The 21 Best Things To Do In El Carchi, Ecuador

The province of Carchi is located in the north of Ecuador in the Sierra region, bordering Colombia to the north. Crossed by the Andes Mountains, the province of Carchi is privileged in its topography, since it is surrounded by mountains and is home to the Chiles volcano. Carchi offers endless natural, cultural, gastronomic and architectural attractions.

Among the most important places to visit in Carchi are The El Ángel protected reserve, the Sanctuary of the Grotto of La Paz, the Green Lagoons, small multicolored towns such as Tufiño, San Gabriel and Mira.

Fun fact: 40% of all potatoes eaten in Ecuador come from the province of Carchi.

What is the weather like in Carchi?

The province of Carchi has a temperate-cold climate with an average temperature of 12 degrees Celsius. It is known as the coldest province in the country. The province of Carchi actually has several climates, since the elevation rages from 1,000 meters above sea level to 4,723 meters above sea level.

What is the typical food to eat in Carchi?

When you are visiting Carchi you must try the llapingacho, the hornado pastuso, the roast guinea pig with sauce, the locro de zambo tender, “Papas con concho” and have the buñuelos with milkshake for breakfast. For desserts, be sure to try the champú, the honey with cheese and the bizcochuelos.

The best things to do in Carchi, Ecuador

1. Chiles Volcano

The Chiles volcano is the only active volcano in the province of Carchi and is located at a height of 4,768 meters above sea level. It is surrounded by grasslands and a fauna of partridge condors. It is a very popular destination for hiking and mountaineering.

2. Green Lagoons and the Frailejones Páramo

The Green Lagoons are located on the slopes of the Chiles volcano at an altitude of almost 4,000 meters above sea level. This complex of lagoons is formed by five small lagoons where bears, deer, pumas, rabbits and wolves live. Its waters are very cold with an average temperature of -5 °C. What makes these lagoons unique is the greenish color of its water and that it is surrounded by grasslands and frailejones. I recommend you go early in the day as it is usually foggy in the afternoons.

3. Bosques de Arrayanes

The Arrayanes Forest is a destination that you cannot miss in Carchi. Here you will be able to appreciate myrtle trees that range from 2 to 3 meters in height.

4. Aguas Hediondas Tourist Complex

The thermal water comes from the slopes of the Chiles volcano and has a high concentration of sulfur. Its waters are warm, reaching up to 50 °C.

5. Tulcan Cemetery

The greatest attraction of the Tulcán Municipal Cemetery are its sculptures made of cypress pine that represent different cultures such as Egyptians, Romans, Ecuadorians, Incas as well as representative animals of Ecuador.

6. The Churches of Carchi

Some of the most interesting churches in Carchi include the Tulcán Cathedral, the Church of San Francisco, the Church of San Pedro, the Matriz de San Gabriel Church, the Basilica of the Lord of Good Hope, the Sanctuary of the Virgin of Charity and the Sanctuary of the Virgin of Purification.

7. Mira

I recommend you visit Mira and appreciate its beautiful murals and visit the Mirador de La Virgen. Don’t forget to visit the Stone Museum.

8. Huaca Archaeological Museum

The Archaeological Museum of the Virgen de la Purificación is located in the canton of San Pedro de Huaca, just 20 km from the city of Tulcán. This place houses a collection of prehistoric pieces, which are exhibited along with other liturgical artifacts dating back several centuries.

9. The Carchi Waterfalls

There are so many waterfalls dotting the countryside around Carchi including San Pedro or Tres Chorros waterfall, La Ortiga, Duende Vago waterfall, La Humeadora, La Comadre, Guadir waterfall, Paluz waterfall (The Paluz river forms a great 30-meter-high fall), Manto de la Virgen, Cascade Carretera, Chorro Blanco, Santa Rosa, San José, Los Camachos and the beautiful Orchid.

10. Polylepis Forest

The Polylepis Forest contains ancient trees. Its trunk is reddish in color and its bark seems to be made of paper as the thin sheets are shed.

We slept at the Polylepis Lodge Hotel. It is a luxurious hotel in the heart of the Polylepis forest. Each room has its own special touch and the truth is that they are all wonderful. We stayed in the suite with a view of a waterfall but my colleagues stayed in the suites with a view of the forest, there is no bad option for a chose of rooms. The hotel has a restaurant, spa, two museums, a social area, a lagoon, a waterfall and llamas.

