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Skiing in Ecuador’s Ring of Fire Glaciers

Yes, you can ski in Ecuador! Strange as it may seem, considering that it is located on the line that shares its name with the country, dividing the world into the northern and southern hemispheres.

We often assume that if something is closer to the equator line, it will be warmer and therefore there will be no snow. But this diverse country breaks that notion. We have been researching exotic places to ski for years and Ecuador has always caught our attention.

Ecuador is a captivating country with cultural diversity and natural wonders. At its heart lies Quito, the capital, while the vibrant city of Guayaquil thrives as its most populated urban centre. Ecuador is proud to be a member of the Andean Community, which comprises twenty-four provinces, each of them divided into cantons. Bordered by Colombia to the north, Peru to the south and east, and the Pacific Ocean to the west, this nation is separated from the Galapagos Islands by approximately one thousand kilometers of Pacific coastline, creating a maritime boundary with Costa Rica in the island region.

With more than sixteen million inhabitants, Ecuador stands as the tenth most populous nation in America, with the highest population density in South America and ranking fifth in the entire continent. It is a land where the splendor of nature meets a vibrant variety of cultures, inviting travelers to explore its diverse landscapes and welcoming communities.

The country is crossed by the equator, the famous 0° latitude, which divides the continental and insular territories of Ecuador, placing most of the Ecuadorian territory in the southern hemisphere.

Ecuador’s topography is an impressive mosaic: the Andes mountain range crosses the continent from north to south, flanking the western side with the Gulf of Guayaquil, plains and foothills, while to the east stretches the magnificent Amazon rainforest. With an area of 256,370 square kilometers, Ecuador’s appeal lies in its compact but diverse ecosystems: the Andes, the Pacific coast, the Amazon and the Galapagos Islands. No wonder it has earned the nickname “The country of four worlds.”

The Ring of Fire

Ecuador is located within the extensive Ring of Fire, also known as the Pacific Ring of Fire or the Circum-Pacific Belt. This geological zone extends approximately 40,000 kilometers (25,000 miles) long and reaches widths of up to about 500 kilometers (310 miles), surrounding the Pacific Ocean. While there is no universal agreement on the exact count of volcanoes in the Ring of Fire, estimates range between 750 and 915, representing approximately two-thirds of the world’s total volcanoes. This region is a hotspot for seismic activity and is home to about 90% of the planet’s earthquakes, including many of the largest.

The best ski mountaineering areas in Ecuador are located on its volcanoes: Cayambe, Chimborazo, Cotopaxi and Antisana. Although the country has smaller glaciers and snow-capped peaks, these four accumulate the most snow and provide relatively convenient access from Quito, the capital. It should be noted that Ecuador does not have ski resorts. The best months to ski these peaks are usually November and December.


Cotopaxi Volcano - Photo Credits: Jaime Dantas

Cotopaxi is an active stratovolcano located in north-central Ecuador, within the province of Cotopaxi. Part of the Andes mountain range, specifically the northern Andes, is located at a height of 5,897 meters above sea level, making it the second highest peak in Ecuador and the northern Andes, only surpassed by the Chimborazo volcano. Among the listed volcanoes, Cotopaxi is notably the most accessible from Quito, the capital, and comparatively least challenging in terms of difficulty. However, ascending still requires a sufficient level of physical fitness and technical preparation since every year many people who try to reach its summit can´t make it.


Chimborazo Volcano - Photo Credits: Joris Beugels

Chimborazo, a potentially active stratovolcano, is located in central Ecuador within the province of Chimborazo. As part of the Andes mountain range, specifically the northern Andes, it rises up to 6,263.47 meters above sea level, making it the highest peak in Ecuador and the northern Andes.

Thanks to the Earth’s geoid shape, Chimborazo has a notable distinction: when measured from the center of the Earth, its summit extends further from the planet’s core compared to any other point. In the equatorial zone its diameter reigns as the largest, even surpassing Everest by more than two kilometers in this unique measurement.


Cayambe Volcano - Photo Credits: Mauricio Muñoz

Cayambe, an active stratovolcano located north of Ecuador within the Province of Pichincha, is part of the Andes mountain range, specifically the northern Andes. Located at an altitude of 5,790 meters above sea level, it holds the title of third highest peak in both Ecuador and the northern Andes, behind the Chimborazo and Cotopaxi volcanoes.

Despite its lesser-known status compared to Cotopaxi, Cayambe remains a hidden gem among Ecuador’s mountaineers. Offering an equally impressive climb, it draws adventurers down a road less traveled, wrapped in its charm.


Antisana Volcano - Photo Credits: Mauricio Muñoz

Antisana, an active stratovolcano located in northern Ecuador within the province of Napo, is part of the Andes mountain range, specifically the northern Andes. With a height of 5,758 meters above sea level, it is the fourth highest peak in both Ecuador and the northern Andes, behind the Chimborazo, Cotopaxi and Cayambe volcanoes.

Glaciers of Ecuador

The Andean mountain landscape is undergoing a worrying change as the once abundant snowpack decreases in size. A recent analysis highlights a staggering 42% reduction in tropical Andean glacier coverage between 1990 and 2020, marked by an alarming annual loss of 28.4 kilometers. Glaciers located below 5,000 meters above sea level face greater vulnerability to this trend. In Ecuador, where glaciers represent only 3.8% of the region’s total, there has been a significant decrease of 36.3%, leaving only 54.7 square kilometers as testimony to this rapid decline.

We always recommend traveling responsibly, respecting the environment, communities and local laws.

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Cover photo credits: Fabricio Burbano/

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