Cotopaxi National Park is geographically spread through the Provinces of Pichincha, Cotopaxi and Napo. This ecological reserve is only 37 miles away from Quito, and 18 miles away from the city of Latacunga. Due to its location, it is one of the most visited parks. Most Ecuadorians come here to touch snow for the first time!
The park is named after the highest active, snow-capped volcano in the world. Cotopaxi volcano, the park’s main attraction, stands at 19,348 feet! Thousands of nationals and internationals come to Cotopaxi to conquer its summit, and many dream of doing so.
“Cotopaxi’s shape is the most beautiful and regular of all the colossal peaks in the high Andes. It is a perfect cone covered by a thick blanket of snow which shines so brilliantly at sunset it seems detached from the azure of the sky.” -Alexander Von Humboldt, 1820.
Interesting fact: The Avenue of the Volcanoes” was named by famous naturalist Alexander Von Humboldt when he travelled through Ecuador in 1802. It is a route that runs for 200 km through the mountain chains of the Andes. This route is now connected by the Panamericana Highway.
This imposing volcano prevails in the landscape!
Within the Reserve you can also find Rumiñahui inactive volcano, 8.6 miles Northeast of Cotopaxi. Rumiñahui is a mountain of many peaks, its main summit reaches 15.459 ft and its walls are 2.2624 meters high, surrounding the caldera.
The beautiful Limpiopungo Lagoon lays at 12.47 feet of altitude and covers 200 hectares. Here you can appreciate a beautiful scenery, including Cotopaxi and Rumiñahui in the landscape. You can also find a trail, and observe ducks and Andean gulls!
Valle Encantado and the Pita River Canyon:
In the East territory of the park, reached by the Machachi entrance, you can find Valle Encantado. Valle Encantado translates to “The Enchanted Valley.” It is a vast land covered by enormous stones that came from Cotopaxi in its last eruption. The Pita river runs through a canyon that leads to forests and agricultural areas outside of the park.
Interesting Fact: This river is one of the main sources of drinking water for Quito.
Some of the activities within the park include:
–Camping: If you want to go camping, be sure to take all your equipment and ask the guides at the entrance where to set your campsite. La Rinconada and Condorhuayco are designated areas for camping or picnics. Be prepared for the cold!
–Hiking: there are several hiking trails throughout the park, ranging from short circuits to overnight adventures. Whether you’re here for the day or you’re spending the night, ask the guides at the information center for a tour guide or advice on which hikes to take given the length of your stay. Local hikers frequently visit Rumiñahui!
–Trekking: there are several trails within the park! The Paramo trail is only 1 km long, it starts from the interpretation center and it is low difficulty. The Limpiopungo Lagoon trail is an elevated circuit through the lagoon’s borders. From this trail you will have a great view of Rumiñahui and bird watching opportunities. We recommend the Limpiopungo Lagoon trail!
–Mountain Climbing: there are many opportunities of mountain climbing within the park! Cotopaxi is one of the most popular climbs in Ecuador but it requires preparation. If you wish to conquer the summit we suggest you hire a mountaineering guide. You’ll need the right gear.
–Horseback riding: You can ride horses on the valleys surrounding the Cotopaxi volcano.
–Photography: Besides the impressive volcanoes and the lagoons, you can appreciate the flora and fauna of the paramo ecosystem!
Chuquiragua: a shrub with small and resistant leafs, adapted to withstand the scarcity of water. Pajonal: plants with long and thin leaves, so they don’t lose water as much as thicker leaves.
Valeriana and Achicoria: rosettes without a stem that grow against the floor along with their leaves to trap the humidity and generate heat.
Yaguales and Kishwares: trees that have small, hard, furry and bright leaves for protection from the cold and the radiation.
Helechos and Gencianas: herbs that take advantage of the proximity of other plant species to live in the paramo ecosystem.
Fauna: there are 17 species of mammals including white-tailed deer, rabbits, lamas, Andean foxes and pumas. There are also over ninety species of birds, and some amphibians and reptiles. Commonly seen in the park are the wild horses that roam around the North/East of Cotopaxi National Park.
Interesting fact: These horses are descendents of domestic horses that escaped from haciendas nearby and started creating their own packs.
Facilities: The park’s existing facilities include the Interpretation Center with various exhibit rooms, a gift shop and a cafeteria. It is also home to the Jose Rivas Refuge which is highly visited as a day trip, since it is only 20 km away from the entrance. The road is clearly signaled up to the parking lot. From there, the mountain shelter is an hour walk away, standing at an altitude of 14.76 feet. If you want to to get to the snow, then this is the place!
We suggest that you plan your trip ahead, being prepared for the activities listed above will give you the opportunity to fully enjoy this area of fantastic scenery, flora and fauna.
Visiting hours: 08H00 to15H00
Cost: Free for the day
How to get there:
From Quito to Caspi Control Center: Take the Panamericana Sur highway stretch Quito-Latacunga until km 42, where there is a diversion that takes you to the park entrance. From there, a paved road will take you to the control center (approx. 15 min).
From Quito to North Control Center: Take Panamericana Sur highway until you reach Machachi (1h 10 min). You will continue to Guitig, where a cobblestone path leads to El Pedregal. The control booth is approximately 20 min away.
What to take:
- Water: an essential for all the walking! Stay hydrated and carry your own water bottle.
- Sunscreen: the Paramo sun is very intense. Put on sunblock before you start your day and take it with you.
- Hat: for more protection from the sun! You can also take a hat to cover your ears from the cold at night.
- Snacks: if you’re going on a hike remember to take snacks for energy.
- Comfortable booties: make sure your shoes are comfortable for long walks. It would be best if they are taller than regular shoes and waterproof since you can encounter water.
- Long sleeved shirt: a light long sleeved shirt is great for protection from the sun and cold.
- Layers: bring along cozy sweaters or jackets but keep in mind that you’ll be walking a lot (it’s better if they are light).
- Waterproof jacket: in case it rains!
Only an hour and a half away from Quito, this is one of the top destinations in the Andes!