The Cotopaxi volcano and accompanying national park are one of the most famous places in Ecuador. Located about 50 kilometers south of Quito. With a height of almost 5,900 meters, the Cotopaxi volcano is one of the highest peaks in the country. In addition, the Cotopaxi is the highest active volcano in the world. The last largest eruption was in 1877, and you can still see boulders and stones everywhere in the park as a result of this eruption. The 2015 eruption was the most recent and lasted almost half a year. Its beautiful cone shape also makes it a beautiful sight to look at. Unfortunately, the top is often in the clouds, but that shouldn’t stop you from visiting the volcano. What can you do on and around the Cotopaxi volcano? And how do you get there and back?
The most famous activity is climbing the Cotopaxi volcano. Climbing the Cotopaxi can be done in several ways. The shortest way is through a day tour organized from Quito or Latacunga, where you walk to the base camp (at 4,864 meters) and possibly the glacier (5,150 meters). It is a short route of about 1 kilometer to base camp, but you ascend more than 300 meters. A steep section in relatively loose sand. Take your time for this, because you will also notice the altitude and oxygen shortage. From basecamp to the glacier it is about 30 minutes, and that part is less steep. Even if you stay in the national park (see below), climbing the Cotopaxi is an option. However, this is not always necessary with a tour, you can also travel by bus from Quito or Latacunga on your own transport to walk to basecamp independently (see below how to get there). You don’t need a guide for basecamp. A guide is recommended if you want to go to the glacier.
You can also walk to the summit (the top) of the Cotopaxi by means of a 2-day hike. A guide is recommended (or tour), because you are walking at a high altitude and the route can change from day to day due to the weather conditions. Good to know that due to the height of the Cotopaxi, the top is often shrouded in clouds. That and the wind make it considerably fresher than lower. Good walking shoes, layers of thermal clothing, a hat and maybe gloves will come in handy.
Climbing the Cotopaxi volcano is not the only activity in the national park. You can also go horseback riding, mountain biking, hiking to waterfalls, hiking in the Pasochoa area or visiting Lake Limpiopungo. This can be organized from the accommodation where you stay in the national park or with tours arranged from Latacunga or Quito.
If you go yourself, it is good to know that the national park is open from 8.00 – 17.00, where you can enter until 15:00. You must register on arrival. The park is free to visit. There are several hikes to do from the entrance of the park.
To visit the Cotopaxi you can stay in Latacunga or Quito. In a few hours you will be at the national park (see below). However, there are also a number of accommodations in the park where you can stay.
Secret Garden is a well-known and popular accommodation. An accommodation with several double rooms, dorms and a jacuzzi, with a view of the Cotopaxi volcano. They also offer packages where you get an all-inclusive package for 2 nights and 3 days with fully catered food and drinks, hikes, activities and transport (partial extra charge). It is a pricey accommodation, but in a beautiful location.
Another accommodation closer to the Cotopaxi volcano is Tambopaxi Lodge. Also beautifully situated with a view of the volcano and in the same price range as Secret Garden. Tambopaxi offers several different activities in the region. In addition, there are several (luxury) hotels in the national park. Enough choice, but it is good to know that most accommodations are expensive.
How do you get there and back?
The easiest and fastest way to get to the Cotopaxi park and the Cotopaxi volcano yourself is with your own transport or with an organized (day) tour.
If you want to take a bus from Quito (1.5 – 2 hours) you take a bus from Terminal Quitumbre that goes to southern destinations such as Latacunga, Baños or Cuenca for example. From Latacunga (about 1 hour) that can be a bus to Quito from the Terminal. Tell the driver that you want to get off at the entrance of the Cotopaxi National Park. From the entrance of the park it is about an hour’s walk to the Cotopaxi volcano.