With sweeping plains, rocky mountain trails, and glassy lagoons, Ecuador’s largest and most-visited national park is a spectacular setting for an outdoor adventure. Located along the Pacific Ring of Fire, Cotopaxi National Park is most famous for the much-photographed Cotopaxi volcano, the highest active volcano in South America.
Located an hour from Ecuador’s capital city of Quito, Cotopaxi National Park makes for an ideal day trip for those looking to take advantage of the region’s exceptional hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. A full-day tour typical includes a drive along the scenic Route of the Volcanoes, views of Cotopaxi Volcano and Limpiopungo Lake, and a choice of short hikes or downhill biking. An overnight Cotopaxi National Park tour affords more time for exploring or allows you to extend your trip to include the nearby Quilotoa Lagoon.
Things to Know Before You Go
There is an entrance fee to enter the national park.
The park is located at high altitude; if you’ve just arrived in Quito, it’s wise to spend a couple of days acclimatizing before hiking or biking.
Although there are plenty of walking trails in the national park, climbing the Cotopaxi Volcano is only suitable for experienced hikers.
There are several car parks in the national park, but access to many of the trails is by 4WD only.
The park has limited visitor facilities, so be sure to bring everything you need, including comfortable shoes, sun or rain protection, and plenty of water.
How to Get There
The Cotopaxi National Park is located 31 miles (53 kilometers) southeast of Quito, about an hour’s drivel. There are no public transport options for reaching the park; the easiest way to get there is to join a guided tour or arrange a private tour from Quito.
When to Get There
You can Cotopaxi year round; in fact, there is little variation in temperatures throughout the year. The most popular time for hiking and outdoor activities is during the dry months (July to September).
Climbing the Cotopaxi Volcano
Scaling the 19,000-foot (5,900-meter) high Cotopaxi Volcano is a bucket-list activity among hiking enthusiasts. With high altitude and technical sections that require crampons and ice axes, it’s a challenge suitable only for experienced hikers or climbers, and it’s recommended you hire a reputable guide. Most hikes (which last about five hours) set out late at night or early in the morning in order to summit in time to catch the sunrise.