For those of you looking for a serious challenge, pass through the gates of Parque Nacional Sangay and take in the great forests which command the respect of time and history. On each side of this geological masterpiece are two active volcanoes that can frequently be seen spewing smoke from their mouths: Sangay and Tungurahua. And smack-center, is the great El Altar, which is considered the most beautiful mountain in Ecuador.
The almost spiritual experience of witnessing such awe-inspiring natural wonders was felt deeply by the first Spaniards lucky enough to admire this spectacular mountain, they decided to give its seven peaks appropriately-religious names: The Canon, The Friars, The Tabernacle, The Little Nun, The Greater Nun, The Acolyte, and The Bishop (which is the highest peak at 5,319 m).
For most mere mortals who aren’t as technically advanced or feeling quite daring enough to reach the summits of prodigious El Altar, known in pre-
Columbian times by its Kichwa name of Kapak Urku (Lord of the Mountains), you can always take in the magnificent views while visiting the many stunning lakes that are so impressive in their own right that they also deserve recognition as some of the most scenic and picturesque places in the country.
If you want to explore the grounds of the mountain and discover these beautiful lakes, plan on a 1 to 2 day excursion. The trip starts in the village of Quimiag (2 km from Riobamba), and continues towards the “Bocatoma”, from there the next leg of the trek is a 5-hour hike to “Puertas”. During this expedition you will experience the shores of Lakes Estrellada, Verde, Azul, Mandur, Pintada, Quindecocha, Golondrina and Plata. Located at various different elevations (between 3,760 m and 4,552 m), each lake boasts its own particular color, with waterfalls and mountain streams connecting them. If you want to experience a one-of-a-kind water exploration, then this is absolutely the place for you!