How to visit Cotopaxi – The ultimate guide

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How to visit Cotopaxi – The ultimate guide

How to visit Cotopaxi – The ultimate guide
How to visit Cotopaxi

The Cotopaxi volcano is one of the most active volcanoes in the world and the second highest in Ecuador, only surpassed by Chimborazo. It is an almost perfect snowy cone and is, along with the Galapagos, the most significant symbol of the country’s natural geography. Due to its beauty and characteristics, the Cotopaxi volcano is one of the most visited places in continental Ecuador, and the possibility of reaching its summit represents a long-awaited dream for countless mountaineers worldwide.

For you to enjoy a smooth experience during your visit to the emblematic volcano, we present this guide to visiting Cotopaxi. Here, you will find information about the volcano and answers to many frequently asked questions that people ask about this prominent destination in Ecuador. We aim to ensure you have all the details to live an unforgettable adventure in Cotopaxi and explore this magnificent natural corner with complete peace of mind.

Cotopaxi volcano and Limpiopungo lagoon in the Cotopaxi National Park.
The cover photo was by the Ministerio de Turismo del Ecuador.

General data

Below, we provide general information about the Cotopaxi volcano and valuable information for visiting the Cotopaxi National Park.

Height and type of volcano

The Cotopaxi volcano is 5,897 meters (19,314.63 feet) above sea level. It is classified as a composite stratovolcano characterized by its conical shape and eruptive activity. This volcano “is surrounded by moors that border on 3,000 meters above sea level and by other volcanoes such as Sincholahua (4,873 meters above sea level), Quilindaña (4,876 meters above sea level) and Rumiñahui (4,722 meters above sea level)” (Instituto Geofísico, Escuela Politécnica Nacional. (2023). Cotopaxi).

What does Cotopaxi mean?

Cotopaxi is widely accepted and popularly recognized, meaning it translates as “moon neck.” However, there is a broad debate about what the true meaning of the word would be. For more information about the meaning of Cotopaxi, we suggest you read the notes of Mauricio Quiroz (2019). Cotopaxi. Significado de su nombre, Proyecto Kitu; and, Simeon Floyd (2015). Alerta etimológica del Cotopaxi, El Telégrafo.

Last eruptive activity of Cotopaxi

Concerning the latest eruptive activity of Cotopaxi, the Geophysical Institute of the National Polytechnic School noted that “as of mid-October 2022, Cotopaxi began a new eruptive period characterized by low-magnitude gas and ash emissions […]. The eruption extended until July 2023 and put scientific and response entities on alert, who have focused on reinforcing monitoring and updating emergency and evacuation plans in case a larger eruption occurs” (Instituto Geofísico, Escuela Politécnica Nacional. (2023). Cotopaxi).

If you are looking for information about the status of the Cotopaxi volcano, we recommend you check the Instituto Geofísico de la Escuela Politécnica Nacional website. Likewise, the Metropolitan Mayor’s Office of Quito, through the Secretariat of Communication and Secretariat of Security, has a website named Let’s Talk Clearly about Cotopaxi, where you can find information to understand volcanic dangers and how to prepare for possible dangerous eruptions.

How to get to Cotopaxi National Park?

The Cotopaxi volcano is located inside the Cotopaxi National Park, “on the Eastern Cordillera (Real), at a distance of 35 km northeast of Latacunga and 45 km southeast of Quito” (Instituto Geofísico, Escuela Politécnica Nacional (2023), Cotopaxi). 

Read our complete note telling you how to get to Cotopaxi. You will find all the information you need to reach this magical destination in Ecuador.

How to enter Cotopaxi National Park?

To enter the park, you must take the Pan-American Highway E35 (Quito – Latacunga section) until kilometer 42, where the park detour is located. From that point, continue for about 15 minutes on a paved road until you reach the checkpoint called Caspi (Sistema Nacional de Áreas Protegidas del Ecuador, Ministerio del Ambiente. (2025). Parque Nacional Cotopaxi). 

Entrance to the Cotopaxi National Park Caspi control - How to visit Cotopaxi
Entrance to the Cotopaxi National Park, Caspi control.
Photo by Google Maps.

At the Caspi control, a park ranger responsible for guaranteeing the protection of natural resources within the protected areas of Ecuador will ask you for some information to enter.

