Ecuador (Republic of Ecuador)

Languages: Spanish

Currencies: USD · United States dollar ($)

Capitol: Quito

Continents: South America

Borders: Peru, Colombia

More useful information

Area: 276,841km2

Population: 17,643,060

Traffic/driving side: right

Landlocked country: No

Independent country: Yes

United Nations member: Yes

IDD Prefix: +593

Timezones: UTC-06:00, UTC-05:00

Last updated on November 26, 2023

Can you visit Cotopaxi?

Cotopaxi – the neck of the moon – highly active, the highest volcano in Ecuador and one of the highest in the world – remains closed in 2023 for mountain climbers. Due to high level of emissions release at the end of 2022, hiking Cotopaxi in 2023 is still impossible. It is assumed it will be closed for visitors for two years for safety reasons. 

Climbing Cotopaxi 5 897m - the second highest mountain in Ecuador.

It’s not a secret – Cotopaxi was one of the very accessible 6000 metres mountain in Ecuador, which remains relatively cheap to climb. Cotopaxi is a perfect destination for practising high altitude mountaineering. The climb can be achieved in few days at very low cost comparing to other 6 000 metres peaks. 

Some fascinating facts about Cotopaxi Volcano!

  • Cotopaxi Volcano (5897 m) is the highest active volcano in Ecuador and second tallest volcanic peak of the Ecuadorian Andes.
  • The closest town to Cotopaxi Volcano is Lasso. The biggest danger for Lasso is not Cotopaxi lava eruption but flooding (volcano lava would be responsible for melting the glacier and flooding the town).
  • The evacuation time for Lasso in case of volcano alert is 10 minutes for Latacunga 40 minutes.
  • There are around 75 volcanoes in Ecuador and 20 of them are active but Cotopaxi is the most dangerous/active.
  • Last big eruption took place in 1978 but strong ash activity was registered in January 2016 and at the end of 2022.
Climbing Cotopaxi Volcano in Ecuador - the neck of the moon.

Is it difficult to climb Cotopaxi?

Cotopaxi is a none technical climb but it involves glacier climbing. Before approaching Cotopaxi check what’s the activity flag for the volcano peak. There are 4 flags: white, yellow, orange and red. 

Cotopaxi is located only 50 km from Quito – the capital city. Entrance to Cotopaxi National Park is free of charge. The trail up to the Base Camp at 5000m is quite visible. Hiring a professional guide is recommended if you are approaching Cotopaxi summit. Climbing experience and equipment is absolutely crucial for summiting, therefore it’s better to have an experienced person by your side. Besides the climb is not that straighforward and the weather is changable. Although we didn’t climb the peak, our guide was really supportive and I can’t imagine hiking this trail without any guidance.

Climbing Cotopaxi with a guide.

There are plenty of Cotopaxi Tours from 2-5 days, ranging from $290-$600. There are also different routes leading to the top of Cotopaxi. At that stage we were only prepared for Base Camp hike (up to 5000m).

Here are 10 Best Cotopaxi Province Tours & Excursions.

I booked 1-day Cotopaxi National Park Tour which included:

  • Guide with a 4WD car (driving from Quito to Cotopaxi starting point),
  • Visiting flea market,
  • Hiking Cotopaxi Volcano up to the glacier (above Base Camp),
  • Dinner,
  • Visiting Limpiopungo Lagoon (Laguna de Limpios) – INCREDIBLE!
  • Fascinating stories, which you won’t find on internet – interacting with local communities is the best part of any trip! 

Whatever tour you’ll book, make sure the guide drives 4WD car! It is impossible to get there with a regular car. You will drive up to the highest available point and leave your car at the car parking. From this point you would need to walk app. 45 minutes to reach the Refugio Camp (4900 m) – this is the last base before the summit.

We had very little time for acclimatization, so it was difficult to cope with the altitude. Refugio Camp is lovely with all the walls covered with international flags. If you are climbing Cotopaxi peak this will be your overnight stopover. Usually the ascent takes two days. You wake up at midnight or 1am to reach Cotopaxi peak for 6-7 am the next day (it takes 7 hours to climb from Refugio Camp up to the crater). We hiked Cotopaxi in October and there was snow at the level of the base camp. It was extremely foggy during the hike and visibility was close to zero.

Once you reach Refugio Camp, you will have a short break for tea and a snack before hiking additional 100 metres up to the glacier. This 100 metres will take another 45 minutes. Hot coca-tea and chocolate are available in the camp to warm you up. We also got coca leaves from the guide, which help coping with high altitude symptoms.

Where to stay in Quito?

There are plenty of hostels in Quito to choose from, starting from $5/per night per room. Choose a place with view on Cotopaxi, a decent hostel is around $25/per night per room. 

Altitude sickness - how to prepare for climbing Cotopaxi?

High altitudes climbing is all about proper acclimatization! If you have little experience or no time to acclimatize you will struggle but you’ll reach Refugio Camp. usually Cotopaxi ascent takes 2 days but I would give myslef 2-4 days.

Ror a proper acclimatization I would advice staying for 2-3 days at the altitude above 3000 metres. Be prepared you might feel weak or even sick on the way to Cotopaxi. The heart is pounding, breath is shallow. Most important – take it easy and take small breaks every few steps. Take plenty of water, you might not be thirsty in cold weather, but you need to hydrate regularly. You should drink 2-3 litres of water to speed up blood circulation. Some people carry coca tea in thermoses. Coca tea and hot chocolate are available in Refugio Camp, hot and sweet will serve you good.

Dark chocolate and dry coca leaves are also good to have. Check the instruction below to know more about the use of coca tea in traditional medicine in Latin America.

The coca leaf tea is 100% natural, it has no side effect, does not contain any narcotics!

Best time to climb Cotopaxi Volcano?

There is no best time to climb Cotopaxi volcano. It depends on what you expect to experience from this adventure. Best visibility is during summer – clear air and volcano view. But winds in summer are strong and tend to be freezing, so you would need proper clothing. October and November are best months for climbing as there are no winds but it might get very cloudy and freezing as well. 

Cotopaxi National Park.

Mountain views from the trail are magnificent. Sometimes you’ll even spot wild horses. If you are lucky with air visibility you’ll be able to spot Cotopaxi peak above the clouds level. It makes you realize how enormous the mountain is.

Cotopaxi lava is not the same as in Galapagos volcanic islands. Lava in Galapagos is very liquid. In the mainland lava is very dense and lava rocks are much heavier than average stones. For this reason the volcano ash is commonly and effectively used for road-building.

Climbing Cotopaxi summit.

One guide is adviced for 2 people. You need two guides for a group of 3. You start climbing around 12 p.m (midnight), it takes around 6-7 hours to climb the summit from Refugio Camp. You should reach the summit for 6-7 a.m. The way to the top is not very difficult, it does not require any technical climbing but involves glacier climbing. Technical equipment is required – crampons and ice-axe. Remember it is still very challenging expedition in severe winter conditions. It can be freezing at the summit, our guide told us you can stay up to 10 minutes. Climbing down takes approx. 3 hours.

climbing the Cotopaxi
Sassari Sardinia

Hey - I'm Eva!

Hiker, adventurous traveler and the author of this blog. My biggest joy is mountaineering and writing reportage travel stories here on this blog, to help you create a unique travel experience. Traveling is freedom, allows you seeing the world truly, meet communities, grow. Taste it!

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