- Extreme Sports
Cotopaxi is the second highest volcano in Ecuador. It rises to a height of 5,897 metres. It is also the country's most active volcano. Perfectly conical in shape, it remains snow-capped all year round and stands in the middle of a national park. The park is composed of lakes and areas of paramo (a kind of alpine tundra) and contains trails along which it's possible can walk, especially in summer.
If you have time, begin with a visit to the park's wildlife museum, because you'll need to be lucky to encounter wild animals out in the park here, with patience being an essential requirement. I did actually manage to see wild duck and Andean gulls myself. Next continue on your walk and head for Lake Limpiopungo, which lies permanently shrouded in mist.
If planning to climb the volcano (whether up to the refuge or the summit itself), it's important to ensure you are properly equipped and, in particular, you need to be in good physical condition. The climb up to the refuge is not difficult in itself – I did it after simply preparing with a brisk walk each week – but the altitude and the cold can quickly start to have an effect. Nevertheless, this constitutes one of the unique and unforgettable experiences you can have when visiting Ecuador.
Unfortunately, I only saw it from the base, due to a nasty ankle sprain. Even so, I had no regrets about going on this 'easy' hike around the foothills of this giant...
We were fully prepared for the day - Range Rover to get us there, picnic in our bags, a windbreaker at the ready, as well as hats and scarves to brace the chill of being at around 4,000m altitude. It was a breezy, lunar landscape covered in rocks, pretty cold and with a magnificent view of the Cotopaxi's snowy peak. And we were blessed with clear skies. I'm not just saying this because I didn't attack the ascent, but the view from afar is more impressive than the view from the foot of the mountain!
I was lucky enough to know an Ecuadorean who lives between Quito and Latacunga, that is, very close to Cotopaxi national park. As I hadn't been able to go there with an agency when I was in Latacunga, Sebastian (my host) offered to go there with me and go up to the first refuge, which is already 4,800 metres above sea level!
We left early in the morning and were lucky - the weather was fine! Because, if it's grey and cloudy, obviously you need to think of something else to do than Cotopaxi...We took his car and drove for a good hour before we arrived at the car park. We didn't take the "classic" route that the agencies take, but a really pretty road with beautiful views over the volcano which we were gradually getting nearer to.
The car park is 4,600 metres above sea level, so it was cold and I was well wrapped up - hat and gloves were much appreciated. We started off for the 200 metre climb up to the first refuge. It doesn't seem so far but it takes a good 40 minutes of gentle climbing with some pauses because the lack of oxygen makes the altitude a bit testing. Once we arrived at the refuge there was a splendid view over the national park. We went on a bit further, as far as the snow line, and then went slowly back down to the car - going down was a lot easier. There - that was "Coto" done!