Above the Giants: A Helicopter Ride in Quito

A helicopter ride in 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.

It’s soon after sunrise when we arrive at the Tambillo base, the land still covered in a veil of mist and pale light as we await an 8 AM takeoff. Some 20 miles (30 km) from the Ecuadorian capital, Tambillo’s grassy runway harbors light aircraft and a couple of helicopters. We are flying with Avioandes, a company with almost a decade of experience in helicopter rides in Ecuador, whose fleet is comprised of AS350B3, AS350B2 and AS350BA Airbus Helicopters. Our helicopter seats six people including the pilot, each of us stunned (perhaps the pilot less so) by the raw force of the machinery as we skim along the grass and power into the air with the slow-building takeoff.

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Moments into our helicopter ride in Quito we see them, peak after 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 in Ecuador 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, our helicopter ride in Quito passes over the mirror of Lake Limpiopungo, a large wetland full of páramo birds, making our 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)

In the deafening roar of the turbines of the helicopter ride in Quito, we communicate with microphones angled close to our mouths, delighting in bandying around movie terminology: “Roger that!” “Over and out!” “Come in, Eagle Hawk…”

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On we go, our helicopter ride in Ecuador approaching the massive, awesome south of Quito, the Virgin of the Panecillo statue giving us the cold shoulder as she stares towards the north. At this time, barely 9 AM, the city, like the fields, still looks ghostly shrouded in morning haze.

Our particular helicopter ride in Quito is blessed with gentle, clear skies, so we can fully take advantage of our extraordinary vantage point. On cloudier days, the route is adjusted to be as safe as possible and as exhilarating as the conditions allow. Barely 40 minutes, our helicopter ride in Ecuador takes in some of the most thrilling sights in the Andes; others offered by Avioandes are longer and cover even more stunning geography.

Returning to the base in Tambillo and coming back to earth, we buzz with an adrenaline that only comes with achieving the unachievable: we were humans that flew like condors.

If you would like take a helicopter ride in Quito, contact us to make the arrangements

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