Dominating the northern skyline of the small city of Cariamanga is Cerro Ahuaca. Located in the southern province Loja, Cerro Ahuaca boasts the tallest free wall in Ecuador, about 210 meters (689 ft). Ahuaca has two summits. The eastern is the highest at around 2470 meters (8104 ft) above sea level, and the western is roughly 2180 meters (7152 ft). The higher summit can be reached simply by hiking. The lower peak can be reached by bushwhacking through a forest and a short scramble to the saddle and top, or by a steep scramble down on grass and crumbly soil from the ridge between the two peaks.
The friendly, yet rarely visited Cariamanga can be easily reached by bus from any major city in Ecuador. It is roughly 14 hours by bus from Quito and one and a half hours from Loja. One can also fly into Catamayo airport and take a 45 minutes bus or truck ride to Cariamanga. A truck should cost $25 one-way.
Once in Cariamanga, getting to the trail head is fairly simple. The easiest option is to start at the park in the center of town. There are several pick-up trucks waiting on the road for passengers. Ask the driver to take you to el sendero de Ahuaca. It should only cost 1.5 - 2 dollars.
The trail can also be reached by a 45 minute, dusty walk along the road. Follow the road that leads out of town and goes down and to the west of the mountain. If unsure of which road to take, ask someone which road goes to Loja or Catamayo and that will be the road you want. The trial head will be on the right about 500 meters past a Puma gas station.
To return, get a phone number from your driver before you get dropped off, and call the driver to pick you up. You can also walk or hitchhike. If you hitchhike, offer the driver at least 50 cents per person.
Where to Stay
The nicest hotel in Cariamanga is Bermeo Plaza. It is about a 5 minute walk from the central park. It is around $25 for a single bed which includes breakfast, cable TV, hot water, laundry, and parking. There are also a few hostel/hotels near the central park. Hotel D’rio (or D’rio frio as some locals refer to it) is visible from the park and $9 a night which includes hot water, towel, cable TV and parking.
No fees to enter. Normal park rules apply. No littering. No fires. No disturbing the wildlife, cows, goats or plants. Camping is allowed. The trail has several gaits for the cows. If the gait is closed when you find it ALWAYS close the gait behind you. If it’s open when you get there, leave it open. Give the cows plenty of room. Sometimes they will just sit on the trail and you have to walk around. Be very careful if cows are on the summit. A frightened cow can easily toss you off the edge.
Rock climbing should be done with a local guide and with permission from the municipal office located in the central park area. No white chalk.
There is a flat grassy area next to the refugio or a few spots at the top.
The refugio is empty, locked, and not often used.
From the trail head entrance, take the steps and obvious trail. After a few minutes of walking, enter through a black metal gate on the right. Close the gait. From this point, there are many cow paths which can make deciding which trail to take confusing. The best advice is to take the trail that looks most used and goes uphill. If you find yourself walking downhill or along the side for more than a minute, go back and look for a trial that goes uphill. You will see two covered benches along the trail and a refugio near the top.
The trail takes about 1 1/2 to 2 hours bottom to top at a normal pace. While the views from the natural summit are great, to get to the best point, you can climb the 32 meter metal cross at the top. There is a ladder inside the cross which leads to the top. Local guides and residents sometimes practice rappelling from the arms of the cross.
Unique to Cerro Ahuaca is a mammal known as La Vizcacha de Ahuaca or sometimes ardilljo (squirrel-rabbit). This version of vizcacha is only found on Ahuaca. Sightings are rare, but they can be found usually along the cliffs near the top. Walk quietly and you may get lucky.
External LinksInfo about climbing routes