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Aug 25 2019

Cotopaxi europe

Cotopaxi europe-Cotopaxi europe
Cotopaxi is an active volcano near Quito easily accessible for a day-trip. Here are all our tips to hike the Cotopaxi National park without a tour.

Cotopaxi National Park: Hiking without a tour

Cotopaxi National Park: Hiking without a tour

Cotopaxi is an active volcano near Quito. Its famous conical shape, topped by a glacier, is visible from all over the region making it one of the icons of Ecuador. Near the summit, the refuge and the glacier are easily accessible as long as you have access to transportation. But while many join tours from Quito or Baños, we found a couple of ways to visit and hike Cotopaxi volcano without a guide.

The Cotopaxi National Park is situated about 1 hour south of Quito and 30 minutes north of Latacunga.

It hosts one of the most active and highest volcanos in the world, Cotopaxi. This Stratovolcano last erupted for 6 months in 2015 which meant it closed to the public until October 2017. Fortunately, the volcano is now accessible and is an exceptional site to visit for a day trip from Quito, Latacunga or Baños.

Whether you are looking into a nice hike, approaching (or touching) a glacier, mountaineering to the summit, biking or horse riding, Cotopaxi National Park is the place to go in Ecuador.

The most common day-trip is to hike from the main car park to the Refuge Jose Ribas at 4,800m and then to the Cotopaxi glacier.

Note: At the entrance of the park, make sure to check in with the park rangers. There is no fee but you will need to show your passport or an ID. It is mandatory.

Cotopaxi National Park:
Hiking to the Volcano Refuge Without A Tour

HOW TO GET to Cotopaxi on your own

Local Transportation

There are no public buses to enter the national park. However, whether you come from Quito, Latacunga or Baños, you can ask to be let off on the Panamerica (E35) at the Cotopaxi junction where you will need to make your way, either by hitch-hiking or hiring a local guide.

For this, you will need to ask the bus driver to drop you off at the turn to Cotopaxi National Park (A la Ingressa del Parque Nacional Cotopaxi). Map – Cost: $1 to $2 per person depending on where you come from.

From the junction, you can hitch-hike to the National Park. This is what we did and we found it very easy to catch a car. However, we think it is best to go during the weekend as there are a lot more locals visiting with their own car. You will, therefore, have more chances to be picked up for the day!

If you can’t get a car from the village, you can ask a taxi to drop you off at the entrance of the National Park, from there it is very common to see hitch-hikers heading to either the laguna or the refuge.

Local guides

Near where the bus drops you off, you will find local guides offering to drive you in their 4WD to the refuge and back for $20 per person. They may ask $30 per person at first but negotiate to drop the price to $20. If they refuse, walk away towards another guide or if you feel like it, start hitch-hiking.

They will more than likely run after you to accept $20. In this situation, the more you are, the best you can haggle so don’t hesitate to team up with other travellers.

The local guides will also give you the option to do cycle back down the volcano for an extra $10. If that’s something you are interested in, it will always be cheaper to go through these guys than paying for a full-day tour from Quito or Latacunga.

Alternatives: guided tours, horse riding, cycling

We understand you may not feel comfortable to get to Cotopaxi on your own, so we have selected 3 excursions that may interest you whether you prefer taking a car to the refuge, biking or horseback riding.

Hitch-Hiking to the refuge, our experience

We started to hitch-hike near the Panamerica where the bus from Latacunga dropped us off. We walked a bit through the little village Chasqui, before being picked up by an Ecuadorian family. The drive took about 15 minutes to the entrance of the National Park through a steady steep road.

After the formality of registering with the park rangers, the family drove up through a dense forest until we reached a vast plain at the feet of Cotopaxi volcano. Here, there is not much vegetation, the landscape is dry, almost arid with no more than a couple of bushes. As the family turned left towards the laguna Limpiopungu, we set off to walk along the gravel road looking for our next ride.

We d >volcanos Cotopaxi and Rumiñawi were incredible and the weather was perfect to let us see the summits. It was very sunny but a bit chilly because of the altitude.

In the national park, there aren’t many roads and any car passing by is more than likely going to the refuge. However, it took us about 40 minutes more until we got picked up again. During that time a couple of cars passed us, but they were already full. The car which picked us up was probably our best ride ever.

We were being picked up at 4,000 metres above sea level by an old Volkswagen Beetle! At this altitude, the thin atmosphere can affect the car’s engine and decrease the acceleration or climbing power. So imagine 4 people plus a lot of luggage trying to drive a 10% incline gravel road… We seriously didn’t think we were going to make it to the top. And we didn’t. About 600 m away from the car park, the car stopped with big difficulty to start again.

The owner d >pickup truck. Finally, the beetle made it to the top and we all celebrated once at the refuge with a nice cup of coca tea!

We cut short our time at the refuge due to Jenny feeling a bit dizzy and nauseous and decided to hike all the way down and hitch-hike back to the Panamerica later. We just wanted to spend more time in the park, appreciating this gorgeous day at the Cotopaxi. It took us about 2 hours to walk down to the plains, where a car brought us on a bumpy ride to the national park museum before dropping us off at our bus stop to Quito.

