Things to do in Cotopaxi
What are some things to do in Cotopaxi? Well if you are coming to Ecuador to get to know the beautiful places, then you are going to love your day visit to Cotopaxi National Park. There is a lot to do and admire in the Ecuador’s most famous national park.
Cotopaxi National Park
Cotopaxi national park covers some 33 000 hectares and is home to Ecuador’s prize jewel, Cotopaxi. This iconic glaciated volcano stands at a height of 5 897 m above sea level and is Ecuador’s second highest mountain. In fact, it is taller than both Europe and Africa’s highest peaks. It was recently active in August 2015 when it started spewing out smoke and ash. However, today it is safe to visit the park, and there are no regulations on tourism. Other than volcanoes, you may spot foxes, deer, rabbits, Andean condors and a variety of smaller bird life. The park has a variety of interesting vegetation zones including forests, high altitude páramo (shrubs common to Andean regions) and glaciers.
So, what are some cool things to do in Cotopaxi?
Hike the Páramo Trail.
Hiking is at the top of my list of things to do in Cotopaxi. Except for the altitude which is challenging, the Páramo trail is quite easy to walk. Here you will pass through several valleys abundant with the Andean shrub called Chuqiragua. The locals tell me that this plant can be boiled in water and drunk as a tea to relieve the symptoms of altitude sickness. Don’t be surprised if you spot condors beneath Cerro Rumiñahui. They are quite a few that breed in the valleys.
Take a stroll around Limpiopungo Lake
Not only do you get incredible views of Cotopaxi, but in summer you will find beautiful Andean flowers around this lake. It is also common to see wild horses grazing in this area.
Climb Rumiñahui (4700 m)
Cerro Rumiñahui was named after Ecuador’s most famous warrior who led the Incan resistance against the Spanish in the 1535 beneath this very mountain. Rumiñahui has three summits – the South, Central and North. I suggest you climb the central summit as it is the easiest and does not require technical climbing skills.
Walk to the Jose Rivas refuge.
From Limpiopunga Lake (3800m) you can drive up to the car park at 4500m. Be careful if it is wet as you will need to have a four wheel drive vehicle. The drive up takes about 45 minutes. From the car park, you walk 300 vertical meters to the refuge at 4800 m. Take it slow! It’s about an hour walk and the altitude makes it way harder than what it should be. At the refuge, you can relax and have refreshments inside before returning. If you are still feeling strong, I recommend taking a short hike to Glacier Bajo at 5100 m. It is incredibly beautiful.
Enjoy a downhill bike ride
This is a highly enjoyable experience and you do not need to be an expert cyclist. Tourists free wheel down 1000 vertical meters to Limpiopungo below with some awesome scenery in front of them. To organize the bikes, speak to one of the reputable adventure agencies in town. It can cost around $50-70 for the day. Ensure that they have the necessary safety gear like helmets, knee pads and that the bikes are in good condition.
You can hire horses on the day from one of the locals in the park and might be a lot cheaper than organizing through a tour agency.
Visit the Mariscal Sucre interpretation centre
The center is located near the South entrance and is worth visit to learn more about the areas interesting geography.
Spend the evening inside the park.
Okay, so this isn’t a day activity, but imagine sipping your coffee with early morning views of Cotopaxi! There are quite a few places to stay inside the park, but my favorites are Secret Garden Cotopaxi and Hosteria Tambopaxi.
Some tips to consider when visiting Cotopaxi
- Spend at least two days in Quito before visiting the park. You need some time to acclimatize as the average altitude in the park is around 3800 m.
- If you intend walking up to the refuge, you may need an additional day of acclimatization in Quito.
- Keep yourself hydrated – drink water and coca tea
- On arrival take an easy walk at Limpiopungo Lake – this will help with the getting used to the altitude.
- Walk slowly – don’t rush around
- Dress warmly – its gets windy at elevations above 4000 m
- Due to the high solar radiation – put on high factor sun protection lotion
- Hire a guide – he or she will ensure that you are well looked after during the visit
How to get to Cotopaxi?
Cotopaxi National Park is 50 km South of Quito. To get to the main entrance of Cotopaxi National park (see Google Maps), you need to drive on the Pan American highway towards Latacunga. Before reaching Latacunga, look out for a sign board indicating when to turn off to the right. You then cross over a highway bridge and follow the road leading to the Cotopaxi National Park. If you end up in Latacunga, you have driven too far. To get around the park in a day, I would suggest either renting your own car for the day or hiring a guide with his or her own vehicle.
What you should take with you?
Some typical items to take: warm clothing, rain jacket (or shell), water and snacks, good walking shoes, cap, sun glasses, sun care cream, small day pack, binoculars.
March to the end of May (and even June) are the wet months. From July to August are the summer months with clear days, but even September through to December are superb. My rule of thumb: the weather is usually good in the early morning and late afternoon. From mid-morning to around mid-afternoon it is normally cloudy and not always possible to see the summit of Cotopaxi. This goes for most volcanoes in Ecuador.
Entrance to the park
You do not need to pay any entrance fees. However, identification (passport) is required for access. The park closes at 5pm, so keep that in mind when you are snapping away with your camera
The things to do in Cotopaxi are quite diverse and spectacular! So if you are in Quito for a few days and are looking to for that ‘wow’ experience then I suggest spending a day visiting this national park.