The Cotopaxi Volcano, one of South America’s most famous peaks and Ecuador’s most active volcano, is perhaps the most recognizable landmark along Ecuador’s Avenue of the Volcanoes. On a clear day, you can see the snow-capped cone all the way from Quito, but a closer exploration requires a trip to Cotopaxi National Park.
Cotopaxi, part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, summits at 19,347 feet (5,897 meters), making it one of the world’s highest active volcanoes and one of the most popular climbing sites in South America.
While summiting the peak is a major draw, it’s also possible to enjoy the park and its volcano views on a less strenuous day trip from Quito. These tours might include a visit to the Cotopaxi Glacier, a short hike through Limpiopungo Valley, or even the chance to cycle down the volcano on a mountain bike.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Cotopaxi Volcano is a must-visit for adventure travelers, outdoors enthusiasts, and photographers.
- Dress in layers, as the temperature can vary widely within the national park.
- Wear comfortable shoes suitable for walking over uneven surfaces.
- Be sure to bring sun protection, water, and snacks; there are no shops or other major services within the park.
How to Get There
No public buses run to the entrance of Cotopaxi National Park, so the best way to get there is to drive or join a guided tour. Some buses do drop passengers off along the highway about a 30-minute drive from the national park parking area.
When to Get There
The best time to visit the volcano is during the dry season, from mid-July to early October. The peak looks its best in the light of the early morning or late evening, so consider staying overnight in the area.
Alexander von Humboldt was the first European to attempt to climb Cotopaxi in 1802, though he didn’t make it all the way to the top. Today, climbers come from around the world to reach the summit. The hike is only appropriate for serious hikers with experience trekking at high altitudes. If you’re planning to climb, spend a few days in Quito acclimatizing to the altitude first and consider enlisting the help of a climbing guide.