Highlands | La SierraVisit Cotopaxi active Volcano

Cotopaxi Volcano, Ecuador s natural wonder

Peaceful and cold on the outside, active and fiery on the inside. These, are the two sides of the same natural wonder, the Cotopaxi Volcano. After more than a century without activity, this massive volcano located in Ecuador woke up once again in August 2015, reminding us that everything is in constant transformation in nature. Geography does not cease to change and amaze us with its majesty and grandeur, where volcanoes as the Cotopaxi occupy a prominent place.

Why Our Insiders Chose to visit Cotopaxi

This towering, active volcano is packed of activities within its National park, if reaching the Cotopaxi summit is not your main goal, there are multiple options. Cotopaxi National Park is a tour attraction suitable for everyone. With a variety of options for different sports and outdoor activities, it can be explored on a Cotopaxi day trip from Quito or can be included as part of a multi-day Ecuador vacation package as well as by bus or private transportation. Anyhow, the important thing is that you get there!.

Cotopaxi volcano is one of the closest Volcanoes to the Capital city of Ecuador, Quito.  On a clear day is a masterpiece, when stared at it, Cotopaxi reverts peace and beauty for people who have the luck to observe it. A masterpiece that can be seen from many places along the south Panamerican highway, from airplanes approximating to Quito Airport and several neighborhoods of Quito, no matter from where you see this volcano each spot awards you with a unique and different view that always amazes with its beauty.

If you are lucky enough to visit Ecuador, you have to be lucky enough to visit Cotopaxi Volcano and its National Park.
Alexander Von Humbolt

Cotopaxi day trip, among the best Ecuador tours

The beautiful Cotopaxi is definitely a great Ecuador touristic attraction that acts as a magnet for local and foreign tourism, visitors try to get as close as possible to the renowned Cotopaxi volcano and spend the day touring this area. Visiting this national park and its majesty of the Andes can possibly be one of the best Ecuador tours that should be part of your bucket list when visiting Ecuador.


Cotopaxi National Park & some important features

The Cotopaxi National park is one of the eleven (11) National Parks in Ecuador. With 30000 hectares (79000 acres) of protected area, at this national park, you will find yourself in an ecosystem called “Paramo” with its characteristic pampa grass. Also,, this marvelous National Park is full of, flats , volcanic rocks spread along the flats (El Pedregal) that evidence the last destructive eruption, lakes, ruins, canyons,  hiking trails, dwarf forest with several medicinal plants and flowers, as well as mammals, birds and a long eruptive history.

Cotopaxi National Park Weather

Depending on the altitude you find yourself at:

  • At 6000m  lows go from  -6°C to highs -3°C
  • At 4000m lows can be 4°C and highs 9°C
  • At 5000m lows go from -1°C to highs 3°c
  • At 6000m  lows go from  -6°C to highs -3°C

It can feel cooler or warmer depending on the wind speed


Where is Cotopaxi located?

Located in South America, in the tiny country of Ecuador in the province of Cotopaxi, where the province is named after the Volcano, it belongs to the eastern mountain range of Ecuador and at the same time is part of the Andes, also Ecuador is one of the countries that are part of the ring of fire.

Quito to Cotopaxi distance

50km (31mi)  and 35 km (22 mi) from Latacunga (population 98500)

Driving time, from Quito to Cotopaxi´s main entrance ( El Caspi) is approximate 1h20min

Cotopaxi holidays

The Cotopaxi National Park is open 365 days without any interruption and the hours to enter the Park are from 8 am until 3 PM

Things to do @ Cotopaxi, on a day trip

Some of the things to do in Cotopaxi National Park are:

  • Biking
  • Horseback riding
  • Hiking
  • Relaxing
  • Photography
  • Camping
  • Mountaineering, please note that hiking up to the summit will be a multi-day trip with a high mountain guide.

What does Cotopaxi mean?

Cotopaxi is the combination of two words “Coto” means neck and “Paxi” means moon in the Inca language, therefore, the translation would be “Neck of the Moon”.  Locals say that on a clear night, when you are able to see the moon at night if standing at the bottom of the volcano you are able to see like if the moon was on top of the Cotopaxi and the snow on top looks like the neck of a person with its poncho so for this reason, it is called Cotopaxi or neck of the moon.

