The fiery Cotopaxi volcano dominates the landscape beyond Quito on a clear day, and a trip to the Cotopaxi National Park is on many visitors’ agendas. The Cotopaxi National Park surrounds the mighty volcano, which stands at 5,897 meters high. The volcano is considered to be among the highest active volcanoes on Earth, and it last exploded in 2015. The park and its volcano are now once again deemed safe for tourism, which has quickly moved back into the area. The area is also fairly close by to Quito, which makes it suitable for a day trip or an overnight stay, though some
enjoy staying longer. Cotopaxi will always make part of any complete tour of Ecuador. Here is our Cotopaxi travel guide to help you get the most from your time there.
Birdwatching at Laguna Limpiopungo – in the Cotopaxi National Park, at the base of the Ruminahui volcano is a shallow lake that has areas of thick reeds. One lovely Cotopaxi National Park highlight is to walk around the lake, viewing the birdlife that calls the lagoon its home. There are viewing platforms that help with the enjoyment of this activity.
Photograph the landscape – the landscape at Cotopaxi National Park is simply stunning. The Cotopaxi volcano itself is a tremendous sight to behold, but the lunar landscape of the park is quite remarkable too.
Hot chocolate – after a climb of 400 meters to the refuge on Cotopaxi, one of the most welcome highlights is a delicious drink of hot chocolate. With your mug in your hand you can enjoy the tremendous view of the scenery all around, from 4,800 meters above sea level.
There are a variety of different activities to enjoy while at Cotopaxi, depending on your preferences. One for the adventurous is to climb this active volcano. If you plan to do this, it is best to do it with a guide, as there are crevasses on the route up and back. For those that don’t fancy the high altitude, a short but steep hike up to the refuge offers tremendous views of the weird lunar landscape all around. Those that prefer a more exciting trip might enjoy the opportunity to mountain bike down the volcano.
These options aside, there are plenty of opportunities for hiking and birdwatching in this remote and spectacular area. Another great option is horseback riding in this region, and there are plenty of off the beaten routes to explore. Finally, there is a small museum near one of the park’s entrances which is worth a quick look.
At Cotopaxi National Park you can expect four seasons in one day. It can very easily be bright sunshine one minute and a hailstorm or even snow the next. Whatever the time of year you visit, you should be prepared with warm and waterproof clothing.
The high season times for visits to Cotopaxi tend to be in the summer months of June through September, when the weather tends to be a bit clearer and brighter. In addition, there is another peak season in December and January around Christmas and New Year.
Around the summer solstice can be a good time to visit Cotopaxi. At this time of year, it is common for indigenous people living in the villages nearby to dress up and dance and drink. This can be quite a sight!
Do not forget your sun screen and a hat when visiting the Cotopaxi National Park. At his higher altitude you will burn easily without them.
The Cotopaxi National Park is not easily accessible by public transport, so we recommend taking a tour, or staying overnight nearby and visiting from your accommodation.
Nearby Cotopaxi, one of the interesting attractions is the range of haciendas nearby. One of the most luxurious is San Agustin de Callo, which still has some Inca remains. There is also Hacienda La Cienega, which is rumored to be haunted!
There are various local towns nearby Cotopaxi that are worth exploring. One interesting place for a quick stop is Machachi, sometimes known as the “cowboy town”. If you are lucky you may even get to spot some cowboys as they swing through town on horseback.
There are lots of nearby volcanoes to visit and perhaps hike. Some of the best options that are not too far away include Pasachoa, Iliniza Norte and Ruminahui.
When staying in the Cotopaxi area it is well worth treating yourself to a night or two in a hacienda. These were formerly homes where the wealthy lived, from where they directed people to work on their land. One of the most fabulous options in the area is San Agustin de Callo, which has an excellent reputation. Hacienda La Cienega is also very good. Other options include Hacienda Los Mortinos and Hacienda El Porvenir. A less luxurious option is a stay at Tambopaxi, but this is still very pleasant, and on a clear day you can get a stunning view of the Cotopaxi volcano while you enjoy your breakfast.
During your time at Cotopaxi you will most likely take the majority of your meals at your accommodation. Because Cotopaxi is located in the Ecuadorian highlands you can expect that much of the gastronomy you partake is typical of this region. Commonly you can expect three course meals with a delicious soup to start, meat or trout with potatoes and/or rice for a main course, followed up with a small dessert.
Even if you are not climbing Cotopaxi itself, the altitude here is high. Our main Insider recommendation is to make sure you drink plenty of water and not too much alcohol during your time here, to ensure you can optimize enjoyment during your stay.
Another important Insider recommendation is that you keep your eyes peeled in the skies above you during your visit. The mighty condor can sometimes be seen soaring above, and seeing this massive bird flying overhead is a delight.
Ecuador and Galapagos Insiders has many years of experience of leading trips to Cotopaxi. Why not get in touch to find out how we can help you plan your Cotopaxi trip?