Piñan and Intag Valley Trek

Duration: 4 days- 3 nights*

Walking distance: 38 Km

Rating: Moderately Difficult**

Altitude: Most of the time the trek involves walking above 3.000 m. The highest point is at about 3.200 m and the minimum at about 2.000 m at the Intag Valley.

Best time to visit: From June to September and from December to January.

Observations: The community of Piñán is rarely visited even nowadays when a public road has been opened. The zone remains a bit off the beaten track. The trek is bit challenging at the beginning due to some steep ascents. Water streams keep parts of the route muddy al year around. Weather in the sierra may be very changing regardless of the season. Raining boots are a must. Be prepared for cold and warm weather.

TREK DESCRIPTION: This trek combines the beauty of two beautiful and completely different ecosystems. The first of them is the páramo of “Piñán”, located a high altitude zone of the Ecological Reserve Cotacachi Cayapas. The zone of Piñán is famous for its beautiful lagoon system comprising over thirty lagoons; its wide variety of flora and fauna which includes condor, white-tailed deer, páramo foxes among others; its impressive views of the surrounding volcanoes “the Cotacachi” (4.944 msnm) and “the Yanahurku” (Black Mountain; 4.540 msnm); and for hiding the almost untouched Andean community of Piñán. The ending point of the trek is the village of “El Rosario”, located on the Valley of Intag. This Valley is part of the South American Choco Biological Region, one of the ten biologically most important hotspots in the world. Many threatened species roam this subtropical zone: Spectacled Bears, Jaguars, Mountain Tapirs, Toucans, Guantas and Guatuzas, to mention just some of them. This area is also home of a fascinating and a wide range of flora and vegetation.


Day 1


We leave Quito and head north to Iruguincho (3.000 msnm), a small community located at about 145 km away from the capital and about 30 km from the city of Ibarra. This small community, increasingly known by its hot-springs, is our gate to the páramo of Piñán and its enchanting lake system.


This is our warm-up day. After loading our baggage and gear on the mules, we set off for a three-to-four hour trek to the foot of a hill called Churuloma (3.626 msnm). Our trail ascents through farms and pastureland until reaching a polylepys forest. We then continue through a flat terrain following water streams until reaching our first camping spot.

Day 2

Day two involves a four-to-five hour walk to the Yanacocha lagoon. Yanacocha is the second largest lagoon of the Piñán’s lake system and it is located at the base of the Yanaurku Volcano. Our trek follows what is considered to be an old Inca Trail. On our way we will be delighted by rapid changes on the vegetation as we cross the surrounding valley and make our way up to the páramo of Piñán. We will encounter pre-columbian Pucaras (viewpoints) with fantastic views over the Valley and páramo. The terrain surrounding the lagoon may be a bit boggy but the scenery is fabulous. If we are lucky we may spot wild life as herds of wild horses, white-tailed deers and even condor.

Day 3

Day three will take us to the small and hidden Andean community of Piñan (3.112 m) located at the very heart of the Ecological Reserve Cotacachi-Cayapas. To get there we will walk for about six to seven hours along the páramo. The trail also offers a great opportunity to spot the wild life of the páramo. We will stay at the community-run refuge- a cozy place with good food and comfortable beds.

Day 4

Day four will take us from the páramo’s community of Piñán (3.112 m) to the Chocó’s village of El Rosario (2.000 m). On our way we will stop by the Donoso Lagoon. With a diameter of 2.5 Km it is the largest lagoon of the whole Piñán complex. Afterwards we will continue west to a mountain ridge from which we will start an abrupt descent into the Intag Valley through the cloud forest. Once on the valley we may stop by to have a bath in the crystalline waters of the Contrahierba or Cristopamba rivers. By the end of the day we will arrive to El Rosario where our transportation will be waiting for us to take us back to Quito.

*We may also shorten the trek by ending up the walk at the community of Piñán and getting back to Quito by car. In this case it will be a three day trek/2 nights. The trek maybe also done on the opposite direction: Starting at El Rosario and ending at Irunguicho. This is by far a more physically demanding option

**If weather turns nasty this trek may become difficult because of mud slogging and cold conditions. Keep in mind  that the weather is becoming increasingly unpredictable.


  • Tents
  • Gas tanks and burners
  • Food and beverages during the trek
  • Private transportation
  • Bilingual mountain guide
  • Pack animals


  • Personal equipment (sleeping bag, mat)
  • Tips


  • Swimming suit
  • Small towel
  • Down jacket
  • Raining boots
  • Waterproof jacket
  • Waterproof pants
  • Long sleeves and easy to dry T-Shirts
  • Glove liners


  • Backpack of 80-90 liters
  • A daypack
  • Down jacket
  • Pants Easy to dry
  • Long sleeves and easy to dry T-Shirts (Cotton should be avoided)
  • Polar Tec
  • Waterproof jacket
  • Waterproof pants
  • First layer pants
  • Warm gloves
  • Sun cap (for sun protection) and beanie (for cold protection)
  • Buff
  • Hiking boots or hiking shoes
  • Socks for each day (for trekking)
  • Sunglasses
  • Headlamp with extra batteries
  • Knife*
  • Camera*
  • Personal hygiene kit
  • Sun block (at least 50)
  • Water bottle
  • Sleeping Bag
  • Insulating or mat
  • Gaiters
  • Personal medical supplies
  • Trekking Poles *