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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
During the ride take your time to appreciate the beautiful Andes landscape which surrounds you. Don’t forget to bring [amazon_textlink asin=’B015J8YBZM’ text=’sunglasses ‘ template=’ProductLink’ store=’talesofaback-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’e6e7d04b-303d-11e8-8060-8b30845d59fc’]and [amazon_textlink asin=’B004D2DR0Q’ text=’sunscreen’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’talesofaback-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’f9533c77-303d-11e8-b232-df4373690fa7′], 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.
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.
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.
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.
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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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