Cotopaxi Volcano a constant threat?

Cotopaxi Volcano:  considered one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world due to its eruptive style, its relief, the frequency of its eruptions, its glacier coverage and the number of populations potentially exposed to its threats. Also considered as one of the highest active volcanoes.

Ecosystems of the Cotopaxi National Park

  • The Páramo is the ecosystem of the regions above the continuous forest line, yet below the permanent snowline. It is considered a high mountain biome with vegetation composed mainly of, shrubs and low grasses, pampa grasses, dwarflike forest.
  • Then the Paramo in the Cotopaxi National Park  region is divided into four sub ecosystems
  • Subparamo: 3400m-3900m
  • Paramo: 3900m-4400m
  • Superparamo: 4400m-4900m
  • Gelido: 4900m-5897m

Why  Cotopaxi Volcano is considered to be so dangerous?

The danger of Cotopaxi lies in the fact that its eruptions can lead to the formation of huge lahars (mud and debris flows) that would pass through drainages neighboring densely populated areas like the south west valley of Quito called, Los Chillos and towards Latacunga, the area of Mulaló.

Currently, more than 300,000 people live in areas threatened by lahars in the event of similar eruptions to those occurred in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Additionally, the ash fall produced in case of an eruption of Cotopaxi Volcano could affect a very significant part of the Sierra (Highlands), the Coast of Ecuador and even the Jungle of Ecuador, depending on the direction of the wind.

When was the last Cotopaxi volcano Eruption?

According to the evidence found by constant researches in the area, Cotopaxi Volcano had five big eruptive periods 1532-1534, 1742-1744, 1766-1768, 1853-1854 y 1877-1880. Some of them very dangerous and other presented less danger, the last and most recent eruption occurred in August 2015 and continues to have activity until today, repeatedly in the morning it can be observed that water vapor is sent out of the Cotopaxi volcano´s crater, and then it blends with the clouds. When visiting the Cotopaxi on a day trip, the odor sometimes can be smelled by tourists in the area.

The eruption of Cotopaxi volcano that took place in August 2015 was observed as a long towering ash column, seen from many places in the surroundings of Quito. Due to the direction of the wind, the volcanic ash traveled south and affected the city of Latacunga with ash falling for three consecutive days. Also, the ash reached the city of Riobamba (further south) in less quantity. The Cotopaxi National Park remained closed for tourism as a prevention measure until January 2016 and reopened to get to the summit on October 2017.

There is no doubt that in the next decades similar eruptions will take place again.

Therefore, permanent monitoring is necessary to avoid surprises

Is Cotopaxi Volcano constantly being monitored?

Cotopaxi is one of the most monitored volcanoes in Ecuador. A large part of the resources available for monitoring is dedicated to it. In fact, the first permanent seismic station dedicated to monitoring a volcano in South America was installed in the Cotopaxi Volcano, in 1976. Since then, the monitoring network of this volcano has grown steadily to the current configuration, which ensures adequate surveillance of this dangerous volcano.

What to pack for a Cotopaxi day trip?

Pack food snacks, water, and an extra layer, hard candies as coca candies can be a good option to avoid altitude sickness.

Cotopaxi clothing and tips for a day trip

  • If visiting the Cotopaxi volcano for a day trip it is a good practice to take layers, so you can put them on in case it is too cold and take them off on a sunny day since it can warm up.
  • Bring a raincoat and windbreaker. It might rain at any moment or wind might speed up at any moment (especially in summertime)
  • Stay hydrated and take hard candy or chocolate bars with you, coca candy is a good option.
  • Wear sunscreen, at the equator and at this elevation, sun burns your skin more than you think.

Walking to the Refuge?

Please follow all the tips above, plus the following:
  • Remember not to run or do anything that might accelerate your heart rate.
  • Walk slowly and find a comfortable rhythm between your pace and your breathing.
  • Try to rest and have a good night sleep to be focused on walking.
  • Wear hiking boots and warm and comfortable, layered cloth

Appropiate Cotopaxi clothing to wear to reach its summit

  • High mountain gear for temperatures from 0° to -20°C
  • Most tour operators will provide all the necessary High Mountain Equipment if you don’t have your own, where probably you have to get to the offices at least one day before to try on the Equipment on and make sure it fits you well.
  • Base Layer:(Merino Trousers, Merino Top, Merino hiking socks, Merino beanie hat.
  • Mid layer: Softshell fleece or vest, quick dry hiking pants,
  • Top Layer: hooded hard shell jacket, waterproof pants.
  • Other Gear: Goggles, sunglasses, winter gloves, winter boots, crampons, ice ax, harness, headlamp, backpack.

