Ecuador’s volcanic panorama presents a novel alternative for intrepid explorers who wish to break into high-altitude mountaineering.

About an hour south of Quito, the nation’s capital, lies Cotopaxi Nationwide Park, a wilderness of inexperienced rolling hills interrupted by the jagged peaks of volcanoes. On the middle of the park lies Cotopaxi, which interprets from the native Kitchwa language as “neck of the moon.”

Rising to 19,000 toes, Cotopaxi is without doubt one of the tallest lively volcanoes on the planet and the second-highest mountain in Ecuador. These volcanoes maintain a particular place within the tradition and historical past of Ecuador’s Indigenous peoples and proceed to fascinate native Ecuadorians and the explorers who journey from all around the world to climb them.

Cotopaxi; (picture/Andrew McLemore)

Whereas Cotopaxi poses a critical problem, particularly for hikers new to alpinism, the mountain’s hottest summit route avoids technical climbing. In consequence, reaching the highest requires solely snow gear, crampons, and an ice axe, all of that are equipped by the park’s necessary guides. It additionally helps to have a constructive angle within the face of freezing temperatures and brutal winds.

Few folks die on Cotopaxi — solely about one individual yearly — however the mountain nonetheless has harmful climate and a hike with over 3,000 toes of elevation acquire. Mortal hazard is unlikely, however reaching the highest remains to be an accomplishment.

Extra importantly, dawn from the slopes of Cotopaxi gives an unforgettable reminiscence, illuminating a panorama that you just’ll keep in mind lengthy after the blood has returned to your fingers.

In the event you’re on the lookout for a brand new journey, right here’s what it’s worthwhile to know to maximise your possibilities of summiting this stunning and mysterious mountain.

When to Go to Cotopaxi

The common season for summiting Cotopaxi, and plenty of different volcanoes in Ecuador, runs from June to July or December to January. The center of the 12 months often entails exceptionally excessive winds blowing nonstop for days, whereas the tip of the 12 months usually gives the very best circumstances, with much less wind and rain.

That stated, I spoke with a number of skilled native climbers who summited Cotopaxi at varied instances of the 12 months. One such climber, a younger Ecuadorian girl who has climbed a lot of Ecuador’s volcanoes, stated she climbed Cotopaxi in March. She waited for a full moon and loved a comparatively straightforward hike. (It’s at all times a good suggestion to take heed to the recommendation of locals.)


To Quito

Flying to South America is comparatively cheap, a minimum of in comparison with locations in Europe or Asia. That’s very true for these dwelling in New York or Miami, which have giant populations of Ecuadorians and cheaper ticket costs because of this.

A flight to Quito from both of these cities can price as little as $100-150. Including a flight to these cities from anyplace else within the U.S. will possible price $150-200, so an inexpensive worth vary for flying to Quito is $100-400, relying in your location.

To Cotopaxi Nationwide Park

Whereas Cotopaxi Nationwide Park is simply an hour’s drive south of Quito, it’s 2 hours away from the capital’s airport. (That’s possible as a result of Quito’s inhabitants of two million lives amid a steep mountain vary at 9,350 toes, with no space for a good runway.)

Paying a taxi for a 2-hour journey direct from the airport to your lodging will possible price round $50-60. It’s cheaper to ebook lodging first, after which ask the hostel or resort for assist with transportation. For instance, in the event you’re staying at Secret Backyard Cotopaxi, it’s comparatively straightforward to get a shuttle to their Quito hostel after which one other to their hostel within the park. It prices $10 for every journey.

As for attending to the mountain itself, the guiding companies will take you there out of your lodging.

cotopaxi in car
A brief hike away from the refugio (shelter); (picture/Andrew McLemore)


Tourism is significant to Ecuador’s financial system, contributing greater than 5% to its GDP. Most of that comes from the ecotourism of the nation’s awe-inspiring mountains, rainforests, and the ever-popular Galapagos Islands.

