Ready to test your hiking fitness by climbing to an elevation of 15,413 ft.? Then the Rucu Pichincha climb in Quito, Ecuador might be the perfect bucket list hike for you.
Hiking Rucu Pichincha makes a great day hike in itself. It’s also a worthy warm-up hike if you plan to tackle high-altitude peaks like Cotopaxi or Chimborazo during your Ecuador visit.
One of the best things about the Rucu Pichincha hike is you can do it straight form Quito. As in, you can literally take an Uber from your hotel to the trailhead. Try that in Colorado!
Here are all the details you need to hike Rucu Pichincha safely with minimum pain and hassle.
What Is Rucu Pichincha?
Rucu Pichincha is one of three summits of the Pichincha volcano, which is located about 6 mi. west of downtown Quito, Ecuador.
Pichincha’s other two summits are Guagua Pichincha (15,696′) and Padre Encantado (15, 370′) . Guagua is also frequently climbed, but reaching its more distant trailhead requires private transportation.
Pichincha is an active volcano. It’s last major eruption was in 1998 from the Guagua crater, and a steam explosion from the same crater killed two scientists in 2000. However, the volcano is currently considered safe to climb.
How hard is the Rucu Pichincha hike?
With a little help from the cable car, you can hike to the summit of Rucu Pichincha and back in about 4–7 hours.
The Rucu Pichincha hike covers 6 mi. and gains 2400 feet of elevation. This would be considered a moderate hike for most people in Colorado. But keep in mind that it will feel much harder at high elevation!
The main route of Rucu Pichincha isn’t technical but requires some Class 2 and easy Class 3 rock scrambling. There’s some mild exposure near the top that may be spooky if you’re afraid of heights.
However, for most people, the biggest challenge on this mountain is probably the high elevation.
Best time to climb
Quito has two dry seasons. Both are great times to climb Rucu Pichincha.
- June to August tends to be cold and windy but also drier than the rest of the year.
- December to February is warmer but also wetter and cloudier.
No matter what the season, watch the weather as you climb. If you hang around Quito, you’ll learn that thunderstorms on the equator have insane power, producing large hail and rapid fire lightning bolts!
Also, no matter when you climb, try to get an early start, as the views are usually best in the morning.
How to ride the teleferico to the Rucu Pichincha trailhead
It’s possible (though not recommended) to literally walk out of Quito’s Cruz Loma neighborhood and up a trail to the summit of Rucu Pichincha. In fact, this was the standard route before the teleferico (cable car) was built in 2005.
Before you take an Uber to Cruz Loma, bear in mind that this is a very rough neighborhood with a high crime rate. Local guides urge tourists to avoid this area and take the teleferico to the main Rucu Pichincha trailhead.
To reach the teleferico (a.k.a. the TelefericQo), take an Uber from anywhere in Quito. When you get out at the top of a dead-end road, you may see hordes of kids and parents climbing the stairs toward the station. Don’t panic. The Volcano Amusement Park is right below the teleferico, and 95 percent of these families are probably headed there.
At the time we visited, a round-trip teleferico ride costs $8.50 for adult foreigners, $9.80 for large pets, and $4.90 for medium pets. Make of that what you will. (Check the teleferico website for updated fares and operating hours.)
The teleferico whisks you to an elevation of 10,286′ to 13,018′. As you ride, enjoy views of sprawling Quito city and the snowcapped volcanoes in the distance.
The Rucu Pichincha hike step-by-step
My friend K. and I climbed Rucu Pichincha on Nov. 25, 2018. Here are some step-by-step photos from the trail.
At the time of our climb, we had been turned around on by deep snow on Chimborazo (20,564′) a few days before. So we had a lot of energy and carbo loading to use up! While we were pretty well conditioned for altitude, we still found the Rucu Pichincha climb a worthy challenge.
As you’ll see, we were a little out of season, so the weather is quite cloudy and misty! The locals say that the weather improves as you move into December but still has plenty of cloudy days.
Before heading to the trailhead, we took a stroll on the brick road behind the teleferico station. The summit of Rucu Pichincha was in the clouds but the scenery was still great.
Behind the chapel, we took a trail to the right that led over to the trailhead. After reading this sign, we hoped we’d survive! We hadn’t brought a guide. Or a medicine cabinet, for that matter.
All the way up, you’ll see “time to summit” signs. While every hiker is different, I’d say these are on the conservative side. We reached the summit in about 2 hours and 15 minutes, a time that included some lengthy rest stops.
However, as we’ll discuss in a minute, it’s really important to go at your own pace. Avoid rushing.
The trail begins with steep switchbacks and then levels off for awhile, rolling over several bumps in the ridge. Follow the trail toward the pointy peak in the distance.
Eventually, the trail passes to the right of the summit block.
The summit is getting closer, but don’t be fooled! You’ve still got a ways to go.
The trail wraps around the back of the summit block and traverses across the ridge. There are a few easy Class 3 sections along this stretch.
The views from the back side of Rucu Pichincha were stunning!
Eventually, you’ll reach a scree gully. From here, you can look up and see the rest of the route, including the summit. The trail here disintegrates into a bunch of social trails. Make your way up to the saddle, staying to the right of the deep scree. If you feel disoriented here, aim for the sign on the right edge of the photo.
Above the saddle, the scrambling begins! Nothing on this route should be harder than easy Class 3. Take your time and pick a route that feels safe and doable.
By the time we made it to the summit, the clouds had moved in, and visibility was zero. But Cotopaxi is right behind us! Just use your imagination.
The descent is pretty straightforward and follows the same trail you came in on.
As we approached the trailhead, we were drawn in by the amazing smells coming from this hut.
These women were serving delicious grilled chicken lunches with vegetables and a choice of rice or potatoes! And the entire meal cost maybe $1 a person.
I tend to be the canary in the food poisoning coal mine, so I was a little nervous I’d wake up the next day with raging diarrhea. But I’m happy to report no stomach symptoms whatsoever! And it tasted amazing.
And that was it for Rucu Pichincha.
We grabbed fancy NesCafe drinks at the teleferico station to recharge, then headed down.
Probably the most frustrating part of the whole hike was getting back to Quito from the bottom of the teleferico. We couldn’t get a signal to summon an Uber, and the shared bus to the bottom still looked a long way from departure. (It has to fill before the driver will leave, and there were like two people in it.)
So we just decided to walk down, waving at every taxi we saw coming up. One eventually picked us up on its way down. (However, we could have walked all the way down a city street in about 20 minutes if we hadn’t caught a taxi.)
All in all, the Rucu Pichincha hike made for an awesome last day in Quito.
Bonus Rucu Pichincha climbing tips
- Don’t underestimate the altitude. If possible spend a couple days acclimatizing in Quito before attempting the Rucu Pichincha climb. Hike slower than you think you should and take frequent breaks. Start early so you don’t feel rushed.
- Unless you are a very experienced climber, don’t attempt the scramble near the top if the rock is wet.
- The route gets a bit hard to follow at the top. Keep looking behind you so you’ll have landmarks to follow on the way down.
- On the way down, leave the trail and make a direct descent through the scree gully. The scree is pretty deep, so you walk down fast without jarring your knees. Keep visual contact with the trail, which will be to your left and will eventually cut below you.
- Make sure that your travel insurance policy covers this activity. Some policies exclude hiking above a certain elevation and rock scrambling.
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And there you have it! Everything you know to climb Rucu Pichincha in Quito, Ecuador and experience life at 15,413′.
Have you done the Rucu Pichincha climb? Comment below to add your tips.
Originally published Jan. 18, 2019.