Visiting Cotopaxi Volcano without a guide

It is not recommended visiting without a guide, a guide will cost you an extra amount of money but it is better to stay on your safe side especially when you are alone and are planning to take long hikes, the clouds can reach the ground and it can be very confusing when trying to follow the path.

If you are willing to reach the summit then a guide it is a must.

What birds can be seen at the Cotopaxi National Park area?

Birds at the Cotopaxi National park are mainly found in the Limpiopungo Lagoon area, although other birds as the Andean Condor can be seen in other areas of the National Park as well.

  • Tringa Solitaria ( Andarrios Solitario) it is a migratory bird that can be observed near the shrubs or the edges of the lake
  • Andean lapwing emits a loud sound “giggle” especiallyWhitetail to defend their nest /Ligle (spanish name) (Vanellus resplendens)
  • The Andean coot takes flight over the water when fleeing or pursuing each other /Gallareta (Spanish name)
  • Andean Gull (English name)  lives in groups tossing their feces at intruders to defend their nest / Gaviota Andina (Spanish name)
  • Andean Condor/ Condor Andino, is the main symbol of Ecuador´s coat of arms representing the national Ecuadorian bird found in the Andes.
  • Ecuadorian Hillstar Hummingbird (Oreotrochilus) with its bright purple head and brilliant white chest, is the only hummingbird that has adapted to this altitude attracted by the nectar of the Chuquiragua flower found only in the highlands between 3000 and 4000 meters above sea level.

What mammals can be seen at the Cotopaxi National Park?

  • Some of the mammals at the Cotopaxi National Park are:
  • Wild horses
  • Fox
  • Whitetail deer
  • Puma
  • Andean Bear
  • Cattle from the surrounding Haciendas.

What plants can be observed at the National Park?

Cacho de Venado (halenia deliana)

Genciana: favors the functioning of the immune system, intestinal cramps, it is an excellent medicinal plant to take care of hair and keep it strong and healthy, it has an antibiotic effect, fighting germ infections. Takes care of the liver. It favors the purification of the blood. Improves psoriasis. Used to improve the cases of arthritis and gout (high uric acid). Is effective in lowering fever. It is a natural remedy to eliminate intestinal parasites by its vermifuge action. Accelerates the healing of skin wounds. It has a stimulating effect on the thyroid gland, which may be beneficial in case of hypothyroidism. It can help regulate blood pressure, digestive action. Not recommended for people with gastroduodenal ulcers during pregnancy and lactation is also discouraged.

Almohadilla (Azorella sp.) Holds the water drom the paramo and purifies it

Chuquiragua (chuquiraga jussieul) excellent for liver and kidney problems.

Paja (Calamagrostis sp) Paramo grass, also known as pampa grass used very much for roof tops.

Caballo Chupa (Equisetum Bogotense) Good for kidney problems in a water infusion.

Achicoria (Hypochaeris Sessiliflora)  Colors: White and yellow rarely purple, it is used to treat liver and kidney infections.

Ñachac (Bidens Andicola) The flower is used to treat scalds, biting or crushing the plant and placing it on the affected area. Also, in infections of the eyes, to cure deafness. The infusion of leaves and flowers is used to treat kidney problems, liver disease, jaundice and to treat bumps and bruises. The infusion of the plant is taken to facilitate baby delivery.

Sunfo (clinopodium nubigenum): The plant of sunfo, is used in the form of infusions, for general discomforts in to counteract the cold, and in stomach pains.

Valerian (Valeriana SPP) It is great to balance the nervous system. used as a sedative, anxiolytic, neurasthenic manifestations and soothing in hysteria, (insomnia, neurosis, abdominal cramps (colic), hyperexcitability, etc.)

Tipo (Minthostachys mollis) The species has long been exploited for its effectiveness against the problems of respiratory and digestive systems; It is also used for its antibacterial properties in the conservation of stored foods. These qualities have recently been studied, antifungal properties.

