Climbing Cotopaxi: A Backpacker’s Guide to Ecuador
Cotopaxi is the second tallest active volcano in the world. Its last eruption was in 2015, and since there is still steam coming out of it no one is currently allowed to hike to the summit. However, you can hike to the base camp at just over 4,800m (which is the only thing we were willing to test our inexperienced fitness level on anyway).
Cotopaxi Tours from Quito
We had looked into tours from Quito as well as from Latacunga. From Quito the cheapest we could find was $50/person and from Latacunga $40/person. We thought that both options were too expensive, so we decided to try to do it ourselves.
We couldn’t find too much information on how to get to Cotopaxi and navigate through the park online, so finally we agreed to sort of wing it.
Visiting Cotopaxi from Latacunga
From the main bus terminal in Latacunga, we took a bus heading towards Quito and told the bus assistant to drop us off at the entrance to Parque Nacional Cotopaxi. It cost us $1.50/person and took about half an hour.
We got dropped off on the highway next to the turn for the park entrance, and before we had walked more than 50 meters towards the park, a guide in a truck pulled up next to us.
He offered to guide us through the park and up to the base camp for $50 total for the two of us, but we bargained him down to $45.
If you have a car, you can drive the 37 km to the parking lot where the hike begins yourself, but since we didn’t we knew we would have to find some other way of getting there. We figured $22.50/person was much cheaper than any of the tours we found from Quito or Latacunga.
The guide, Rico, drove us first to the information center, where he gave us some of the history of Cotopaxi in very passable English. We had some coca tea there before continuing the drive to the mountain.
Rico was very accommodating, stopping for us to take photos and to look at the wild horses. He drove us up the steep, winding road to the parking lot at 4,600m where you start the hike to the base camp.
Climbing to Cotopaxi Base Camp
The trek uphill isn’t a particularly difficult one, however the intense wind and the elevation (if you’re not acclimatized) made it a challenge. The 200m hike took us about 50 minutes. Occasionally, we would risk getting a bit of ash blown into our eyes to glance up to the summit, which regularly peaked out from behind the clouds. The glacier gleamed brightly at us as we slowly inched closer.
When we got to the base camp we reveled in the victory by enjoying the magnificent view of the glacier just above us as well as the chain of other volcanoes which we could see from our vantage point. We drank some more coca tea while chatting with a few other hikers before heading back down.
The way down took us about 10 minutes, sliding down rocks and ash the entire way.
Rico then took us to a small lake with a beautiful view of Cotopaxi, where we took some killer pictures before returning to the truck.
We got dropped off right on the highway in the direction of Latacunga, where we took a collectivo (shared taxi) back to the bus station for $1/each (we could have also waited for a bus).
The whole trip from the time we left Latacunga to when we got back took about 6 hours.
Worth it? Absolutely. The volcano was spectacular; we could see the steam rising out of it as we climbed. You feel a real sense of accomplishment getting to the base camp (if you’re a newbie climber like us), and everybody there greets each other and congratulates one another on making it up. You don’t need to go with a city tour, and if you have a car you can do it for free (there is no park entrance fee).
What to bring: a warm jacket, hat, gloves, hiking shoes, water, money, camera.
– Iris & Roi
How was your Cotopaxi experience? Do you have any questions or comments? Let us know below!