Cotopaxi, the central feature of the national park, is nearly 5,900 m in height and is one of the highest active volcanoes on earth, although its present activity is limited to a few steam fumaroles. The landscape of the park is typical of recently active volcanic areas, and there are several peaks in the protected zone well over 4,000 m in altitude.
Flora and fauna
With most of the park well above 3,500 m in altitude, the vegetation is typical of the tropical high Andes with scrubby woodlands in protected valley areas and open grasslands covering the lower slopes of Cotopaxi and other peaks. The landscape of the Paramo is an important feature of the park, a natual water filtering system for the streams coming off Cotopaxi's glacial areas. That water is an important part of Quito's water supply.
A number of rare Andean species are protected in the park including infrequently seen condors, spectacled bear, and brocket deer along with more commonly viewed foxes, white tail deer and rabbits.
Although Cotopaxi is only about 100 km south of the equator, its climate is dictated by altitude and there is perpetual snow about 4,500 m. In the more popular areas of the park, the highest temperatures rarely exceed 20 degrees, and night temperatures fall below freezing. The rainy season is Summer, late December to March, although rain is possible at other times as well.
Cotopaxi is accessible by car from the Ecuadorian capital Quito, and other parts, too.
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There is no entrance fee. Additional fees are charged to ascend Cotopaxi, and guides are required.
The entrance is free, a guide is required for a hike on the peak.
The beautiful landscape that the andean region has. Mountain biking paradise. You have to hire bikes in advance, no bikes available at the park. Horseback riding is superb! ask at Hacienda El Porvenir www.tierradelvolcan.com for horseback rides, or at Pedregal Community, 5 km from the North Entrance to the park. Bird watching in Limpiopungo Lake. Climb Rumiñahui Volcano
Climb Cotopaxi The refugio at 4800 m (16,000 ft) provides beds, meals, and hot drinks. It is only allowed to climb to the top with an accredited high altitude guide. Apart from the altitude and the glacial conditions, climbing Cotopaxi is considered relatively easy. Naturally it still requires a high level of fitness and acclimatization to the altitude. Climbers usually start their ascent at 22:00 and summit at about 06:00. Many tour operators can put you in contact with a qualified guide and also rent out the required equipment. The hike to the refugio is a popular day trip and can probably be done without a guide. If you´re on budget, you can organize your own tour (find more information here Organise an own guide).
Climb Rumiñahui Volcano. Rumiñahui has three summits, the northwestern summit (4,490 m), the northern summit (4,721 m), and the central summit (4,630 m). Of these, the central one is probably the easiest to summit. However, the final part (about 300 m) requires you to go up a very steep field of gravel and dirt which, especially because of the altitude, can be very exhausting. The rest of the hike is quite easy physically but since the track is completely unmarked and often invisible, it can be advisable to bring a GPS and a good map (e.g., openstreetmaps.org) or hire a guide (Henri is an experienced local guide +593 991102414, from $15 per person including transportation). Several trails lead up to Rumiñahui (central and norte). The most popular one starts at the Laguna de Limpiupungo (not accesible by public transportation) at about 3,900 m where you could also pitch a tent on the night before your ascent (see below.) Another trail starts in Santa Ana del Pedregal following the main road from the center of town (where the playground and the pitch is) about 400 m towards Machachi. Going through the gates of the hacienda there, you get on a road that you follow up for about 2 km where you get to a locked gate. Hikers are apparently permitted to jump across the gate. Follow the road for another 2 km where it turns into a trail (everything up to here could easily be done with just a flashlight if you want to get an early start before sunrise.) The trail (that is sometimes invisible) now goes along a fence (on your left) and ends at a cliff. Here you could get up on the cliff from the west and walk on top of it. However, if you don't want to break your neck, you might decide that this cliff is too high, and the path on top too slippery and inclined to do without additional gear. Instead you can search for the trail that takes you down into the valley where you can cross going south. The entire valley is covered by a shallow layer of water, so be prepared to get your feet wet. A small path at the southern end of the valley takes you up to the trail described in the following. Yet another trail starts in Santa Ana del Pedregal from the Hacienda del Porvenir (about 400 m from the main square on the smaller road that goes south east). Once you find your way into the hacienda somehow (they sometimes charge $3 for crossing their property) follow the twisting and turning trails through the hacienda to get to its southern end. Follow the road for about 1.4 km until you get to a trench that you cross. Follow the trench east until you get to the southern gates of the hacienda. There follow the road south where eventually you pass by some ruins (that's where the trail from the previous section joins.) A trail takes you up to a ridge which you need to pull yourself up to. Following the ridge you eventually get to a fork where the trail to the northern summit leaves. Following the other trail (which now stays at the same altitude) you eventually get to a field of dirt and rocks that you climb up to the central summit. Free
You can eat at the lodge on the hike up Cotopaxi.
There is a hostel an hour's drive away called Secret Garden - Cotopaxi. Cost is $38/per person per night in a dorm. Includes three meals. Private room is $44-49/per person per night, based on two people. Private bath and toilet. Contact Secret Garden in Quito.
Inside the park there are refugios for climbers, but most lodging is outside the park limits, and some visitors come on day trips out from Quito. All inclusive lodging is available at several quite luxurious haciendas near the park limits, for example Hacienda el Porvenir, while cheaper lodging is available in the small towns close to the park. There is a working hacienda on the east side of the park that offers campsites (firepit, running water, bathroom) as well as individual rooms. See www.haciendayanahurco.com.
Parque Nacional Cotopaxi has two camp sites administered by Ministerio del Ambiente - La Rinconda and Condirhuaico. Both are free and are located just South of Laguna de Limpiopungo. The La Rinconda campsite (on the right heading south from the Laguna) has toilet, cooking facilities and water. Note that it is also used for picnics and football games, so it is best not to pitch your tent in the middle of the large grass space. Camping is also possible at the Area Nacional de Recreacion el Boliche on the western edge of the park.