Cotopaxia (Cotopaxia Asplundil) Its use in unknown yet under investigation

Castilleja (Castilleja fissifolia)

Romerillo (hypericum laricifolium) Its infusion is tranquilizer, to treat bone pain, colds, headaches, dizziness, and postpartum baths


Mortiño (Vaccinium floribunda) Delicious fruit used to make marmalades and used as one of the ingredients for the traditional “Colada Morada”

Arbol de Papel (Polylepis) The soft reddish bark peels away like paper sheets.

How to recognize altitude sickness and how can I prevent it?

  • Headache
  • dizziness
  • drowsiness
  • lightheaded
  • confusion
  • sleepiness

Tips to prevent altitude sickness

  • Acclimatize at least two days before trying to reach the refugee
  • Hydration is very important, drink water
  • Try to walk very slowly
  • don’t rush at the beginning of the walk
  • Eat a meal rich in carbohydrates as fruits and cereals

How long does it take to get to the summit of the Cotopaxi Volcano?

For experienced mountaineers and after all the acclimation process they have gone through, it can take them between six and seven hours, some start from the Parking Area @ 4500m and others depart from the Jose Rivas refuge located at 4864m.

How far up do we go on a Cotopaxi day trip?

By an off-road vehicle, the highest the vehicles get is to the Parking Area located at 4500m after this lift it is all up to you, here is where the fun begins since it gets very steep and challenging from here the distance to the Refuge Jose Rivas is a on scarce 364 m (Refuge Jose Rivas located at 4864m).

At 4500 m where the parking area is located not only you are closer to the sun but you are also at a spectacular lookout point that probably not many people will have the chance to get this high in elevation in their lifetime.

If you feel you have the power to reach the refuge go for it, it is a spectacular feeling when you accomplish this challenge of reaching the refuge.

At the refuge, you can sit down and just enjoy the beautiful landscape that is surrounding you, while drinking a hot beverage you will be amazed by all the mountains that can be seen from this privileged place on earth that forms part of the Andean Mountain range.

Also after a few minutes resting you can continue to the glacier which at the actual dates it is reached at an approximate elevation of 5020 m  Throughout this journey you will be escorted by a guide who will give you some tips and will give you directions on how to walk and breathe. Your Cotopaxi day trip can go smoothly if you leave it all to a local Ecuador tour operator, who will take care of all the logistics so that your only worry is to enjoy your time at this beautiful place.

On a Cotopaxi  day trip the higher you will get to is up to the place where the Glacier starts, up to approximately 5020 m.

How long does I take to get to the refuge and glacier?

Depending on how fit the person is, as well as  how acclimated to high altitude the person is.

If you got to the refuge and have some energy left you can give it a try and continue to the Glacier which in the past used to be at scarce minutes from the Jose Rivas refuge but now it is from 40 min to 1 hour (depending on your pace and in altitude, it is at 5020 m the place where now you can reach the glacier, due to accelerated global warming.

Touristic Haciendas around the Cotopaxi area

  • Hacienda El Porvenir, (accommodation, food, horseback riding)
  • La Cienega, (accommodation, chapel, food)
  • Hacienda Tambopaxi (Accommodation, food horseback riding)

What are the road conditions to get to the Cotopaxi National Park?

Cotopaxi volcano road, if you are planning to do a day trip to Cotopaxi from Quito, you must take the Simon Bolivar and continue on the Panamerican Highways towards the south, the road is in good condition and continue driving while enjoying the views for about 1h20 min until you see a sign that will say Cotopaxi National Park and exit there to the right. The same if you are going by Bus,  then you can continue for about 2 km on the asphalt road until you get to the National Park Entrance called Caspi. There you have to register ( National visitors) and in the case of International visitors, you will be asked to get a guide.

What type of volcano is Cotopaxi?

Cotopaxi Volcano Type: Stratovolcano also known as a composite volcano, is a conical volcano built up by many layers (strata) of hardened volcanic material call it hardened lava ash, pumice.

Cotopaxi mount or volcano?

Cotopaxi due to its features is a volcano type of mountain but it has a crater, magma, and lava. A mountain does not have these three things.

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