Pets allowed
Not Allowed
Elevation Gain
1,641.00 ft (500.18 m)
Trail type
There-and-back
Distance
5.00 mi (8.05 km)
Please respect the outdoors by practicing Leave No Trace. Learn more about how to apply the principles of Leave No Trace on your next outdoor adventure here.

Cotopaxi is one of the world's most iconic peaks. It's right up there with Everest and Annapurna in terms of buzzworthiness and fame. So, when one finds oneself in Ecuador, a trip to check out this massive volcano and her surrounding national park is a no-brainer!

Getting to Cotopaxi National Park can be done solo or with a guide. If you're staying in Quito, there are many guide services that will arrange the entire day for you (and maybe even some downhill mountain biking within the park) for between $50 and $60 USD. This includes pick-up at a central location, breakfast, lunch, national park fees, a knowledgeable guide, and all transportation. Tours are generally 7 a.m. until 4 or 5 p.m.

If you're feeling adventurous and want to attempt the hike alone, you can catch a bus from Quito to Latacunga (using the Quitumbre Terminal) and try to get the bus driver to drop you off at the entrance of the national park. From here (or from the bus terminal in Latacunga if he won't stop), get a taxi and tell them that you want to go to the parking lot at the base of Cotopaxi. At 14,763 feet above sea level, even the parking lot is high-altitude! Make sure you have acclimatized at least two or three days in Quito or higher before attempting the trek up.

From the parking lot, the way up is easily spotted. To your left is a longer but more gently graded trail of switchbacks, and to your right is a steeper, more direct route that's carved into the volacno's curves and out of the high winds. Pick your poison. It's roughly 300 meters (1,000 feet) from the parking lot to the refuge and another 100 meters or so from the refuge to the base of the glacier. "Lento pero seguro," guides will say. Slowly but surely. No one is sprinting at this intense elevation.

The refuge is large and a great place to stop for lunch and try to meet other travelers on a quest to summit Cotopaxi. Be prepared for wind, fog, and cold temperatures, as this alpine environment is much higher and rougher than neighboring Quito. The rust-colored earth on the way up to the glacier is breathtakingly surreal, and it's amazing how even the 15,000-foot peaks surrounding Cotopaxi look tiny by comparison.

When you're ready, turn around and hike down the steeper, more direct route to stay out of the wind. The sandy slopes will be a welcome respite for your knees. On your way out of the park, be sure to keep an eye out for wild horses and foxes - a common sight here at the park! Find your guide or taxi and daydream about your volcanic adventure on the long and winding road home.

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)

Summer
Fall
Spring

Congestion

High

Parking Pass

Park entrance fee

Open Year-round

Yes

Pros

Incredible views. Easy glacier access. Affordable guides, if desired.

Cons

Trail is a bit crowded. Weather is often very foggy.

Trailhead Elevation

14,763.00 ft (4,499.76 m)

Highest point

16,404.00 ft (4,999.94 m)

Net Elevation Gain

1,641.00 ft (500.18 m)

Features

Glacier
Guided tours
Shelters
Wildlife
Big Game Watching
Big vistas
Geologically significant

Typically multi-day

No

Permit required

No

Location

Field Guide

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