Cotopaxi Volcano Ecuador

Cotopaxi Volcano Ecuador

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Cotopaxi National Park was on my list of places to visit in Ecuador, but sadly when I visited the park was closed as Cotopaxi volcano was erupting!  I will have to save it for the next time I visit.  Until then, I asked Eran Hayoun from Gulliver’s Expeditions to share his favourite ways to experience Cotopaxi National Park.

Perhaps the most famous volcano in Ecuador, Cotopaxi Volcano is one of the highest active volcanoes in the world. Recognizable by its round, snow-covered crater, this mountain can even be spotted from Quito on clear days.  Cotopaxi and the surrounding Cotopaxi National park offers a wide range of nature-based activities like climbing, hiking that are certain to leave you spellbound by the magic of Cotopaxi.

Cotopaxi Volcano from the air in Cotopaxi National Park Ecuador
Cotopaxi Volcano from the air in Cotopaxi National Park Ecuador

About Cotopaxi Volcano

Although it might not be the highest mountain in Ecuador, Cotopaxi is, without doubt, the most popular, and the highest active volcano in the country. With a peak altitude of 5,897m, it is slightly lower than the 6,268m of Chimborazo volcano, which takes the top spot in altitude.

Cotopaxi is part of the ‘’avenue of the volcanoes’’, a series of 14 volcanoes which were born due to their location on the Pacific Ring of Fire.  Seven of these volcanoes are over 17.000 ft (5181.6m) high!

Last October, Cotopaxi re-opened for visitors and climbers after being closed for more than a year due to an eruption. You could see the thick black smoke coming from the crater, which was an impressive sight, but meant that Cotopaxi National Park was closed.

On clear days (often in the morning) it is possible to see the Cotopaxi on the skyline of Quito. Cotopaxi also has one of few glaciers located on the equator.

Watching the sunrise from Cotopaxi Volcano in Cotopaxi National Park Ecuador
Watching the sunrise from Cotopaxi Volcano in Cotopaxi National Park Ecuador

Climbing Cotopaxi

Cotopaxi Volcano is very popular with climbers and mountaineers. It is the perfect mountain for beginners who would like to gain more experience climbing. Climbing Cotopaxi is not considered to be difficult, but it is a technical climb that requires special gear and a professional guide. Necessary gear includes ice axes, harnesses, helmets etc., which is often included when booking a tour to climb Cotopaxi.

Since Cotopaxi is almost 6000m high, acclimatization is required as your body is not used to the lack of oxygen at higher altitudes. It generally is recommended to stay at least 2-7 days in Quito or higher altitude areas before attempting to climb Cotopaxi. I would suggest doing a few hikes up to around 5000 meters high to get used to the altitude and to see how your body responds.

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Almost all Cotopaxi climbs start with hiking to the refuge, located at 4800 meters. Here you will sleep until midnight and then you will start your ascent to the summit of the volcano. At the top, you can witness the beautiful sunrise with a great sense of pride and accomplishment.

You can book tours specifically for climbing Cotopaxi, or you can book multiple day tours that include climbing other mountains as well. The good thing about the multi-day tours is that you will have more chance to acclimatize as you will start off climbing the lower mountains first. This gives you a higher chance of succeeding at climbing Cotopaxi or Chimborazo.

Moutain biking in Cotopaxi National Park Ecuador
Moutain biking in Cotopaxi National Park Ecuador

Mountain Biking Cotopaxi, the fast way down!

For more serious adrenaline junkies, mountain biking down Cotopaxi volcano is definitely something to look into.

Once inside the national park, you will drive up to the parking lot at 4500 meters above sea level. From here there is a hike up to the Refuge at around 4800 meters. You’ll get a short safety briefing and then you will start your descent.

It is important to have a well-maintained bike and other equipment in order to safely make it back downhill. Although your tour company will provide all the equipment, including a good quality mountain bike, there are often possibilities to hire a more professional bike for a bit of extra money. Depending on your skills and preferences this can be worth it, as the improved suspension can make your experience much more comfortable.

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During the ride take your time to appreciate the beautiful Andes landscape which surrounds you. Don’t forget to bring sunglasses and sunscreen, as you are very close to the sun at the Equator. The reflection of the glacier can also be very fierce so make sure you protect your eyes and skin.