Another entrance to the Cotopaxi National Park is also called the Northern Control Entrance. To get there, take the Panamericana E35 to Machachi and continue to the town of Güitig. You continue along a cobbled road until you reach El Pedregal. In 20 minutes, you arrive at the control booth (Sistema Nacional de Áreas Protegidas del Ecuador, Ministerio del Ambiente. (2025). Parque Nacional Cotopaxi).

How much does it cost to enter the National Park?

There is no cost to enter the Cotopaxi National Park since “the Ministry of the Environment, as a way to encourage tourism […], has decreed that entry is free to the parks and natural areas that are part of the Natural Areas Heritage.” of the State, except the Galapagos Islands, due to its fragile ecosystem” (Ministerio del Ambiente. (2012). Visite las áreas protegidas, el ingreso es gratuito). However, the services offered inside the Cotopaxi National Park, such as those provided at the José Ribas refuge, are costly.

It should be noted that travel agencies that carry out organized tours pay an annual license fee for each passenger, which helps maintain the protected areas of Ecuador and guarantees that the services they receive are legal and safe.

How much does a tour to Cotopaxi National Park cost?

A one-day tour to Cotopaxi National Park from Quito costs $49 for adults and $40 for children ages 6 to 12. In our Cotopaxi Tour, you will be able to visit the Cotopaxi National Park, the Limpiopungo Lagoon, the Mariscal Sucre Interpretation Center, and you can take a walk to the José Ribas Refuge from the parking lot. We also recommend you see our private and small group tour rates.

Parking area - How to visit Cotopaxi
3D view from the parking area from which the walk to the José Ribas refuge begins.

How much does it cost to climb to the summit of the Cotopaxi volcano with a guide?

Prices to climb to the summit of the Cotopaxi volcano with a mountain guide usually range between 350 USD and 700 USD per person. The values ​​of these rates correspond mainly to the payment of a certified mountain guide, rental of high mountain equipment, reservation of the refuge or hotel in the Cotopaxi National Park, and transportation, among others.

Cotopaxi summit - How to visit Cotopaxi
Summit of the Cotopaxi volcano, where you can see the crater.
Photo by Jorge Galarza.

These values ​​are referential as they depend on the number of people seeking to climb to the summit, that is, a private tour costs more than a shared tour, as well as other factors, such as the characteristics and quantity of the high mountain equipment you rent (use of crampons, ice axes, and ropes is required), the accommodation you will go to inside the Cotopaxi National Park, and transportation. Several agencies offer this service in Quito, so comparing prices and analyzing their services is essential.

Remember that to climb to the summit of Cotopaxi; you must be acclimatized. That is, you must have done previous training in other mountains. In addition, it is of utmost importance that you choose wisely who will be your team because both have the same level of resistance to arrive At the climb.

Finally, you should remember that access to the summit of Cotopaxi depends on the activity of the volcano and the alarms. Hence, it is only sometimes possible to climb to the summit of the famous colossus. To date, it is reported that the ascent to the summit of the Cotopaxi volcano remains restricted.

When is the best time to visit Cotopaxi?

Cotopaxi is a destination that can be visited at any time of the year. However, suppose you desire to ascend to the summit. In that case, we tell you that the favorable season to do so includes June, July, August, November, December, and January. It is considered the high season since the wind is less, making it easier to climb to the top. During this time, finding a place in the refuge is complex, and there is a high demand for certified guides, so you need to make reservations well in advance. The low mountain season is between February, March, April, May, September, and October.

How cold is Cotopaxi?

The Cotopaxi area can be classified as a high mountain climate. As you ascend altitude, you will find the paramo area, characterized by alpine grasslands and vegetation adapted to high mountain conditions. Temperatures in this area tend to be colder. Additionally, given the altitude and presence of the Cotopaxi volcano, strong winds are expected to be experienced in some regions of the park.

Before visiting this destination in Ecuador, we recommend checking the updated climate forecasts, as temperatures can change quickly, and there can be significant variations depending on altitude and time of year.

What animals can be seen in Cotopaxi National Park?