Given the proximity of Cotopaxi Nationwide Park to Quito, it’s not stunning that vacationers have many choices for hostels catering to the hike-and-bike crowd. The largest city close to the park is Matachi, the place vacationers can discover lodging and guiding companies for Cotopaxi and different close by volcanoes. Motivated vacationers can discover many different hostels in additional secluded areas close by.

Listed below are just a few beneficial choices:

Secret Backyard Cotopaxi

For my Cotopaxi journey, I stayed in Secret Garden Cotopaxi, an uber-popular hostel that lives as much as the hype. The hostel’s package deal deal begins at $95 for 3 days and a couple of nights, drawing younger folks from all around the U.S. and Europe. It helps that Secret Backyard additionally manages a hostel in Quito that’s standard with the social gathering crowd.

The hostel’s charges begin at $40 an evening for a dorm mattress, however keep in mind that worth consists of all of your meals (and the pleasant employees right here made among the greatest meals I’ve eaten after dwelling in Ecuador — no joke). It’s price noting that Secret Backyard doesn’t provide Wi-Fi and is a bit farther away from Cotopaxi than different choices.

John Flynn enjoys the view from Secret Backyard Cotopaxi; (picture/Andrew McLemore)

Hostal Rondador Cotopaxi

In the event you’re on the lookout for an inexpensive possibility near Cotopaxi, Hostal Rondador Cotopaxi is tough to beat. Costs begin at $30 an evening, which incorporates three meals a day, and the employees may also help you ebook your information for Cotopaxi.

Named for the rondador, a pan flute thought-about the nationwide instrument of Ecuador, the hostel additionally gives a small museum full of Andean musical devices and explanations of their cultural significance. Its homey wood constructing and manicured out of doors areas make it a beautiful and stress-free place to remain between adventures.


Because the hostel inside Cotopaxi Nationwide Park close to the bottom of the particular volcano, Tambopaxi gives benefits when it comes to proximity and killer views. Nonetheless, it’s additionally costlier than different choices. A mattress within the hostel begins at $84 an evening, and personal rooms will price a minimum of $100.

Additionally, these costs don’t embody meals bought individually on the restaurant on website. Nonetheless, it’s an important possibility if you’d like one thing a bit extra luxurious — and would favor a shorter automotive journey to the bottom of Cotopaxi.


Whereas vacationers can discover just a few eating places in Machachi and proper outdoors the park, it’s simpler to ebook lodging with in-house cooks than to forage for each meal. Fortunately, many of the hostels close to Cotopaxi present all of the sustenance you want, particularly breakfast.

Many hostel cooks may even be snug cooking vegetarian or vegan choices, given the worldwide vacationers who frequent these locations.


Whereas Cotopaxi stays a giant attraction, this sprawling nationwide park gives an abundance of hikes up its neighboring volcanoes, together with Rumiñahui, Pasochoa, and Morurco.

They’re nice alternatives to acclimate your self earlier than making an attempt the Cotopaxi summit hike. That’s very true for Rumiñahui, which tops out at 15,488 toes and requires mountaineering practically 3,000 toes of elevation acquire to succeed in the central summit.

Our information, Johnny, leads the best way up Ruminahui; (picture/Andrew McLemore)

Ecuador solely has about 110 Andean condors (in keeping with my information), but it surely’s not unusual to see them hovering on the chilly updrafts surrounding these volcanoes. I noticed one throughout my Rumiñahui hike. Even from 200 toes away, my coronary heart stopped watching this light large glide effortlessly by way of the clouds — a visit spotlight rivaling Cotopaxi itself.

You can too discover river hikes with pristine waterfalls and swimming holes, azure lagoons fed by alpine creeks, and bike rides that take you straight to Cotopaxi’s glacier.

Cotopaxi Guides

Like several huge mountain, the best way you select to climb Cotopaxi depends upon your expertise and your consolation with threat.