11. El Ángel Ecological Reserve

The El Ángel reserve encompasses 16,541 hectares. The most emblematic of the reserve is its flora of frailejones, which are only found in the province of Carchi in Ecuador. In the reserve you can see deer, rabbits, llamas and páramo wolves.

Within the reserve are the “El Voladero” lagoons, located at 3,700 meters above sea level. The first lagoon that is seen is that of Potrerillos, with an extension of almost 24 hectares. The others, Yanacocha and Negra, are located on the slopes of Cerro Negro. To the south of the reserve you can find the Crespo lagoons.

12. La Gruta de la Paz

Inside a natural rocky cave formed by the Apaqui River is the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Peace, where you can also enjoy the hot springs. Don’t forget to take a walk on the suspension bridge and visit the temple, the monastery of Santa Clara.

13. El Bosque Protector Golondrinas

Located to the west of the Espejo canton and at an altitude of 2,200 meters above sea level is the Golondrinas Protected Forest, a natural reserve in which more than 20,000 species of plants and 700 species of birds. It is a 1,400-hectare tropical forest sanctuary where you will be enchanted by the diversity of natural beauty.

14. The Lagoon El Salado

One of the most visited places in the province of Carchi is the El Salado lagoon. The El Salado Lagoon is 500 m long by 200 m wide, surrounded by willows, cattails, orchids, hummingbirds, owls, turtledoves, tanagers, ducks, hummingbirds, quacza, tuqunas, blackbirds and quilicos.

15. AWA Forest and Ethnic Reserve

It is a natural forest where you can see the paletón, the macaw, the guatín, the red flower, the chandul and the guayacán. The AWA indigenous community also resides here.

16. San Gabriel

In this beautiful Magical Town of National Heritage. Here you will find beautiful colonial facades, natural beauty and ancient cultures. Here are located the El Salado Lagoon, the Arrayanes Forest, La Gruta de la Paz and La Cascada de Paluz.

17. La Encañada Lagoon

Laguna encañada is located in the García Moreno parish of the Bolívar canton. While the lagoon was originally formed naturally, now this artificial lagoon covers an area of 6 hectares and is fed by a ditch that runs along its banks. It is an ideal place for family recreation.

19. Las Canoas Complex

The Las Canoas Ecotourism complex is located just 1 kilometer from the city of Tulcan, advancing along a dirt road. This tourist destination is surrounded by beautiful vegetation in which you can breathe peace and tranquility. Unfortunately, a landslide destroyed the infrastructure of the place, leaving the site abandoned by the authorities. It is currently an ideal place for those adventurers looking for a natural and quiet space near the city of Tulcán.

18. Guanderas Private Biological Reserve

The Guanderas Biological Reserve is made up of primary and secondary forests, and is considered one of the last remnants of inter-Andean high montane forest. It is located 20 km east of the city of Huaca, at an altitude of 3,500 meters above sea level. Here you will find a biological station where there is a greenhouse, a nursery, the Andean tubers project, and sustainable agriculture among other things.

20. Condor viewpoint

The Mirador del Cóndor is a natural viewpoint located in the Mira canton, where you can see the entire Salinas Valley and part of the Mira River basin. Its name is due to the fact that in the place there is a high probability of being able to spot Andean condors, the emblematic bird of Ecuador.

21. Tufiño

Tufiño is privileged with its climate, which is why geraniums grow here in a spectacular way. Passing through this small town you will see many patios, corridors and little houses decorated with geraniums of many colors. To be able to enter a patio you must ask the owner for permission, the people are very friendly and they will allow you to take photos of their flowers.

Every year there is an event called “The Colors of Tulcán”, where you can go on guided tours to visit some of the houses that are decorated with these beautiful flowers, while you can learn techniques for planting and caring for geraniums.

What festivals happen in Carchi?

We recommend you go for the San Pedro del Ángel festivities and the traditional Innocents festivities.

What wildlife can be found in Carchi?

In Carchi you can find rainbow trout, jambato, marsupial toad, spotted duck, páramo partridge, condor, curiquingue, piggy, quilico, gli-gli coot, Andean gull, hummingbird, turtledove, wild rabbit, páramo wolf, soche, deer, fox, chucuri, among others.

What fauna can be found in Carchi?

Among the species of flora that you will find in the province of Carchi are the frailejones, chuquiragua, achupallas, páramo straw, orchid, polylepis, myrtle, cedrillo, quinine, giant ferns, chilca, mortiño, sigse, pumamaqui, romerillo, laurel wax, dragon’s blood, dormidera and sunfo.