In the Cotopaxi National Park, “it is relatively easy to see rabbits, skunks and even deer and Andean weasels, known as chucuris, as well as hawks, guarros, quilicos and Andean gulls soaring through the sky. With great luck, you can see condors and bandurrias” (National System of Protected Areas of Ecuador, Ministry of the Environment. (2015). Cotopaxi National Park). 

Additionally, you can see the well-known Carunculated Caracara, also called locally as curiquingue. It is a bird from the Andean moor considered mystical and a sign of good luck in the communities’ crops. This bird is represented in the music “Caras-caras curiquingue” with a sanjuanito style.

In Limpiopungo, “you can find coots or Andean coots and ducks swimming. Two marsupial mammals, the Andean foxes, and the marsupial mice, inhabit the park. Field mice and moor wolves are other species that live in the park, although they are challenging to see. Marsupial frogs, cutines, lizards and guagsas complete the range of diversity” (Sistema Nacional de Áreas Protegidas del Ecuador, Ministerio del Ambiente. (2015). Parque Nacional Cotopaxi).National Park). 

Getting ready for the visit

In this section of our guide to visiting Cotopaxi, we provide information on what clothing and accessories are appropriate to wear during your visit to Cotopaxi.

Appropriate clothing for Cotopaxi

If you want to know what clothes to wear to visit Cotopaxi, we will tell you in our guide to visiting Cotopaxi. We recommend wearing several layers of clothing according to the climatic variability in the Cotopaxi area, regardless of your activity in the Cotopaxi National Park.

To reach the José Ribas Refuge, located at 4,864 meters above sea level, you must bring a waterproof jacket, thermal coat, gloves, and hat. You can also bring hiking poles and extra clothes if you get wet or dirty.

Meanwhile, if your goal is to ascend to the volcano’s summit, you must wear the specialized clothing your mountain guide tells you. To practice this activity, it is recommended to wear three layers of clothing: first thin, quick-drying layer; second thermal layer, pants, and thermal sweatshirt; Gore-tex third layer, to repel water and wind; a double layer of socks, one thin and one thermal; and gloves suitable for high mountains, among others.

Appropriate clothing and equipment for high mountains - How to visit Cotopaxi
Appropriate clothing and equipment for high mountains.
Photo by ASEGUIM Ecuador, Ministerio del Ambiente y Ministerio de Turismo  in X.

Necessary items for visiting Cotopaxi

It is expected to wonder what you must bring to visit Cotopaxi, so we recommend you bring sunscreen, sunglasses, water, and appropriate footwear (resistant trekking boots). On the other hand, if your goal is to ascend to the volcano’s summit, you should bring the specialized items that your mountain guide tells you.

Regardless of your activity inside the Cotopaxi National Park, you must bring a camera and binoculars since the area has rich landscapes and various fauna and flora.

Activities in Cotopaxi National Park

In this guide to traveling to Cotopaxi, we tell you what activities can be done within the Cotopaxi National Park and concerning the volcano.

What activities can be done within the Cotopaxi National Park?

The activities that can be done within the Cotopaxi National Park are varied.

Among the most common activities are:

  • Hiking. The park has a trail network that allows visitors to explore the area’s nature.
  • Bird watching. Cotopaxi National Park has various birds, including Andean condors, falcons, and hummingbirds.
  • Visit the Limpiopungo Lagoon. The Limpiopungo lagoon is located on the slopes of the Cotopaxi volcano and is at an altitude of approximately 3,800 meters above sea level. It offers stunning views of the Cotopaxi volcano and is a popular destination for visitors who want to enjoy the region’s natural beauty.
  • Visit the José Ribas refuge, which is 4.864 meters high and offers a spectacular view of the Cotopaxi volcano.
  • Ascend the Cotopaxi volcano. The ascent of the Cotopaxi volcano is an experience that cannot be done alone, as it is only done with the accompaniment of high mountain guides. Good physical condition is required, and you must be acclimatized; you must have previously trained in other mountains.

For detailed information about the activities available in the Cotopaxi National Park, please read our note: Activities to do in Cotopaxi.

Will Cotopaxi National Park be open in 2024?

