Since we are volcano lovers, we decided to hike up Cotopaxi volcano and hike in its national park during our trip to Ecuador. Located 31 miles South of Quito, the Cotopaxi volcano is the second highest summit in Ecuador (19,347 feet). But there is more than meets the eyes. It is one of the world’s most active volcano! Its dome, which form is almost perfect, is covered with eternal snow. It invites all mountaineering enthusiasts to experience high altitude hiking in a majestic setting.
1. Cotopaxi Map
Useful map of Cotopaxi National Park and its surroundings.
2. Cotopaxi is an active volcano
Quite abruptly, Cotopaxi volcano awoke in August 2015, after decades of slumber. Because of this eruption, the Cotopaxi National Park was closed. After months of survey by the Ecuadorian authorities, the park partially re-opened on February 2016. Today, it is possible to hike up to José Ribas refuge. Nonetheless, check the volcano’s activity (Spanish) before going into the Park. That is good news because the Cotopaxi National Park offers hikes and splendid treks at the foot of the giant, in the “paramo” extending to the horizon.
Thus, no need to wear crampons and ice ax to enjoy this majestic site! Hiking in the Cotopaxi National Park allows you to discover the beauties of the andean landscapes …
3. The Cotopaxi National Park is a land of emotions
We stayed for the night at the Tambopaxi Lodge, essential step which, at 12,470 feet high, enables visitors to acclimate to high altitude.
Early the next morning, we habe been taken by our guide in a 4 wheels drive vehicule to the starting point of the hike. Our hiking target is the José Ribas refuge, at 15,700 feet high.The road goes through the paramo, high altitude land crossed by cold winds and wrapped in mist. It ends where the glacier begins. In the 18th century, the scientist Alexander von Humboldt, who was staying in Ecuador, described the paramo as “inhospitable lands”. Indeed, we start our discovery of the Cotopaxi volcano under an overcast sky and very foggy weather, thus accentuating the feeling of loneliness and desolation of the lanscape. We have our first glimpse of the volcano. But its cone, covered by clouds, can hardly be seen.
4. Hiking Cotopaxi volcano up to José Ribas refuge
We are excited and exhilarated with the idea of climbing the slopes of the volcano. We had never hiked this high (nearly 16,400 feet!). For the first time, we will know how it feels to climb at high altitude!
As we are going up on the volcano, the landscape suddenly changes: the golden yellow paramo gives way to a dramatic scenary, in black and white. Cotopaxi, shrouded in mists, seems almost unreal. The distance is short and the hike presents no technical difficulty. We are very confident in our ability to quickly reach the refuge. But that is without counting on cold, icy winds and altitude! The climb is slow, the legs are heavy, and the breath is short. Some walkers around us are already feeling the first nausea and headaches. We take moments to recover our breath and to admire the panorama. The view on the highlands and the glacier, shrouded in the mist is breathtaking.
After three quarter of an hour, we are relieved to see the refuge José Ribas, recognizable by its yellow roof. A hot drink warms us: we enjoy the effort made that had allowed us to climb the Cotopaxi volcano this high. We are glad we did it!
For experienced or trained climbers, this walk is the first step to the summit they will hike at night…
5. Going back by the Limpiopungo laguna
From the refuge, we walk down the Cotopaxi volcano slopes, cross the paramo and join the Limpiopungo laguna, at the foot of Rumiñahui volcano. As we are hiking back in the Cotopaxi National Park, we marvel at the stunning wild landscapes. We observe many wild horses and discover the floral and colorful richness of the lagoon. What a contrast with the monochrome landscape of the glacier ! For sure, due to altitude, walking on the slopes of Cotopaxi volcano is engaging, but it is a unforgettable way of discovering the mythical landscapes of the Andes. This experience is truly unique.
Because of the altitude, hiking on Cotopaxi volcano can be strenuous. But it is an excellent way to discover the mythical Andean landscapes. This experience is truly unique and should be included in a trip to Ecuador.
6. Watch out the VIDEO : Cotopaxi National Park : unforgettable hiking experience”
And you will find out why this volcano is fascinating !