Trek Alao – El Placer

Duration: 4 days – 3 nights

Walking distance: 54km

Rating: Difficult

Altitude: Minimum Altitude 2850 m; maximum altitude 4000 m

Best time to visit: September through February are the driest months. April through June can be very wet.

Observations: This is a very challenging and physically demanding trek not only because we will be increasing in altitude but because it’s a humid area and it can rain constantly and the road can be very muddy, adding some extra difficulties to it. Also it’s a very cold place, and you can be prepared for snow and below-freezing temperatures overnight. Even under the more ideal conditions water streams keep parts of the route muddy all year around, and we will be crossing some rivers. Therefore, raining boots and waterproof clothing are a must. We will walk in the company of arrieros (mule drivers) and mules, which will carry the gear, equipment and food. However, pack animals only get up to a point, and from then on we will carry our own equipment and food.

TREK DESCRIPTION: El Placer, meaning pleasure, is a broad valley located in the heart of Sangay National Park, our destination to find soothing hot springs set in lovely, mature secondary-growth forest. This is a humid area, and there will be large chances of finding rain and fog, in addition to being a very cold place especially at nights. We will encounter plenty of water streams, rivers and waterfalls along the way, making it a very beautiful place to be in. The area teems with life, ranging from tapir and Spectacled Bear through abundant mixed-species flocks of cloud forest birds to butterflies. The equally impressive flora includes native trees such as the pumamaqui, fical, and alder, a variety of orchids and other colorful flowers, mosses, lichens, mushrooms, and a great many ferns. In this trek we will start at 3200masl in Alao, ascend up to 4000masl to Laguna Negra, and then descend again to 2850masl at El Placer. In our return we will climb up to Laguna Negra and descend back to Alao to complete the hike.


Day 1


We leave from Riobamba and head south to Alao (3200 m), a small town located and hour away from Riobamba. We will stop to have breakfast on the road, and once in Alao we will continue on our transportation as far as we can go in direction to Cugnipacha where we will start to walk.


While our arrieros (mule drivers) load our baggage and gear on the mules, we start our walk thru a vehicle road not largely used. This road will take us through an easy walk of about three to four hours (depending on how far we can go on our transportation) to a place known as Cugnipacha. This first part of the trek goes through green pastures that soon will give way to tussock-covered páramo. We will be amazed at the vegetation surrounding us, and will have beautiful views of the valley and the Alao river under us.

From Cugnipacha we will star our ascent to Laguna Negra. Along the way we will have beautiful views of the Alao Valley, surrounding ridges and small cascades. We will now be walking along the east shore of the Alao river, and the road will deteriorate and will be in parts no more than a track. After a three-hours walk we will get to Laguna Negra (4000 m), a beautiful high Andean lake nestled in the grassy páramo at the foot of Cerro Mirador. From here we will start an abrupt descent of about 45 minutes to San Juan Shelter (an old shelter no longer in use). This place protected from the wind will be our camping spot for the first day. We will have dinner and rest.

Day 2

After breakfast we will head down with our mule driver for about one hour to La Magdalena. From this place onwards the mules can no longer come with us since the trail rapidly deteriorates, becoming increasingly narrow and overgrown with vegetation. In less than an hour we will enter the cloud forest, full with colorful gesneriads, orchids, and flowering vines. After four additional hours descending we will get to El Placer, located at 2850 m. We will have a much deserved bath in the natural hotsprings, then eat dinner and retire to rest.

Day 3

Early in the morning we will start our ascent back to Laguna Negra. Depending on our physical strength we may aim to camp around Laguna Negra or to make it all the way down to Cugnipacha, where we will find a small shelter with some flat spots suitable for camping to spend the night. If weather permits we can go fishing or hiking to the Alao river, and then return to the shelter for dinner and resting.

Day 4

We will wake up early to pack the camp up. We will have a short walk ahead of us this day, returning from the shelter to Alao in three to four hours. We will have lunch in Alao and head back to Quito to arrive at night.


  • Accomodation in hotel at Riobamba
  • 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
  • Raining boots
  • Waterproof jacket
  • Waterproof pants
  • Long sleeves and easy to dry T-Shirts


  • 30 liters backpack (to carry with you during the trek)
  • Easy-to-dry pants
  • Long sleeves and easy-to-dry T-Shirts (Cotton should be avoided)
  • Polar Tec
  • Waterproof jacket
  • Waterproof pants
  • Gloves
  • Sun cap (for sun protection) and beanie (for cold protection)
  • Buff
  • Hiking boots or hiking shoes (to be used when camping)
  • Socks for each day (for trekking)
  • Sunglasses
  • Headlamp with extra batteries
  • Knife*
  • Camera*
  • Personal hygiene kit
  • Sun block (at least 50)
  • Water bottles
  • Sleeping bag
  • Sleeping pad
  • Personal medical supplies
  • Trekking Poles *