Destinations // Cotopaxi National Park Ecuador

Getting up close and personal to a Volcano is quite easy when you are in Ecuador. The Andes Mountain range runs directly through the country and has created what is known as the Avenue of Volcanoes. If this sounds like your idea of fun then be sure to visit Cotopaxi National Park. Just an hour outside of Quito, Ecuador this National Park makes for a perfect day trip to the Cotopaxi Volcano. You are in for a treat as Cotopaxi is not only one of Ecuador’s most active volcanoes, but it is also one of the world’s highest.

We were feeling a bit lazy so chose to book a private tour through our hotel. They arranged a driver for us and connected us with Paulina – a fantastic Cotopaxi National Park guide. What was our plan? Check out the park and make our way up the Volcano. Paulina was very knowledgeable, led us through the highlights of the park and even gave us some insight into what life is like for the communities that live below the Volcano.

Here are the highlights of our day out at Cotopaxi.


Our first stop in the park was to the visitor center. Don’t expect any frills, it’s a small building that could use a bit of a spruce, but is effective at giving you an overview before heading further into the park with various pictures, posters and displays.  You’ll get a bit of a lesson of the region, the various volcanoes that feature in Ecuador and the science behind how volcanoes are formed.


The “Botanical Garden” shares the same parking lot as the visitor center. It’s less of a botanical garden and more a planted pathway that showcases some of the endemic plants of area. The pathway ends at a volcano valley viewing area. Here you can see where previous lava flows have maneuvered their way around the terrain. We stopped at the little café and had some coca tea before our ascent. If you have done some high altitude activity before, you will know that coca leaves are said to combat altitude sickness. It’s all-natural, contains no narcotics and is used in traditional medicines in South America.


Climbing Cotapaxi is not a technical climb, any summit attempts require both a climbing guide and proper equipment (crampons, harnesses and a belay). The latest eruption (at time of publishing) was August 2015 – and summit attempts are still banned. We took the 4WD path up to the parking typically used by those summiting (4,600m). Our trek was a short hour up to the José F. Ribas Refuge (4,800m) where we stopped to catch our breath over a lovely hot chocolate. The clouds never lifted – hampering our scenic views – but getting closer to the glacier on this very active volcano is an adventure.


Before leaving the park we stopped for a walk around 2.6km Laguna de Limpiopungo. We found the lake beautiful and even spotted multiple birds, wild hares and bull frogs. There is a viewing platform if you are not up for the walk. While we didn’t have a clear day, this point also offers views of Cotopaxi from the northern base.

We enjoyed our day out with Paulina as she led our exploration of Cotopaxi National Park. On our way back to town she shared with us the tumultuous history of this beauty, which has devastated the surrounding provinces for ages. For us this was a day out. For Paulina and her family this is home. I appreciated having the opportunity to have her to share it with us.


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