In total, we took 4 cars, but you might as well end up with people who will drive you around with them for the day. Hitch-hiking is full of surprises and you never know on which adventure you are going to end up. This is also the beauty of hitch-hiking, meeting people, changing plans and seeing another part of the place.

Hiking to the Refuge and Cotopaxi Glacier without a gu />

Once at the refuge, there are two ways to hike up, the “zig-zag” trail and the “straight forward” route. Of course, we would recommend taking the zig-zag trail which is easier to climb as the straightforward route is very steep and has a lot of loose rocks.

Tip: It’s best to run down like crazy people the straightforward route than climbing it!

To hike from the car park at 4,500 m to the refuge at 4,800 m, it should take between 1.5 to 2 hours, depending on how fit, prepared and acclimatized you are. Then, you can take an additional 40-minute walk to the edge of the Cotopaxi Glacier to have a better view over the valley and see the glacier from close.

At this altitude , it is important to walk slow, focus on your breathing and drink a lot of water to avoid dehydration and headaches. For more information about hiking in high altitude and altitude sickness, read this and talk with your doctor.

Fun fact: the closest place to the moon

Once at the Refuge Jose Ribas, you can ask the owner to stamp your passport for $1. We thought that was pretty cool as Cotopaxi is also one of the only places on Earth where you may end up being the further away from the Earth’s centre, or if you prefer, the closest to the outer space (and the moon!).

That definitely deserved a stamp!

We can explain ourselves. Mount Everest is the highest peak in the world if we count the elevation from sea level. However, Chimborazo (the highest peak in Ecuador) and Cotopaxi (the second) are so close to the Equator line that it makes them the highest mountains above the Earth’s centre.

Not planning on hiking to Chimborazo, Cotopaxi was for us the most accessible place to (almost) reach space!

Where to stay in and around Cotopaxi

Stay in Latacunga before or after

We went to Cotopaxi after our 3-day hike to the Quilotoa Crater Lake. After the hike, we spent the night in Latacunga and took an early bus that passed by the Cotopaxi National Park. Here are the places we would recommend if you plan on staying in Latacunga too.

Hostel Sendero de Volcanes: this is where we stayed after our hike. The hostel is quiet, clean with a kitchen and a rooftop bar. They also have a travel agency and organise trips to Cotopaxi, Quilotoa and Baños. The price was very affordable: $17 for a double room with shared bathroom or $10 for a dorm. Not sure if the breakfast was included as we had to leave very early in the morning to hike the Cotopaxi volcano on our own.

We liked that fact it was lively and that most people were getting prepared for the different hikes in the area. A great thing if you are looking for travel buddies.

Hotel Endemo: We had been recommended the Hotel Endemo in Latacunga, but it was a bit above our daily budget. If you are travelling with your family or are not travelling on shoestring, it is the perfect place. It offers ensuite rooms with king-size beds and an excellent location.

The Secret Garden

We didn’t have the chance to stay at the Secret Garden so we asked our friends from Something Of Freedom to share their experience.

The Secret Garden Cotopaxi is unquestionably one of the best-located accommodations in Ecuador. Situated in the Ecuadorian countryside, the property offers spectacular views of Cotopaxi volcano – the highest active volcano in the world!

All meals are included in the cost of a stay at the property, as well as a free hike to a waterfall and a trek to the summit of the extinct Pasochoa volcano. On top of this, for an extra cost you have the option of hiking Cotopaxi itself, taking a tour of Cotopaxi national park or horseriding.

There are a variety of great accommodation options at the propertyfrom homely hobbit holes, to private cabanas to dorm rooms. It doesn’t get much better than waking up to see the towering Cotopaxi volcano from your window! Some room types even come with a fireplace to help keep you warm due to the altitude.

For as little as $95 per person, you can enjoy 3 days and 2 nights at the Secret Garden Cotopaxi. You certainly won’t forget your stay in a hurry!

You can check the packages on the Secret Garden’s website. If you are first heading to Quito, make sure to also stay at their hostel in the capital city. Here is a link to check availability and prices.

What to pack to hike Cotopaxi volcano

You don’t need much for this day-trip to the Cotopaxi volcano. Just make sure to bring a few layers for any and all types of weather. At this altitude, weather changes very fast and it can really be chilly even with a strong sun shining down.

We would recommend wearing a good pair of shoes (him/her) because the hike to the refuge is on gravel and loose rocks. You will need to correctly protect your ankles.

Another important piece of gear that not many travellers carry are hiking poles. We can assure you these are absolutely necessary when you plan on trekking or hiking in high altitude. We see 3 main reasons: it helps with balance, it saves your knees from pain and injury (in the long term) and reduces your effort. When hiking at high altitude, having hiking poles is a must to spend less energy and finding a good rhythm.

Bring enough water. At altitude, your body works twice as much with less oxygen. Headaches are often due to dehydration. 2 litres per person would be a minimum. Here is a good water bladder for any type of exercise and bags.


Cotopaxi europe


Written by American News