Few attractions in Ecuador have made such a stir as the TelefériQo , a modern cable-car system you’d commonly see in smart ski resorts, which transports six-person cabins from a base station at 3050m on the lower slopes of Volcán Pichincha, up to the antennae-barbed peak of Cruz Loma at around 4050m. It opened in 2005 to enormous excitement and fanfare, and instantly became Quito’s most popular diversion for sunny days and clear evenings – hardly surprising considering there’s nothing remotely comparable to this in Ecuador. The 2.5km ride glides by in around eight minutes, wafting noiselessly above the last treetops and over into the páramo moorlands of the high Andes to arrive at a series of lookouts (one of them indoors), which give grand views over a capital ringed by the ice-tipped volcanoes of Cayambe, Antisana and Cotopaxi.
This is the attraction’s kernel of quality, smoothly operated, slickly organized and highly recommended. But there’s an awful lot of flimflam to circumnavigate while you’re here: souvenir stores, games arcades, artesanía shops, bars, cafés and food courts all seem to unfurl endlessly between the entrance and the cable car itself. There’s even a dedicated amusement zone, VulQano Park, whose star turns are the Montaña Rusa (Russian Mountain) roller coaster and the “Ejection Seat”, a two-seater sphere which is shot 60m into the air on elastic bands.
From the top of the cable car, short trails lead up to mountainside lookouts. Signs everywhere tell you to take it easy as you ascend and if you’ve arrived in Quito within a couple of days this is good advice, as you’ll definitely feel the thin air; there is a medical centre up here in case of emergencies. Remember to bring warm clothing, because it can be bitingly cold up here, especially if there’s no sun; there is an indoor area if you need it. Beyond the complex’s damaged fences, the trail continues for about three hours (for the fit and acclimatized) along a grassy ridge to the summit of Rucu Pichincha (4627m). There have been a number of robberies and assaults around this peak, so you’re strongly advised to give the hike a miss.