A helicopter ride from Quito is not a journey from A to B. It is a chance to look Ecuador’s monster volcanoes in the eye, to soar above the giants that dwarf us when we’re in the city below. It is a moment to share the skies and a perspective with condors and swoop over ancient Incan battlegrounds, and look out for wild horses, white-tailed deer and Andean foxes. It is a chance to forget, for a moment, the limitations of being human, and to truly fly.
The helicopter tour begins in the small town of Tambillo, just south of Ecuador’s capital. We fly with Avioandes, a company with almost a decade of experience in helicopter rides in Ecuador. Their fleet is comprised of AS350B3, AS350B2 and AS350BA Airbus Helicopters. Our helicopter seats six people including the pilot.
Moments after take-off you will see them; peak after peak: the Avenue of Volcanoes that so fascinated the great explorer and naturalist Alexander von Homboldt. Pasachoa, the three rocky peaks of Rumiñahui, Sincholagua and Cotopaxi, the most brilliant of them all.
One of the world’s highest active volcanoes, Cotopaxi reawakened from decades of sleep in 2015, billowing clouds of ash and setting the region on high alert. There was no disastrous eruption and the volcano has since settled down, constantly monitored for signs of a flare up.
Our helicopter ride circles around the eastern flank of this great titan, with carpets of green below, dotted with haciendas and the geometry of crops. The 3D relief of the landscapes allows us to envisage the paths of the lava when it spilled from Cotopaxi centuries ago, carving out streams and crags in its wake.
Skimming along the slopes, the flight passes over the mirror of Lake Limpiopungo, a large wetland full of páramo birds, making its way round the volcano towards Pasachoa. Suddenly, the all-natural landscape is replaced with an urban one, the valley of Quito looming in the distance. Approaching the city, we observe Pichincha and spot on one of its peaks some Andinistas, or Andean mountain climbers, the only humans around who share the same privileged view as us (after an awful lot more exertion)
As we approach Quito, the Virgin of the Panecillo statue gives us the cold shoulder as she stares towards the north. In the early hours of the day, the city, like the fields, still looks ghostly shrouded in morning haze.
The ride lasts around 40 minutes and finishes at the helicopter base in Tambillo.