Ecuador // Day trip to the Cotopaxi Volcano National Park

Andes Mountains

One of my best experiences while I was living in Ecuador was hiking the massive Cotopaxi Volcano. It’s an active volcano located in the Andes Mountains, just 50 km (31 mi) south of the capital, Quito. And… there’s a glacier on top! Fire and ice so close together, how cool (or hot?) is that! 

The volcano reaches a height of 5,897 m (19,347 ft), making it one of the highest active volcanoes in the world! The glacier -one of the very few equatorial ones- starts at 5,000 m (16,400 ft), which was the end goal of our expedition.

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Cotopaxi National Park

A couple of fellow students and I had booked a tour where we would climb up part of the volcano, and descent again by mountain bike. We got up at the crack of dawn and hopped on a little bus that took us across the lunar landscape surrounding the Cotopaxi.

Lakes, lava beds, wild horses and moorland sceneries kept me and my camera trigger happy!

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We drove up part of the volcano and started our hike at about 4,000 m. I know it’s cheating a bit, but we only had one day to hike and bike :) ! So we started the first part of our hike up to the refugio, a small hostel tucked into the side of the volcano at 4,800 m. Even though it’s not a very long stretch, hiking at this height can be strenuous.

We were a bit light-headed and short of breath, but luckily didn’t suffer from altitude sickness. Living a couple of weeks in Quito (at nearly 3,000 m / 10,000 ft) and drinking plenty of water seems to do the trick :)

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There was a thick fog hugging the volcano so our vision was limited to a few meters. I was a bit bummed because I had been looking forward to seeing the panoramas from the top.

Gusty winds kept pushing us in all directions and added to the freezing temperatures. But we kept on climbing higher and our spirits lifted big time as the refugio popped up from the mist. 

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We made a quick stop inside, mostly to regain feeling in our toes and fingers, and continued towards the glacier. The earth turned vibrant red as we approached the top and I was soooo excited to see the fog fade away!

Cotopaxi Glacier

By the time we reached the massive glacier a few breathtaking landscapes were peeping from below the clouds, I was so stoked!!! The views from this point (5,000 m / 16,400 ft!) are fantastic, so have your camera prepared for some amazing vistas if you ever make it here!

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Mountain Biking

We said goodbye to the glacier and made our way back to the bus to fetch our mountain bikes. The rest of the trip was a bumpy downhill bike ride with only one brake working… making it extra exciting ;-) !

We whizzed down off-road tracks with the wind blazing across our pink cheeks… in short: we had a blast!

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We rode all the way down to Laguna De Limpiopungo, where we had a panoramic view on the Cotopaxi volcano and the distance we had covered by bike! From here we got back on the bus towards Quito. What a day!

Ecuador Cotopaxi Volcano

I can highly recommend this day trip to anyone visiting Ecuador! A few tips to help you along:

  • Bring plenty of water and energy snacks
  • If possible, spend a few days in Quito before this climb to get used to the altitude
  • Layer up, temperatures can vary greatly
  • Climbs can be done all year long, but in December and January they’re a lot less windy
  • Check your brakes before starting your downhill mountain bike adventure ;-)

For more information about Ecuador’s capital, Quito, check out this post about the best things to do around the city!