How to get there: Walk behind the bus station and take a left (south) on the dirt road. Follow the dirt road until you come to a paved road. Walk up the paved road (right) for about 2 or 3 blocks until you come to a stone entranceway on the right that says, “Mandango.” Now they used to charge money to hike “Cerro Mandango,” but it was closed when I went. Take a right at the stone entranceway and walk up the dirt road toward Cerro Mandango until you come to a fence. Go under the fence and walk through the bushes to your left. There you will find the trail and you can proceed up the mountain.
Cost: Lots of sweat and adrenalin.
This is a rather scary trail to climb if you are fearful of heights. But you can do it if you take your time and keep your cool. Probably a good idea to hike with a partner since you could really get injured on this trail.
The first part of the trail is pretty steep for about 35 minutes. Then the trail becomes easier to walk. You will come to the first cross and the view of Vilcabamba, Ecuador is pretty nice.
Proceed to your right once you come face to face with the steep cliffs. This is when the trail starts to get fun. You will slowly notice the trail getting narrow and steep on your right side. Then eventually you will have a really steep climb straight up.
Once you are done with the steep part of the trail, the trail will turn left and you will find yourself walking on a very narrow path and at times holding on to the grass as you navigate some precarious footings where the trail suddenly drops off on your left side. Finally you will make it to the upper ridge and walk out to the second cross.
Now there is a way to make a loop out of this trail and I’m not really sure of the exact route at this point, but I kept following the ridge for about another 35 minutes and eventually hiked off the ridge and made my own loop back to the town of Vilcabamba. I followed a valley down to the edge of the town of Vilcabamba. Make sure you keep site of Vilcabamba, because some of the valleys can take you into unknown territory and it is easy to get lost (at least for me.) I traveled with a compass just for peace of mind and shot an azimuth at the beginning of my hike from town. I was lost for 2 hours on another hike without my compass. Maybe you can get a map of the route in town at the visitor’s center?
Walking the ridge was really scary for me in certain parts. A few times I got down on all fours and crawled along some very hair raising narrow points of the trail. Then on this one part I scooted on my butt down a section and it just seemed like you could die if you slipped off either side of the very narrow and steep ridge trail.
This was the worst part for me. Picture does not server it justice. Had to scoot on my butt at this point. Something about steep drop offs on both sides and loose soil that unnerve me.
Oh… and to make it ever more challenging there are bulls that wander the ridge. They don’t move out of the way. Good luck.
Have fun and be safe.