Rising over the west side of Quito, the broad-based, emerald-sloped Volcán Pichincha has two main peaks: the slightly lower, serene-looking Rucu Pichincha (4675m) lies just beyond the hilltops, looming over the new town; Guagua Pichincha (4794m), 10km west of the city centre, is a highly active volcano, which erupted spectacularly in 1999, covering Quito in ash and dust.
Rucu Pichincha has been virtually out of bounds to climbers in recent years because the access routes to it from Cruz Loma and La Loma de las Antenas (the aerial-topped peaks clearly visible from the city) were extremely dangerous, due to the frequent assaults and robberies. The TelefériQo takes hundreds of people up to Cruz Loma each day, but we recommend not attempting the three-hour hike to the summit beyond the perimeter fences. Check with SAE for the latest security conditions.
Guagua Pichincha is best reached from the village of Lloa, southwest of Quito, from where a signposted dirt track leads up to a refuge just below the summit (about 5–6hr walk). The refuge is basic; bring your own food and sleeping bag if spending the night ($5), during which it gets very cold.
Most climbing operators in Quito offer the Guagua climb as a day tour, including four-wheel-drive transport to or near the refuge.