Cotopaxi National Park: A Hike to the Volcano Glacier
It seems like Ecuador is all about volcanoes. We started with some easy hikes when we arrived in Otavalo. Crossing the border between Colombia and Ecuador was easy by the way. It took us half an hour to cross and a few hours later we were in our guesthouse in Otavalo. Now, the volcanoes around Otavalo were beautiful but nothing compared to what we were about to see next… the Cotopaxi volcano.
From Quito to Latacunga
You can visit the Cotopaxi volcano from either Quito or Latacunga and we opted for the last one because that it’s a shorter trip to the volcano and we could visit another Ecuatorian town. The trip for Quito to Latacunga doesn’t take long, around half an hour in a comfortable bus and we were lucky that our guesthouse was close to the bus station. Saved us an extra few bucks for a taxi. Latacunga itself is not very special—an average town in Ecuador. It’s calm and nice to walk around a few hours but it’s the volcanoes why people visit Latacunga.
There are two main attractions. There is Lake Quilotoa and the Cotopaxi volcano. We wanted to do both but two night is too short. You need a full day to visit each and if you want do the Quilotoa Loop, you need at least five night night. Because we already saw a beautiful crater lake in Otavalo, we decided to hike up the Cotopaxi Volcano—one of the most beautiful volcanoes we’ve seen here in South America.
Cotopaxi—king of volcanoes
The Cotopaxi volcano is not just any volcano. It’s majestic, impressive, colourful, intimidating and a whole lot more. Cotopaxi is Ecuador’s second tallest volcano. It’s a stratovolcano with a near perfect conical shape topped with a glacier. It can be seen from as far as Quito on a clear day and it’s basically a national symbol. It is located within thee Cotopaxi National Park and the views overlooking the valleys and slopes created by eruptions are phenomenal. Most people hike up to the glacier at around 5,000 meters but you can also climb all the way to the top. Either way, you must visit Cotopaxi when traveling in Ecuador.
How to visit Cotopaxi
From Latacunga, it’s easy to visit Cotopaxi. We left around 8am and hopped on a bus leaving from the Latacunga Terminal. Usually, it’s a bus going back to Quito. It dropped us off next to the highway where we took a jeep all the way up to the last car park. Now, the problem is that this is an expensive ($30) option and we’ve read that it’s possible to hitch hike to the car park. But we went on a week day and didn't see too many cars so we just paid the price. In the end, we didn’t mind so much because the lady that took us was really nice and even suggested to take us to a spot near the glacier where most people won’t go.
The ride takes around an hour but it’s already breath taking. When we left, it was really cloudy and we could’t even see the volcano but when we arrived at the other side of the volcano, the sky cleared up and we saw the white capped mountain appearing against the blue sky. It’s a very otherworldly sight seeing all those colors and that perfect shape.
The entire trip from the highway to the car park was beautiful and the higher we went up, the better and more impressive the views got. Not only Cotopaxi is the star here but you can see numerous other volcanoes in the surroundings. And then, we arrived at the car park. That’s where the hard work starts.
Hiking to the Cotopaxi refuge and glacier
The hike from the car park to the refuge and the glacier is not long. Around 45 minutes to the Cotopaxi refuge and another 45 to the glacier. What makes it difficult is the height and you really need to take measures to avoid altitude sickness. Drink a lot of water starting the day before and make sure you stay at an altitude around 3,000 meters before doing the hike. A few days Quito before going to Cotopaxi is perfect.
The trail to the refuge is very straight forward. There are just two possibilities: the zigzag trail or the steep straight trail. We took the zigzag which is "easier but it still took our breath away… literally. When we arrived at the refuge, we took a short break and then it was time to go to the glacier. As I said before, our guide took us to a different spot where we could see icicles and some different views. The colors and the views up there are spectacular. The red and white of Cotopaxi against the clear blue sky looks amazing.
Ecuador has not been my favourite country to photograph. It’s beautiful but it’s all about landscapes and I’m not a landscape photographer so I’ve felt a bit out of my comfort zone while we’re here. But Cotopaxi is so photogenic that it’s difficult not to make good photos. The colors and views are a threat for every landscape photographer so make sure you take your gear when hiking up to the glacier… or the top. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it and I’m sure you will too if you have the chance to visit…
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