of the hike.
To be honest, we almost skipped it as we were running late and thought it was nothing more than a cheesy photo opp. It proved to be much more!
With a smile as big as my mouth would allow, I swung eagerly overlooking the spectacular views with my hair blowing in the wind thinking, “I’m so glad we didn’t miss out on this.”
Rucu Pichincha Guide – What to Expect on the Hike
Not too far from the swing, you’ll discover a sign at the beginning of the Rucu Route. Even though it has good information, don’t let it scare you too much!
It is not required to be accompanied by a guide and if you forgot your medicine ‘cabinet’ -as we did- you should still be fine.
The trail begins with a fairly deceiving flat section. Don’t get me wrong you’ll still be huffing and puffing, but it’s nothing like what you’ll be experiencing soon!
In the blink of a llama’s eye, the trail starts to ascend. I started thinking that the medicine cabinet wasn’t such a bad idea after all – I might be needing an AED soon.
Kidding! The whole slow-but-steady-wins-the-race thing totally applies to this climb.
There were many hikers that passed us by in the first hour, but we eventually caught up and seemed to be in better spirits at that point.
Just remember to take your time and enjoy the jaw-dropping views.
The path is lined with tall grass and blooming cacti. We were surprised to spot a few flowers blooming in mid-September at that high altitude.
We were not surprised, however, to see small clumps of snow at the base of the grasslands. The air is much cooler than the down in the city, but the steady climb keeps us warm.
The trail progresses up and down a few times before reaching the tricky part of the trail.
You can take two routes to the summit of the Pichincha Volcano: Paso de la Muerte or Sendero normal. We opted for the normal path, once we read the Death Pass stated, “This route requires an intermediate level of experience in mountaineering, otherwise the guidance of an expert mountaineer is required.”
After the sign, you’ll find yourself at a bend around a jagged rock face with a narrow path overlooking the cliffside. But guess what? At least it’s flat!
It looks worse than it is. Well, if you’re not scared of heights that is. But it takes you right to the rock scramble and then the deep sandy area which is where it gets precarious.
This portion of the hike is the most difficult. If you have any adverse weather or fog, I suggest turning back. It gets slippery on the rocks and you do not want to fall here!
It’s also slow-going so it feels like it takes forever. Or at least it did for me.
We made it to the top but just short of the summit before dense fog and sleet arrived. We turned around with only about 100 feet to go and I have no regrets!
If we only got there thirty minutes earlier, we would have had great views. Hence, my recommendation to start the hike early.
All in all, the volcano climb is a worthy challenge, but an unforgettable and extraordinary adventure!
Hopefully, this Rucu Pichincha guide answered all your questions. If you have any other questions or comments, let us know. Or if you conquered this very unique hike, let us know!