Ecuador // Hiking the majestic Cotopaxi volcano

One of my best experiences while I was living in Ecuador was the hike we did on the 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.

Cotopaxi volcano // EcuadorCotopaxi volcano // Ecuador

Some 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 with the chickens 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!

Cotopaxi // Ecuador Cotopaxi // EcuadorCotopaxi volcano // Ecuador

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 prove 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 apparently does the trick ;)

Cotopaxi volcano // Ecuador Cotopaxi volcano // Ecuador Cotopaxi volcano // Ecuador

There was a thick fog hugging the volcano so our vision was limited to a few meters. I was a bit bummed because I really 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 going higher and so did our spirits as the refugio popped up from the mist. 

Cotopaxi volcano // EcuadorCotopaxi volcano // EcuadorCotopaxi volcano // Ecuador

We made a small 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 very excited to see the fog fade away!

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

Cotopaxi volcano // EcuadorCotopaxi volcano // EcuadorCotopaxi volcano // EcuadorCotopaxi volcano // Ecuador

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 on our pink cheeks… in short: we had a blast!

Cotopaxi mountainbiking // EcuadorLaguna De Limpiopungo // EcuadorCotapaxi volcano // EcuadorWe rode all the way down to Laguna De Limpiopungo, where we had an excellent 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!

I can really recommend this day trip to anyone who is 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 the elevation
  • Layer up, temperatures can vary greatly
  • Climbs can be done all year long, but in December and January are 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!