Mainland Ecuador is not often at the top of many travelers’ South American bucket list. Images of Ecuador usually conjure up the blue azure waters off the Galapagos Islands, teeming with unique wildlife and eco-adventurists with cameras in hand. But while the Galapagos are certainly a natural wonder of the world, mainland Ecuador - specifically its ‘volcano alley’ - deserves the attention of any active traveler. There are few places in the world that offer such easy access to the exhilarating experience of climbing a volcano - is some cases, ones that are still active! Quito, Ecuador’s capital city is a good base for trips to the 19,000-foot (5,800 meters) Cotopaxi volcano, about 30 miles south of the city, as well as others like Pichincha and Illiniza. On days when you’re not climbing, ‘trek’ to the famous Otavalo Market, about 50 miles north, where you can shop for woolen goods and other hand-made textiles and carvings, or just take in the colorful scene. Here are three reasons why you should consider a tour to mainland and its volcanoes:


1.          Something for all levels
You don’t need to be a professional mountain climber to enjoy Ecuador's volcanoes. There are treks and climbs for all levels of adventure, although a basic level of physical fitness is required and you should train for a few weeks before your trip. If you enjoy hiking, but don’t want to deal with technical climbing equipment like crampons, consider Pichincha, which is the most accessible peak from the capital, Quito.  Up for some real adventure? Then a summit attempt on Cotopaxi or Chimborazo might be right for you. Note: at time of publishing, climbing to the peak of Cotopaxi was still off limits due to seismic activity in the area. Visitors are still allowed to hike to the refugio at over 15,000 feet.


2.            Local Haciendas
There are no big hotel chains or hostels around the volcanoes. Instead, bunker down in a cozy hacienda where you’ll be hosted by a friendly Ecuadorian local. There are haciendas to fit all budgets and most include delicious and filling meals, so you’ll have plenty of energy for all that hiking! Our favorite hacienda, Hacienda Zuleta, also feature luxurious touches like fireplaces in each room (it can get cold at night!) and massages. Others are working ranches or farms where you might be able to pet a llama.


3.            The Views!
It’s hard to put into words the feeling you get when gazing out over the valley below, surveying the urban sprawl of Quito or looking out at the high plains to see a landscape dotted with snow covered peaks. Trekking for hours and gasping for breath is all worth it when you reach the top with a sense of accomplishment and photos that will make your followers on Instagram instantly jealous. 


This article was written exclusively for Craft Travel Group by our friend Jared Alster, co-founder of Stride Travel, the largest marketplace for all professionally-planned trips, including tours and adventure packages.