Riding the Quito Teleferico & Climbing Pichincha Volcano

The base of the Quito Teleferico
The base of the Quito Teleferico.

Riding the Quito Teleferico, one of the highest aerial lifts in the world, offers visitors the best views of the capital city. And if you’re up for it, climbing Pichincha Volcano (4,784 meters) once you’re up there is a physical challenge you can be proud to complete.

Opened in 2005, this gondola rises quickly from its base of 2,900 meters to 4,100 meters in about 10 minutes.

The cost for the roundtrip ride is $8.50, and experiencing the effects of high altitudes on your body won’t get any easier than this.

Even after a few days of acclimatizing at 2,800 meters in Quito, I developed a headache within 30 minutes of walking around (at a normal pace) atop the Teleferico.

However, this is a completely normal reaction for your body, and no reason not to take the trip up if you’re in otherwise healthy condition.

View of Quito from 4,100 meters
View of Quito atop the Teleferico - 4,100 meters above sea level.

Riding the Quito Teleferico

If you have the time and flexibility, it’s best to wait for a relatively clear morning to make the trip up.

Weather conditions can change quickly in the mountains, and that’s especially true once you reach altitudes above 4,000 meters, so go as early as possible. The Quito Teleferico operates from 9 AM to 7 PM daily.

Bring a rain jacket, as well as your camera.

The easiest way to reach the base of the Teleferico is to take a taxi.

Once you arrive, you can buy your ticket, and queue for the gondola.

When I went on a weekday afternoon, it was practically empty.

The ride is quick and smooth, and you’ll be atop the mountain before you know it.

When you disembark, remember to take it slowly. Very slowly.

If you’ve never experienced such a high altitude, you may be surprised at how quickly your heart starts beating as you begin to walk around.

Take deep breathes, and again, go slow.

Most visitors will go for a short walk to take photos of Quito to the West, and Pichincha Volcano to the East.

There are several cafes, restaurants, and public bathrooms around the top of the Teleferico where you can rest and enjoy the city views.

If you start to get a headache, drink lots of water and get something to eat.

Chances are this won’t have an immediate effect, however, it’s a good idea anyways, especially if you’re climbing Pichincha Volcano.

Our bodies use/lose water more quickly at high altitudes, so it’s important to stay well hydrated.

As a rule of thumb, drink before you’re thirsty, and eat before you’re hungry.

The easiest way to alleviate a high altitude induced headache is to simply take the Teleferico back down to the lower elevation.

Taking an aspirin or Tylenol can also help reduce the severity.

Climbing Pichincha Volcano

Pichincha Volcano
Pichincha Volcano as seen from top of the Teleferico.

If taking the Teleferico isn’t enough, you can also try climbing Pichincha Volcano once you’re up there.

A few tips to keep in mind:

  • Start early to ensure better views, as it’s often more likely to get cloudy, foggy and rainy in the afternoons.
  • Allow an hour or two more time than you think you need. Trekking at high altitudes is a slower process than at sea level, especially if you haven’t already acclimatized to Quito’s 2,800 meter elevation.
  • Dress in layers, as temperatures can fluctuate quickly at altitude.
  • Bring a water-resistant jacket.
  • Bring a daypack with a few liters of water, and some high-energy snacks (ex: Snickers, protein bars, chocolate).
  • Hike with at least one other person, if not a group, to ensure your personal safety and deter potential thieves.
  • Remember that getting to the top is often the easy part. Don’t push yourself beyond your limits, as you’ll need your energy to get back down safely too.
  • Tell someone where you’re going, and when you can be expected back.
Trail map for hiking Pichincha Volcano
A simple trail map for hiking Pichincha Volcano, found at base of the Teleferico.

I decided not to try and climb Pichincha for a few reasons.

First, I was still experiencing light headaches every afternoon since arriving in Quito, so I knew my body hadn’t acclimatized to Quito’s 2,800 meter elevation.

Second, being the sometimes-loner that I can be, I didn’t have anyone to go with, and didn’t want to take any unnecessary risks (robbery, acute mountain sickness).

Storm clouds over Pichincha Volcano
Storm clouds roll over Pichincha Volcano in the mid-afternoon.


What You Need to Know

Hours:  9 AM to 7 PM daily

How Much: $8.50 – Quito Teleferico / Free – Climbing Pichincha Volcano

Difficulty:  Easy – Quito Teleferico / Moderate to Difficult – Climbing Pichincha Volcano

How to Get There: Schedule a taxi through your hostel or hotel for a fixed price (one way or return trip), or hail one on the street and negotiate a rate.

What to Bring: Several layers of clothes, including a rain jacket, camera. / To climb the volcano, also bring a daypack with 1-2 liters of water, and several snacks (candy or protein bars, fruit, etc.).


  1. Chelsea says

    This looks like a great way to see the city. I’m concerned more with the potential for robbery than for altitude sickness. Is Quito a relatively safe city? Thanks for sharing your experience.

    • says

      Robbery is VERY common in Quito, unfortunately. Tourists who stay around Plaza Foch, the main backpacker/nightlife area, are routinely robbed — even in daylight.

      I minimized my time in the city because of all the stories I’d heard, however I also know a few people who have spent a lot of time there without any problems. I just think there are better places to spend your time in Ecuador than Quito.

  2. says

    Hey folks,

    Let me add my 2 cents on the topic of public safety in Quito. I think things have improved quite a bit since you were here Dave. I’ve been here for 2 months now and have been going out quite a lot in the night in the Mariscal area including Plaza Foch. Nothing has happened to me so far and neither have I seen any sort of crime being committed. I may have been lucky, I don’t know, but it seems to me like Quito is no less safe than any other metropolis in the world.

    I’ve just attempted climbing the Pichincha, it was incredibly fun and beautiful. Click on my name for details and photos.

    All the best,

    • says

      Hi Zsolt, I’m glad to hear Quito seems a bit safer in 2013 than what I experienced in 2011. Continued good luck to you, and congrats on your climb of Pinchincha!

  3. says

    Thanks Dave!

    Life is not without its irony :)

    I had my phone stolen earlier today as I was trying to get off an extremely crowded bus…. didn’t notice until it was too late.

    It doesn’t change what I said above though, this could have happened anywhere and I feel lucky that I’ve got my wallet with all my IDs and credit card in there.

    I’ll be sure to stay away from the crowd in the future :)

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