Hiking to Cotopaxi Volcano in Cotopaxi National Park Ecuador

Trekking and Hiking in Cotopaxi National Park

The Cotopaxi National park is an amazing place to go trekking or hiking. There are so many wild animals that you can encounter if you keep your eyes open. Camp under millions of stars with nothing but fresh air and nature around you.

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The Andean landscape is truly picturesque and guaranteed to leave you with postcard-worthy images. The lagoon of Limpiopungo for example, surrounded by Cotopaxi, Sincholagua and Rumiñahui volcanoes is a very photogenic location.

Animals found in the Cotopaxi National Park include wolves, deer, rabbits, the sacred Inca curiquingue (caracara bird) and the famous Andean Condor.

Horse Riding to Cotopaxi Volcano in Cotopaxi National Park Ecuador
Horse Riding to Cotopaxi Volcano in Cotopaxi National Park Ecuador

Horseback riding in Cotopaxi National Park

I saved the best for last, and what is better than to experience nature on the back of a horse? Nothing is as relaxing as riding through the paramo and feeling at one with your horse. This is one of the best and most authentic ways to discover the Cotopaxi National Park.

Whether you are an experienced rider or have never touched a horse before, on a well-trained horse you will feel comfortable after as few as 15 minutes. I’m sure that a horseback riding tour at Cotopaxi will be one of your most memorable moments ever.

What do you think?  Which would be your preferred way to visit Cotopaxi National Park?  Let me know in the comments below.

Prepare for your trip to Cotopaxi Volcano with these top picks from Amazon:

About the Author:

Gulliver Expeditions is a tour operator traditionally specialising in adventure travel. Based in Quito, Ecuador they offer tours and tailor-made adventures through South-America with a focus on Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands. They pride themselves on their competitive prices, high safety standards and the quality and variety of their offering. Visit Gulliver and discover the Cotopaxi yourself!  You can also find Gulliver’s Expeditions on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

All photos courtesy of Gulliver’s Expeditions.

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Perhaps the most famous volcano in Ecuador, Cotopaxi Volcano is one of the highest active volcanoes in the world.  Cotopaxi and the surrounding Cotopaxi National park offers a wide range of nature-based activities like climbing Cotopaxi or hiking in Cotopaxi National Park that will be highlights of your Ecuador vacation

Just to let you know, this post may contain paid or affiliate links, which help to maintain Tales of a Backpacker and give me the chance to keep travelling, and to keep creating awesome content for you!

Tales of a Backpacker is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.  I only recommend goods and services I believe are useful and reliable.

Last updated: March 29, 2018

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13 thoughts on “Cotopaxi Volcano Ecuador

  1. Okay, well Cotopaxi is now at the top of my list! Ecuador is one of the places I’m dying to visit and now with this being reopened I have a whole new challenge I want to conquer. I had no idea that there were 14 volcanoes lined up there in Ecuador either. So cool! I definitely want to check this out.

  2. I’m so excited! I’m going to Ecuador next month and will definitely look out for Cotopaxi. I had no idea there was a glacier in Ecuador at all. I’m going to check out all your other Ecuador posts, too.

  3. The view of the volcano from the air is a great shot, it looks perfect with the plume of smoke and snow-capped slopes. Mountain biking downhill sounds a great option, better than cycling up.

  4. Wow, the photography is stunning. Cotopaxi looks like an incredible place to explore. I love the wide openness of the place and can almost smell the fresh air. I didn’t know about this national park before this and I’d love to visit and hike. Thanks for the introduction to Cotopaxi.

  5. Your recommendation to stay at a higher elevation before hiking Cotopaxi is a smart one. I’m usually not affected by altitude, but I found Quito to be hard. I felt not quite myself for the first few days. The coca tea definitely helped!

  6. I’m planning on visiting Ecuador this year, but only wanted to go to the Galapagos island. I think I will have to revise my plans. It’s great that people can now visit Cotopaxi. I love climbing, although 6000m isn’t a joke!

  7. Oh wow, I love just to go here just to see a view of the volcano let alone getting close them. Looks like you had a great time checking out Cotopaxi.

  8. This looks like an unbelievable experience! I would love to go hiking in this area. Your photos of Cotopaxi are just amazing. I think I’d prefer a multi-day tour to get used to the altitude.

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