As of the date this blog was written, the Cotopaxi National Park is open to the public, and visitors can access the José Ribas refuge and the Limpiopungo lagoon. However, “it is reported that the ascent to the summit of the Cotopaxi volcano remains restricted. Currently, all competent entities are verifying the current situation of the glacier and the emission of volcanic gases. After the results, the progressive reopening of ascent to the summit will be analyzed” (Ministerio del Ambiente, Agua y Transición Ecológica, Parque Nacional Cotopaxi (14 de noviembre de 2023). Comunicado – Restricción de ascenso a la cumbre del volcán Cotopaxi).

What to do at the Cotopaxi volcano?

These are some of the activities that can be done concerning the Cotopaxi volcano:

  • Observe the volcano from a distance. It is the activity carried out by most visitors to the Cotopaxi National Park. It does not require physical effort; if the volcano is clear, you will likely get beautiful photographs of the colossus.
  • Visit the José Ribas shelter. You can walk to the José Ribas refuge, located at 4,864 meters above sea level, on the northern slope of the Cotopaxi volcano on the way to the summit. This site has a food service for people who arrive at the shelter. Once that goal is achieved, you must descend. A mountain guide is not required to carry out this activity.
  • Ascend the Cotopaxi volcano. It is an activity that requires the accompaniment of a mountain guide. It is necessary to have good physical condition and prior preparation in mountaineering. At the José Ribas refuge, lodging, food, and visits to the glacier are offered to mountaineers seeking to reach the volcano’s summit.

Additional Tips for Visiting Cotopaxi Volcano and Cotopaxi National Park

  • Before visiting, check weather conditions and prepare for possible changes. Bring warm, waterproof clothing, especially if you plan to hike.
  • The altitude in Cotopaxi National Park is significant. If you arrive from a place at sea level, it is recommended that you acclimate before performing strenuous activities within the park. Remember that you should stay hydrated and avoid consuming alcoholic beverages.
  • Before going to Cotopaxi National Park, get the latest information on Cotopaxi National Park regulations. Look for information about opening hours, restrictions, and possible requirements, especially if you plan to climb the Cotopaxi volcano.
  • Limpiopungo Lagoon is an excellent starting point for exploring other attractions in Cotopaxi National Park. It is an excellent area for taking landscape photographs.
  • When climbing to the José Ribas refuge, it is advisable to climb in a zigzag; this way, you can reduce the degree of inclination of the ascent. Additionally, it is recommended that you do breathing exercises while walking, as the altitude in the area can be challenging.
  • You must bring the appropriate equipment if you camp in the Cotopaxi National Park. Remember that the temperature can drop drastically in the early morning.
  • Suppose you intend to reach the top of Cotopaxi accompanied by a team. In that case, you must consider that you must have good physical and mental preparation because if one of you cannot advance on the journey to the top, both of you will have to descend.
  • Planning is critical to making your visit to Cotopaxi National Park unforgettable. If you are making this visit on your own, ensure you have enough time to enjoy the park’s attractions. If you spend the night in the National Park, remember that you must reserve your accommodation in advance, especially in high season; and, if you opt for a day tour, we recommend our day tour to Cotopaxi from Quito.
Jose Ribas refuge - How to visit Cotopaxi
José Ribas Refuge at 4,864 meters above sea level.
Photo by Quito Tour Bus.

The best way to get to know Cotopaxi is through a tour since you will travel safely and be accompanied by a guide who will explain the place to you and take you to the best spots. Therefore, we invite you to embark on a unique and captivating experience with our tour, in which we visited the Cotopaxi National Park, the Limpiopungo Lagoon, the Mariscal Sucre Interpretation Center, and we took a walk to the José Ribas refuge.

Immerse yourself in the majesty of nature as you explore the astonishing diversity of the landscape, from the lowlands to the soaring peaks of the Cotopaxi volcano. This trip will allow you to contemplate impressive views, where the Limpiopungo Lagoon reflects the imposing silhouette of the volcano, discover the flora and fauna adapted to high altitudes, and walk to the José Ribas shelter located at 4,864 meters above sea level.

Opt for the tour Cotopaxi to immerse yourself in a journey full of wonder, in which you can connect with nature and create lasting memories in this charming corner of Ecuador. Furthermore, with this guide to visiting Cotopaxi, you will be fully prepared to undertake the fascinating visit to this imposing Ecuadorian colossus.

Cotopaxi tour from Quito

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