Visiting Cotopaxi Volcano National Park

Cotopaxi Volcano is less than two hours from Quito and well worth a visit. When we entered the park we were greeted by a park ranger who explained to us that our little Chevy Spark (who we affectionately named Sparky)  would make it to the lake but would not make it further. We had read several reviews online with mixed reports. Some people said they made it in very small cars like ours and other people said you need a 4-wheel drive to get up the volcano. 

We were offered a local guide who would drive us up to the refugio in his truck for $60. That price included our park entrance fee which on its own is $10 (we think per car not per person). We decided not to risk it and took the guide. From the entrance, he began driving us up the windy road to the lake and then on to the parking lot for the refugio. 

The lake is home to several species of birds which you will likely see. You can also get great views of Cotopaxi and the surrounding volcanos if it is a clear day.

From the lake the road continues up the volcano until you get to 14,750 ft elevation where the parking lot is for the refugio.  The hike up to the Refugio is about 1km and takes you up to 15,953 ft elevation. The summit of the volcano is at 19,347 ft elevation. We read in several blogs before we left, that from the refugio you can walk to the start of the glacier. They day we hiked our guide told us we couldn’t hike up any further than the refugio. We think this was due to the snow cover as it was pretty snowy at the refugio. We were there in November which is a month that typically has more snow cover.

For the hike up to the refugio you have two options- a switchback path or a straight-up path. We chose the switchbacks which seemed to be what everyone was doing. Our guide said we should expect 45 min to an hour to complete the hike. We are pretty active and we made it up in 30 min with multiple rest breaks to catch our breath and take in the views. 

Once you are at the refugio you can order hot chocolate, soup, and sandwhiches. It was the best hot chocolate we have ever had! There are flags hung on the walls of each country that has had hikers make it to the summit. Each flag is signed by everyone who made it to the top. 

We got very lucky during our visit and got to see a fox up close, walking along the parking lot. As we drove back down the volcano we saw several wild horses grazing along the road.

After our morning hike we stayed nearby at Cuscungo hosel and lodge The hostel had a great view of Cotopaxi once the clouds cleared. We had a great room with beautiful views and an upper balcony/deck area with a hammock. They had a great fireplace that was lite all evening. They set out warm water for tea before dinner. Dinner included soup, a main course and dessert. Breakfast was also served. Breakfast was included and dinner cost an extra fee but was well worth it.

We were very happy we stayed here. The whole experience was great. Staying near Cotopaxi also gave us more time/a better chance of seeing the entire volcano. The weather here is super unpredictable. While we had a view of the glacier during our hike we never saw the entire volcano until much later in the day while relaxing at the hostel.

We hope you enjoy your trip if you do visit this amazing place! Tell us what you love about Cotopaxi and about Ecuador. Leave us a comment below.

For more on our trip through Ecuador:

Hiking Quilotoa: around the lake in one day

The edge of the Amazon: visiting Banos

Best street food in Quito

A weekend in Quito

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