Mountain Biking in Ecuador
Ecuador offers the cyclist seemingly endless back roads and trails to explore on mountain bikes.
The Incas, who were legendary road builders, and their living descendants, have been carving scenic paths for centuries. Today, mountain bikes are used by indigenous people and campesinos as a major form of transportation.

The Andes create a playground of huge vertical descents and gut-wrenching climbs at altitudes where the snow line and the equator meet. Descents of 10,000 ft (3,000 m) in a single day can be obtained in several areas of the country. The world-class descent directly down the slopes of Cotopaxi Volcano, the technical descent down Pichincha Volcano from the teleferiQo, Parque Metropolitano in Quito, and the Baños to Puyo paved road that take riders from the heights of the Andes to the Amazon Basin are all highly recommended.

For most people, the extreme vertical environment of the Andes is best enjoyed going downhill.

Several tour operators based out of Quito  provide primarily non-technical downhill oriented mountain biking tours, and most travelers experience cycling in Ecuador by contracting one of these tours.

Please see the biking tour operators page for a list of Ecuador’s best guides and tour operators.

 Descendiendo-Cotopaxi
Mountain biking in the shadow of Cotopaxi.
Photo by Biking Dutchman.

Self Supported Rides

Biker-friendly buses and pickup truck taxis, plus readily available lodging and food in most rural areas, make cross country self-supported bicycle travel in Ecuador extremely appealing. Road Cycling is now an attractive endeavor in Ecuador due to many new roads.

The lesser-traveled back roads make the best routes. Dirt roads (de tierra) and gravel (lastre) are the best. Traditional cobblestone roads (enpedrado) will rattle your bones loose. Also, it’s better to go in the dry season, as rains can get frigid in the Andes.

Unfortunately, truck and bus drivers aren’t  used to seeing bicycles on the road and don’t tend to be respectful to cyclists.

Finding Mountain Biking Routes in Ecuador

There are very few marked mountain biking trails in Ecuador. The Chaquiñan, which is a gravel bike path that starts in the Quito suburb of Cumbaya is one of the few well marked trails. A popular 18 km (11 miles) or 36 km round-trip route starts in Cumbaya, passes through the Cañon del Chiche to the juice stand near Arrayanes country club.  The trail continues though, for approximately 50 km one way to the town of Quinche for the more adventurous.

In general, the best strategy is to find a local cyclist to show you trails, as they’ll lead you to the best stuff and keep you from getting lost – a serious concern, especially in the high altitudes of the Andes where weather can change rapidly, and where a wrong turn can get you far from civilization quickly.

Cotopaxi National Park is relatively friendly to DIY bikers, since there are relatively few roads to get lost on, and the area around Limpiopungo, with spectacular views and barren, flat terrain allows you to see for miles around  to keep orientated.

The social network Strava is possibly the best place to find the most popular routes. You will need to open an account there to get full benefit, and explore “segments” to find nearby routes.

Here’s some popular routes:

Parque Metropolitano, Quito – Disneylandia loop – fun, very technical XCO course

Parque Metropolitano, Quito Ashintaco loop – fun moderately technical XCO course

Chaquiñan, Cumbaya – easy gravel bike path along abandoned railroad track

Parque Metropolitano Sur, South of Quito loop – slightly technical loop

Antenas, Quito – huge climb up Pichincha Volcano on fire road

Papagayo Loop, Machachi – scenic 40 km loop near Corazon and Iliniza volcanoes

Teleferiqo Downhill Course – Extreme DH course with gondola ride to top.

Vuelta al Cotopaxi, day 1 and day 2 – Epic to day route (race course) around Cotopaxi Volcano. More coverage here.

Mountain Biking in Quito

Quito is blessed with one of the world’s best city parks for mountain biking: Parque Metropolitano. Parque Metropolitano has hundreds of criss-crossing trails and roads of varying technical abilities, and one could ride there every day for a lifetime and never take exactly the same route twice, so it’s best just to go and explore rather than trying to plan a route. For technically advanced riders, there are numerous challenging trails, including downhill tracks and circuits where locals hold cross country races.

Most parts of Quito are extremely biker unfriendly due to narrow streets, traffic, and aggressive drivers. There is a bike path along Amazonas Avenue and some interconnecting paths. There has been a movement to make  Quito more bicycle friendly, but it still has a long ways to go.

Cycling Equipment

There are excellent bike shops in Quito, Cumbaya, Guayaquil, Cuenca, Ibarra, Manta, and Ambato, other cities may just have small shops with a very limited supply of parts. Tatoo tends to have the best selection of parts. Cikla (Specialized dealer) and My Bike (Trek dealer) also have decent inventories.

Bike rental is available in Quito and Baños, but quality varies widely, so check your bike carefully before heading out.

Packing up your bike up at home and bringing it with you on the plane is a simple alternative. Bring a strong lock and always leave your bike locked in a secure location.

Pack wisely and bring plenty of spare parts, including extra tubes and a tire, don’t forget a first-aid kit as you’ll probably be pedaling in remote areas.

Mountain Biking Competitions

There are an impressive number of mountain bike races in Ecuador, most of them being Cross Country Marathon style. The most famous is the Vuelta al Cotopaxi, a two-day stage race around Cotopaxi Volcano. This race has attracted world class riders from around the globe and is considered to be one of the world’s most epic mountain bike stage races. The racing scene is strongest in the Quito and Cuenca areas, with the Otavalo area also hosting several competitions. MTB.ec is a good up-to-date resource that covers the MTB racing scene.

Happy Trails…

By Jason Halberstadt

Updated November 18, 2014