For any of you traveling through Quito while in Ecuador, you can’t miss visiting the magnificent active Volcano Cotopaxi, towering at 5,897 meters a.s.l (19,000 feet). Lucky for you, Cotopaxi day trips are easy to organize from Quito or Baños, whether you only intend to visit the park, hike up to the glacier or perhaps dare to reach the summit.
What should I pack before climbing Cotopaxi?
First off, let’s clarify what we mean by “climbing Cotopaxi”. Depending on your physical condition and susceptibility to altitude sickness, there are a number of ways you can experience this picturesque volcano on Cotopaxi day trips or multi-day adventure.
Hike to Refuge José Rivas
This is an activity for everyone, but does involve hiking uphill for 300 meters at a very high altitude. After entering Cotopaxi National Park, you can hitchhike up to the parking lot or, if you’re coming from Machachi, you can hire a truck the entire way.
From Quito to Cotopaxi it’ll take about an hour and you’ll notice the change in altitude as you rise from 2900 meters to 4500 meters. The last 300 meters to the refuge are done on foot, and it’s normal to feel light-headed and nauseous. Remember to take it slow – it might be the hardest 300 meters you’ve ever climbed, despite your good shape.
If you’re traveling with children, be especially cautious since they might get excited and push harder than they should. I’ve literally seen a boy fall over unconscious after running too much!
If you’re only planning to do the hike to the refuge, you’ll need appropriate layers to protect yourself from the cold, rain, possibly snow and hail. Wear a pair of good hiking shoes and take water, as well as something sweet to snack on in case your blood sugar drops because of the altitude. Finally, if you’re lucky, you might organize your Cotopaxi day trip on a sunny day, in which case make sure to take sun protection: sunscreen, hat and sunglasses.
Hike to the summit
If you’re a more avid mountain climber with good stamina and enough time to acclimatize to the altitude, summiting this mighty volcano is within reach!
It’s usually advisable to summit some of the lower peaks before attempting Cotopaxi, like Fuya Fuya, Rucu Pichincha, Imbabura or Rumiñahui, but it all depends on the time you have available in Ecuador and your physical state.
Although technically an overnight trip, summiting the volcano is an incredible Cotopaxi day trip plan that you won’t regret, even if you don’t reach the summit. In Quito, Baños and online, you’ll find numerous tour agencies offering this service. For your own safety, you’re required to hire a guide to reach the summit, though you can also hire a guide independently.
In most cases, you’re required to take a morning-long glacier climbing instructional course to learn the basics about ice-pick, crampons and emergency situations. This short course is often included through tour agencies, as are the materials needed to summit, including crampons, ice picks, helmets and ropes/carabiners, to name a few.
As for your own gear, make sure to pack warm layers, a waterproof shell, sunglasses, hat, gloves, water, snacks and, of course, your camera.
You’ll start hiking at around midnight from the refuge, where you would have slept. It takes about 6-7 hours to summit, and if you and your guide and group maintain a good pace, you’ll be at the summit by sunrise. The descent takes about 2-3 hours.
Backpacking at Cotopaxi
Cotopaxi day trips tend to be more common than multi-day treks through the park, however these do exist. Though not comprehensive, here’s a useful map of Cotopaxi which provides more context.
The Ruta del Condor or Condor Trek:
The Condor Trek is a 4-7 day trek starting in el Tambo, near the town of Papallacta, and crossing through Antisana and Cotopaxi National Park to end beside Sincholahua, another Ecuadorian peak.
Technically, you’re required to go with a local guide, but if you get your hands on a good map, you’ll be able to find your way. Expect the trail to be quite muddy during the first two days, you’ll probably need rubber boots, as well as warm layers, waterproof and wind shells, enough food to last the entire trek, a water filter, a small stove, tent, and sleep gear. You’ll see some incredible views of Volcano Antisana and Cotopaxi if the weather clears, so don’t forget your phone or camera!
If you prefer not to go it on your own, you’ll find a few tour agencies online that will organize and take you on the trek.
Cotopaxi Loop/Vuelta al Cotopaxi:
Every year, the two-day Vuelta de Cotopaxi mountain bike race, takes place in Cotopaxi National Park. It circles the volcano along a designated route, taking you through some of the most picturesque areas. Though not officially recognized as a trek, you can follow the route and, with the appropriate gear, you shouldn’t have a problem doing this in 3-4 days.
How to arrive to Cotopaxi from Quito?
Cotopaxi National Park is located about an hour to an hour and thirty minutes from Quito and can be reached in a number of ways.
If you’re just planning to simply visit Cotopaxi as a day trip and then return to Quito, head to Quito’s southernmost bus terminal called Quitumbe. From here, jump on a bus to Latacunga and tell the bus driver to drop you off at the entrada al Parque Cotopaxi. The trip should only cost about $1 per person. To head back, jump on a bus heading toward Quito and you’ll likely end up back at Quitumbe.
If you’re want to stop through Cotopaxi as you head to Baños, consider purchasing the Wanderbus Jacamar or Wander pass. The advantage to riding the Wanderbus is that it will pick you up from more convenient locations in Quito and take you directly into national parks, saving you time and energy. Each bus comes with a bilingual guide that can provide useful tips and, best of all, if you decide to stay at Cotopaxi for more than the day, you can and simply hop onto the next Wanderbus that passes through to continue on your journey.
How to arrive to Cotopaxi from Baños?
A less common route is to travel from Baños to Cotopaxi. You won’t find a direct route, but from Baños you can jump on a bus to Latacunga and then get off to enter Cotopaxi National Park through the main entrance, through the town of Lasso. The entire journey will take about 3.5 hours, one way.
With so many things to do and see in Ecuador, it’s easy to run out of time during your trip. Cotopaxi day trips can be easily added to your itinerary without taking up too much of your valuable vacation time.
If you have any questions about planning a Cotopaxi day trip, we’d be happy to answer these in the comments section below.