The Cotopaxi National Park is home to the volcano that bears the same name, one of the most active and recognized volcanoes on the Avenida de los Volcanes and all of Ecuador. In fact, the Cotopaxi Volcano was the first park in Ecuador’s continental territory to be declared a national park. The Cotopaxi volcano is one of the highest active volcanoes in the world, so seeing or climbing it can be one of the most enriching experiences you can have when visiting Ecuador. The volcano has an altitude of 5,897 meters above sea level.
The National Park is located on the outskirts of Quito, an hour and a half away by car; within the province of Cotopaxi in the Central Cordillera of the Andes. Its last eruption was in August 2015, without causing major damage. Without a doubt, visiting the Cotopaxi volcano is a must do activity when exploring Ecuador.
What is the climate in the Cotopaxi National Park?
The average temperature ranges from 9° C to 11° C, while the lowest temperatures range from below 0° C and the highest up to 22°C, so we recommend wearing warm clothing. Due to the altitude, a high UV index wreaks greater havoc on the skin, so wearing sunscreen is key during your visit to the park.
What is the best time of year to visit Cotopaxi National Park?
The best time to visit the Cotopaxi volcano is during the months of November, December to January. Although in summer the volcano can be found clear from the slopes (July to October), and have a greater probability of capturing the best photographs.
How big is the Cotopaxi Volcano Crater?
The width of the Cotopaxi volcano crater from east to west is 500 m and from north to south 700 m.
What should I pack to go to Cotopaxi National Park?
- Multiple layers of clothing
- Waterproof jacket
- Comfortable closed shoes (hiking)
- Photographic camera
- Ear cap
- Warm stockings
- Water bottle
- If you plan to go to the José Rivas refuge, we recommend that you bring walking poles and more layers.
How much does it cost to visit the Cotopaxi volcano?
The entrance to the Cotopaxi National Park is free although you must register when entering. The national park is open from 8:00 AM to 3:00 PM to enter, but you can stay until 5:00 PM. Parking before reaching the first shelter is free. When arriving at the park, check in for the most up to date rules to avoid any inconvenience.
Can you camp in the Cotopaxi National Park?
You can camp near the Limpiopungo lagoon, which has bathrooms. They do not rent tents, so if you plan to camp you will have to bring your own tent and sleeping bag. Remember that it is cold during the day and even more so at night, so bring a sleeping bag that can withstand low temperatures, in addition to carrying a waterproof tent resistant to strong winds.
Campfires are prohibited in Cotopaxi National Park, so if you need to cook your food, we suggest you bring your own stove and camping gas. You can buy your camping equipment at Campers Store. It is also possible to camp in other reserved areas such as La Rinconada and Condorhuayco. Remember to take all the garbage to what you finish your visit to the national park.
How to get to the Cotopaxi Volcano?
Public transport buses do not enter the National Park, they leave you one hour from the entrance of the volcano. It is best to rent a car or take a private tour.
- From Machachi: You can get to the national park through the Barrio Santa Ana de El Pedregal. You will go through several farms for 15km. Through here you can visit the Limpiopungo lagoon and part of the Rumiñahui.
- From Latacunga or Quito to Caspi Control: Take the Pan-American Highway from Quito for two hours and from Latacunga one hour. If you go by bus, take the bus from the Quitumbe land terminal, south of Quito to Riobamba, Ambato or Latacunga. Tell the driver that you want to get off at the entrance of the Cotopaxi National Park.
The 11 best things you can do inside the Cotopaxi National Park
1. Limpiopungo Lagoon
The Limpiopungo lagoon offers one of the best landscapes in Cotopaxi, when the volcano is clear of clouds. It is ideal for walking around and enjoying the flora and fauna of the Andean mountain rage. This is a perfect area to take pictures. The lagoon is located on the slopes of the inactive Rumiñahui volcano.
To get to the Limpiopungo Lagoon you must enter through the Caspi control and continue for 19 KM. The best thing to do is go in your own car, but if you don’t have transportation, there are several vans that can take you for less than $20 USD per person.