The park requires a information to try the summit, and when you’ve seen the crevasses and sudden dropoffs that dominate Cotopaxi’s icy higher reaches, you’ll perceive why. The costs for guides are usually constant, making a selection much less of a monetary one.

Gearing up at Lonely Summits; (picture/David Buchar)

You also needs to take into account the tradeoff of going solo or with a gaggle. Becoming a member of different climbers will end in a cheaper price, however with just one information, the entire group should flip again if a single individual loses their capability to proceed.

Going solo with a single information usually ranges from $300 to $400. A younger Israeli at my hostel stated he shopped round for guides in Quito and located one for $260. However as soon as once more, the margin isn’t that extensive. Even with a gaggle, you’ll possible pay round $250-300.

Nonetheless, these companies additionally give you all of the gear you want for the hike, together with snow pants, jackets, gaiters, boots, crampons, ice axes, helmets, and even sun shades. All it’s worthwhile to convey is socks, underwear, and a water bottle.

You’ll even be given meals and sizzling drinks on the refugio (shelter), which as soon as once more stunned me with its scrumptious and filling meals. (The post-hike pancakes at 7 a.m. went down like ambrosia.)

As for particular guiding companies, I can solely vouch for the one I used: Lonely Summits, the popular company of Secret Backyard Cotopaxi. I can’t communicate extremely sufficient in regards to the two guides on my hike, Segundo and Lucy. They have been skilled, educated, and caring. I can’t think about higher guides than these two folks, who embodied the endurance and honesty that outlined the Ecuadorian folks throughout my go to.

Climbing Cotopaxi

As for the hike itself, the expertise will depend upon the season and climate. My group included two guides, a cheerful 30-year-old man from Switzerland, and myself.

For us — we have been mountaineering on the finish of Might in circumstances barely wetter and colder than traditional — safely climbing meant beginning at midnight to make the most of the compact snow and avoiding the snowmelt of the morning solar.

We trekked by way of sub-zero temperatures, howling winds, and pitch-black darkness — the one mild coming from the distant shimmer of Quito. It took 4 hours to succeed in the summit, a comparatively quick time from what I realized later. Nevertheless it didn’t really feel straightforward to me.

The ultimate 1,000 toes of intensely steep mountaineering up an uncovered snow slope left me with self-doubt. Maybe that’s inevitable when the physique enters the panic state of diminished oxygen.

Mountain climbing down Cotopaxi; (picture/Andrew McLemore)

Though it took 4 hours to succeed in the summit, the place we spent lower than 5 minutes, it felt dangerously chilly and windy in these closing moments earlier than dawn. As we descended the mountain and the monochromatic panorama instantly glowed with gold and inexperienced, my mind shook away discomfort and returned to pure pleasure.

I felt gratitude for the people who helped get me right here — and for the mountain that Ecuadorians view with profound reverence. I felt respect and the standard perspective that solely nature can present.

Having fun with Cotopaxi within the solar; (picture/David Buchar)


I discovered many views in Ecuador’s mountains.

Viewing the world from excessive up linked me to nature and jogged my memory of the cultures and peoples which have worshipped these volcanoes for hundreds of years.

Cotopaxi, for instance, is a person. I realized the mountain’s gender from my information Lucy, who defined that each one the mountains in Ecuador with chuquiraga — the flower of the Andes —are male. In consequence, solely two mountains within the nation have been thought-about feminine by the Kitchwa peoples which have lived amongst them for therefore lengthy.

I realized lots about Ecuador throughout my time in Cotopaxi Nationwide Park: from my guides, fellow vacationers, and the huge, unusual panorama — one small glimpse of the 5,500 miles of the Andes. For these new to South America, the Andes provide limitless beginning factors for exploring these mountains.

At Cotopaxi, you can find easy accessibility, cultural wealth, and an inexpensive price ticket for top journey.

It’s a visit price taking.

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