In the Ecuadorian capital of Quito, there lives an eccentric and adventurous man called Jan. Many thought that the Biking Dutchman, as he is known locally, was missing a cell or two when he pioneered mountain biking along the Avenue of Volcanoes more than twenty years ago. Mainland Ecuador is compact and easy to get around. Roads are almost invariably scenic, journeys comfortably short, domestic flights affordable and a recently refurbished railway makes movement easily achievable. I decided however, inspired by the Biking Dutchman, to opt for an infinitely more exciting mode of transport; the bicycle. I had the choice of a diversity of bike rides in the regions that surround Quito; snow-capped active volcanoes, exhilarating páramo (barren plateaus) dipping into cloud forests, exotic, winding jungle paths.
This coupled with the promise of no cleaning dirty bikes and no need to mend any roadside punctures and I was sold! I opted for a day ride down Cotopaxi, the world’s highest active volcano, which rises a magnificent 5,897 metres above sea level. In the heart of the Andean mountains, the Cotopaxi National Park offers some pretty dramatic and pretty stunning views, with an endless sea of valleys, mountains, multi-coloured fields, forests, lakes and plateaus.
It was an early start as we rode in the jeep along the Avenue of Volcanoes, all the way up to 4600 metres in order to ensure that most of the ride would be downhill! Geared up in about six layers of clothing (it’s freezing at this altitude), and kitted out with a helmet, gloves and protection pads, I set off on my biking adventure of the world’s highest active volcano.
The first five miles covered a steep 700 metre descent along rough dirt roads. We whizzed through volcanic ash and out onto breath-taking páramo landscape. Gusty, cold winds cut through my puffer coat and left my fingers chilled to the bone. At 3800 metres a little bit of pedalling was required, as we covered another five miles along a grassed cycle track. We wove between volcanic boulders and wild horses, all the way to our picturesque highland lunch spot which was scattered with Inca ruins.
We put the bikes back on the jeep and head for the Lake of Limpiopungo at 3,800 metres. We then embarked on a long downhill stretch on dirt and paved roads, and then followed a winding path through fresh-scented pine forests. By just 4pm we were back in Quito and after 25 miles, but with no sore legs, my biking adventure was over for the day. Ecuador is truly a biker’s paradise with its spectacular countryside and we would highly recommend seeing the Andean highlands from the seat of a bicycle!