2. Volcán inactivo Rumiñahui
The name Rumiñahui means “stone face” in Kichwa. It is one of the most beautiful inactive volcanoes that Ecuador has, since the mountain has several peaks: north, central and south, and the highest of which is the north at 4,722 meters.
Climbing the Rumiñahui volcano is easier than its neighbor Cotopaxi, especially the central peak, which is 4,630 meters above sea level. This activity can take between 6 to 10 hours depending on your speed but it is always advisable to climb it with an experienced guide. If your thing is not to climb the peaks or do mountaineering, enjoy its beauty from the slopes of the volcano and the lagoon.
3. Tour part of the Cotopaxi National Park on horseback
One of the most fun ways to enjoy the Cotopaxi National Park is with a horse ride. You will not get as tired compared to walking and we highly recommended this unique experience activity. The rides can last from several hours up to several day horseback treks, it all depends on your budget, physical condition and preferences. You can hire the service in inns or hotels in the area.
4. Tour part of the Cotopaxi National Park by bicycle
Many cyclists visit the national park to ride their bikes. There are several authorized routes that you can enjoy and admire this beautiful park from different angles.
5. Hike to the José Rivas refuge of the Cotopaxi volcano
The José Rivas refuge is located at 4,864 meters above sea level. Many people come to the refuge to spend the night and leave at dawn to ascend to the summit of Cotopaxi. If you are not interested in climbing to the summit, then reaching the refuge, drinking a cup of hot chocolate and taking a photo on this beautiful volcano is also an incredible feat. The walk to the refuge can last about 1 hour and starts from the parking lot under the refuge. The walk is not long but if it takes time because of the altitude. You do not need to go with a guide, just walk slowly and enjoy the landscape. They only accept cash at the shelter.
6. Climb to the summit of the Cotopaxi volcano
Not everyone can climb to the summit of the Cotopaxi volcano. Those who are interested must prepare in advance, since the ascent is very complex and its extreme altitude. You must hire a certified guide who has the right equipment for this adventure. The journey to the glacier begins at the José Rivas refuge. The ascents leave at midnight to reach the summit at dawn and the duration of the hike can take between 6 to 8 hours, depending a lot on your physical condition. The activity is not cheap or easy but it is well worth it. Without a doubt, it is the best thing you can do in the Cotopaxi National Park.
It is very important to bring the right equipment, from proper clothing to camping gear, such as a sleeping bag for temperatures below 0°C, a tent for high mountains, and hiking poles. The best time to hike Cotopaxi are during the months of November, December and January.
7. Interpretation Center
The park museum also referred to as the Interpretation Center is the best place to learn more about the park and the landscape that surrounds it. This museum has several exhibition rooms that tell the history of the park.
8. Sunfana Lookout
El Mirador de Sunfana is located about 30 minutes walking from the administrative center of the park.
9. Lakes of Cajas
The lagoons of Cajas are 3 kilometers from the Maura Mudadero control, and from there you can see these beautiful bodies of water.
10. Santo Domingo Lagoon
Santo Domingo Lagoon is one of the best places to take photos of the Cotopaxi volcano. Although it is not close to the refuge, it is 1 hour away by car from the entrance to the park, visiting Santo Domingo Lagoon is definitely worthwhile.
11. The Enchanted Valley and the Pita River Caño
The Enchanted Valley is covered with volcanic stones that Cotopaxi volcano dropped its last eruption. The Pita River passes through the canyon making this a wonderful landscape.
What plants and animals live in Cotopaxi National Park?
The most common plant to see is the Chuquiragua as well as pines, pumamaquis, romerillo, mortiño and capulí. The national park is also home to curiquingue, deer, rabbits, wolves of the paramo, the Andean condor, which is hardly seen, the spectacled bear, hummingbirds, field mouse, llamas, Andean foxes, and wild horses among many others.
The park has several ecosystems including Humid Forest, Rainforest, Alpine pluvial tundra and the snow area, located near the summit.