I am going to tell a story of my family visiting Cotopaxi volcano during a long holiday in Ecuador….the wrong decisions we did, and also the good outcome. So whenever you decide to go, be aware of this story.
What is Cotopaxi National Park?
It is a natural reserve with 32 255 hectares. It was declared National Park in 1975. The main entrance to the volcano is located 25 minutes (30km) south of Latacunga city or 1hour (60km) from Quito by car.
The main attraction is Cotopaxi snow active volcano, in 2015 the entrance and visit to the park was closed due to a high activity of the volcano. There is also another places you can visit such as:
Laguna Limpiopungo (3800 meters altitud)
Camping (there is a hostel there called Tambopaxi, it is safe and nice to stay in the hostel or camping right there)
Climbing Ruminahui mountain
The best way to tour around is to arrive early in the morning to the park (8am-9am) and go to the parking lot. Climb up to the Refugio José Rivas, rest, have something to eat, and start descending. Then you can go to “Laguna Limpiopungo” and hike around, take pictures (gorgeous landscapes); and if you still having energy, a quick visit to the museum and finally depart better before 2pm. It is a full day excursion.
What do you need to wear/bring:
Warm clothing: warm jacket (with hood is better); extra sweater, two pair of socks, leggins (to wear underneath of the pant). Also if you have waterproof jacket bring it.
Buff (bandana windproof) to protect the face in case is windy/hail
Gloves: wool gloves works fine if does not rain.
Water bottle, chocolate
*If you travel in your own car bring extra pants, socks, t-shirt, underwear
From the main entrance of the National Park where you need to register (the visit to the park is free) to Limpiopungo lake takes around 30 minutes by car, going at 30km/hour. Limpiopungo is on the side from the main road. From then to the last stop before ascending to the refuge takes about another 30minutes to get to the parking lot (the last stop before walking up to the camp site). Drive slowly, it is a gravel road and going up to the parking lot can be tricky, in addition to the gravel there are traffic (bikes, big buses, and careless drivers), altitude and weather conditions difficult the driving.
Because it was holiday in Ecuador the day we visited, there was a lot people climbing up to the refuge. This gave us confidence to continue even it was cloudy and late (around 1pm).
We walked slowly, taking breaks every time my mom felt tired. We drunk some water and ate candy/chocolate. It is a sandy trail not dangerous if you stay on the path.
It is thrilling to see at the end of the hiking the refuge camp, it is a big house, right on Cotopaxi. The weather can change drastically, thus from sunny and dusty day, it can swap into a foggy and muddy atmosphere and ice may cover the land surround you. Turning into a white blanket. Incredible landscape.
At the refuge we had: colada morada (sweet beverage only serve in November), choclo cocinado (corn on the cob), locro de papa (potato soup), herbal tea. The refuge restaurant is small. Bring money. Food minimum price 3USD $
The way down is fast; it can take around 20-30 minutes. For us it was very complicated because started to rain hail (it was 2:30pm, late to go down, the weather get foggy in the afternoon).
We literally have to run, we get soak in water and our shoes fill with wet sand. Knees hurt, face burn a little.
We change completely our clothing and have to buy an extra pair of socks at the entrance of the national park (4$)
After that exciting adventure we had a delicious typical lunch on dinner.
The cons about the trip:
It was national holiday “Día de los Muertos” it was horrible the traffic. If you plan to do the trip during this holiday, depart early to the National Park, 6:30am the latest. Better wait at the entrance. In our case, we depart at 9am, we were on traffic for about 3:30 hours in a commute that usually takes 1hour.
Do not go up to the refuge if the weather conditions are bad.
Bring money and plenty of clothes if you don’t have to carry along (Meaning leave in the car the extra clothing)
If you are not traveling by car, you can also get there:
From Quito: Take a bus to Machachi (Quitumbe terminal, south Quito) About 1h:30min. then hire a truck to Cotopaxi National Park (negotiate the price, it is better if you come with more then 3 pals).
From Latacunga: you can hire a truck from bus terminal to Cotopaxi National Park, or take a bus to Quito and get off on the highway right at the beggining of the National Park. Then hire for truck to take you to the parking lot. Trucks at that spot are not often. You will have to wait for a while.
main info about the park: http://www.ambiente.gob.ec/parque-nacional-cotopaxi/
PDF 67pag. Information in Spanish about the National Park
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