The Cotopaxi volcano is one of the highest active volcanoes in the world, which is why people from all over the globe arrive at this destination in the hope of reaching the much sought-after summit. At only two hours from the city of Quito, you can find this Ecuadorian icon which is considered to be an unmissable destination of the country. In this article, we would like to share with you what to do during your stay in Cotopaxi.
The altitude of Cotopaxi National Park
The Cotopaxi volcano is 5,897 meters (19,347 feet) above sea level, and the ” altitude range in the Cotopaxi National Park is from 3,400 to 5,897 meters” (11,155 to 19,347 feet) (Parque Nacional Cotopaxi – SNAP MAE, 2019).
The climate in Cotopaxi
The average temperature “varies between 9 and 11 °C (48 and 52°F) , the absolute extremes are 0 and 22 °C” (32 and 72°F) (Parque Nacional Cotopaxi – Ministry of the Environment, 2019).
When is the best time to visit Cotopaxi National Park?
The mountain season is in November, December and January. It is also advisable to go in the summer, however, at this time it is very windy.
What should you bring?
It is recommended that you wear warm clothing (in layers), a waterproof jacket, a thermal coat, comfortable shoes with a grippy sole, a hat, sunscreen, sunglasses and a camera. If temperatures are low, it is recommended that you wear a hat that covers your ears and gloves for your hands. If you are going to hike to the José Rivas refuge you can take hiking sticks, as well as some extra clothes in case you get wet or dirty.
Prices and timings
The entrance to the Cotopaxi National Park, which is a protected area of Ecuador, is free for both local and foreign visitors. The opening hours of the park are from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. and you can stay until 5:00 p.m. latest. Parking is also free.
How to get to Cotopaxi
We recommend you read our article on how to get to Cotopaxi. There you will find all the information you need to get to this unmissable destination in Ecuador.
Activities you can do in Cotopaxi
In this article, we would like to share with you the best activities you can do in Cotopaxi, in no particular order.
1. Discover the Limpiopungo lagoon
The Limpiopungo lagoon is also located near the Cotopaxi National Park. It sits at an altitude of 3,800 meters (12,467 feet) and “does not have a clear border like other lagoons but rather the terrain around it becomes gradually swampy” (Parque Nacional Cotopaxi – SNAP MAE, 2019).
From the Limpiopungo lagoon, especially when it is clear, it is possible to observe one of the most spectacular views of the Cotopaxi volcano. In addition, in the area you can admire the flora and fauna of the Andean páramo. That is why this is a perfect place to take pictures. We also recommend that you hike around the lagoon, which is located at the base of the inactive Rumiñahui volcano. This activity can take about 1 hour and 30 minutes.
2. Camping and picnics
Camping in the Cotopaxi National Park is a great way to fully appreciate the volcano. There is a camping area at the Limpiopungo lagoon, where you will find toilets at your disposal. If you are going to camp in the area, we advise that you bring a tent and a sleeping bag for cold weather and designed for low temperatures. Also, your clothes should be thermal and it is preferable that you carry insulation or tarpaulins so that you do not feel the cold of the ground. There are also other areas for camping and picnicking such as La Rinconada and Condorhuayco.
Don’t forget that if you are going to stay in the Cotopaxi National Park, with the intention of moving to different parts, you will need a vehicle. It is recommended that you use your own transportation since the distances are long. Furthermore, taking your own vehicle will make it easier to transport your camping equipment and everything you need to prepare your meals. If you are going to take your vehicle, you must register its entry and exit from the park and do not forget that the speed limit inside the park is 35km/h (22mph). Remember that when you leave the camping area you must take all the waste you generate with you.
3. Walking along the slopes of the Rumiñahui volcano
In the Cotopaxi National Park you can also find the famous dormant volcano Rumiñahui, which in Kichwa means “stone face”. This is “a mountain covered with peaks that give it a wild appearance” (Parque Nacional Cotopaxi – SNAP MAE, 2019). There are three peaks in the Rumiñahui: north, central and south, the highest of which is the northern one at 4722 meters (15,492 feet).
The Rumiñahui, considered a neighbor of the Cotopaxi volcano, is an ideal place to observe the volcanoes of the area. In addition, it is considered to be easy to climb and, generally, people prefer to ascend to the central peak (4,630 meters/15,190 feet above sea level). The estimated time of the hike is about 6 hours and it is recommended to make the ascent to the summit accompanied by a professional guide. However, you can also hike along the slopes of the volcano for which no guide is required. In the area you can admire different species of flora and fauna that are endemic to the Andean highlands.
Horseback riding is another way to enjoy the surroundings of the Cotopaxi National Park. During the trip on horseback it is possible to enjoy the pure air of the Andes and the beautiful landscape of the area. The ride can take several hours or several days, depending on how far you want to go (there are several routes and circuits to go on horseback) and how much of adventurous spirit you have. On the way, you will surely encounter the wild horses that live in the vicinity. This activity is also offered by some inns and haciendas of the area.
5. Bike rides
Another great option to enjoy in Cotopaxi National Park is to go by bike. There are authorized cycling routes, so you can discover every charm of this park by bike. Along the way, you will be able to admire the natural beauty of the sector, the colorful grasslands and the majestic Cotopaxi.
6. Walk to the José Rivas shelter
The “José Rivas” refuge is located at 4,864 meters (15,958 feet) above sea level and is the place where those making the ascent to the summit of Cotopaxi will say the night before. Since not all people seek to reach the summit of this giant, it is possible to hike to this refuge and then descend again. The hike to the refuge takes about 1 hour and starts from the parking lot under the refuge. The path is signposted and you don’t need to be a professional to do it. However, it is important that you know that the altitude usually affects certain people, so it is recommended that you take sweets, walk slowly until you get used to the altitude or if you feel ill, the best thing is to descend.
Don’t forget that in the refuge you can find places to eat or have a hot drink, toilets and the opportunity to purchase handmade crafts. Also, remember to carry cash.
7. Climb to the summit of Cotopaxi volcano
In order to do this activity you must be prepared beforehand, you must have done mid-mountain hikes and have reached the summits of other lower mountains. In addition, you must hire a certified guide to guide you to the summit and carry all the appropriate equipment. The journey to the glacier generally starts from the base of the mountain or from the José Rivas refuge. The ascents are made at night to reach the summit at dawn and the duration of the walk usually takes between 6 and 7 hours, which will depend on your level of fitness. This is, without a doubt, the most recommended activity to do in Cotopaxi, so it requires a greater budget, time and preparation.
The Cotopaxi Tour by Quito Tour Bus
The best way to get to Cotopaxi and make the most of the day is with the Cotopaxi Tour by Quito Tour Bus. We begin the day with a breakfast in a hacienda of the area (included). Afterwards, we will take you to the Cotopaxi National Park, where you can discover the Limpiopungo lagoon. Then, we will visit the Mariscal Sucre Interpretation Center, better known as the park’s museum, and hike to the José Rivas Refuge located at 4,864 meters (15,958 feet) above sea level. Finally, we will have lunch at a hacienda of the area (included) and return to the city of Quito. This tour has daily departures, you will be permanently accompanied by a Bilingual Guide (Spanish – English) and, for the tour inside the Cotopaxi National Park, by a Nature Guide.
If you want to read a little more about Cotopaxi National Park, be sure to check out our article.
Enjoy the Cotopaxi Tour and a full day in the Cotopaxi National Park, where you can get to know the famous colossus up close. Fun guaranteed.