Another one of the awesome day trips I did from Quito Ecuador was climbing volcano Cotopaxi and enjoying some downhill mountain biking in the Cotopaxi national park.
Volcano Cotopaxi or mount Cotopaxi as it is sometimes called is one of the highest most active volcanoes in the world. Coming in at a height of 5,897 m (19,347 ft) and with over 50 eruptions since 1738. However seeing as the last eruption hasn’t happened since 1940 I figured I would take my chances.
Plus it can’t be as dangerous as boarding down the side of an active volcano which I did in Leon Nicaragua.
Cotopaxi Elevation 5,897 m (19,347 ft)
With many different tour companies in Quito offering one day tours (Especially in the touristy Mariscal area) I decided to go with a tour company called “Gulliver’s Travels” They have a very cool website and even allow you to book online. They also speak English and are located less than a couple of blocks from the main tourist square in Mariscal which was really close to my hostel.
So with my tour booked the day before I woke up at 6:30am for a 7am pickup (But not before getting my complimentary coffee at a nearby café)
With some caffeine in my system I began to feel normal again and jumped into the 4×4 and we drove the 28km from Quito to the Cotopaxi national park.
Even before we arrived to the national park you could see the mighty Volcano Cotopaxi rising up into the sky. It was such a beautiful sight especially with its glacier topped peak.
Once in the Cotopaxi national park we stopped off at the lake ILaguna Limpiopungo, The views here were astonishing. The landscape was so different to everything else I had been used to in Central and South America.
After that we drove to the bottom of the mighty Cotopaxi mountain (At elevation of 4300m) and began our climb to the José Ribas mountain hut located at 4800m altitude.
Hiking up 500m doesn’t sound like much right? but when your already at 4300m altitude the air is so thin that even after a few minutes of uphill climbing you have to rest, Unless of course you are super fit and used to the altitude, Which I wasn’t haha.
With every step it felt like my limbs were getting heavier and heavier.
After about 45 minutes we made it to the mountain hut where we took a much appreciated pit stop and had a hot cup of coca tea (Helps with altitude sickness)
After we all had drank our tea and regained our energy from a few pieces of chocolate we continued our climb up to the glacier located at roughly 5000m elevation.
The view of the glaciers was utterly breathtaking. I had lived in Canada for 2 years(Granted I didn’t do much mountain climbing) and seen a lot of snow and ice. But this for me was something else.
With the glacier visited, that was as high as we were going on this tour. There are other hiking Cotopaxi tours available where you can climb the entire Cotopaxi elevation (5897m) however these are a lot more expensive and require you to climb to the mountain hut in the evening, wait until midnight to adjust to the altitude and then continue climbing through the night to reach the summit at sunrise, Or for those who are super adventurous there is a tour where you climb a series of different mountains each increasing in height so you slowly adjust to the altitude.
I talked to a few people at the hostel that had done the full Cotopaxi hike and they said it was spectacular , but he did warn me that it is VERY physically challenging and 50% of people who attempt to make it to the summit don’t make it and have to turn around.
50% of people who attempt to make it to the summit don’t make it and have to turn back.
With Cotopaxi climbed (At least to the glaciers :P) we descended back down the mountain to the parked 4×4 and our bikes at the bottom.
I had a lot of fun running down the side of the mountain, It was way faster than walking, I even somehow managed to not faceplant *Self High Five*
Once back at the 4×4 we unloaded the mountain bikes to have what we thought was going to be a simple downhill ride through the national park. However within 5 minutes of riding it started hailing really heavily,I have to admit even though the other tour members didn’t find the hail to enjoyable and despite my frozen hands I loved it.
After getting back into the car completely soaked from the hail and rain we headed to a small restaurant and hotel that was affiliated with the tour company to have a 3 course mid-afternoon lunch, complete with juice. One of the meals even consisted of tomato soup with popcorn in it which was interesting.
With that our tour was complete, We boarded the tour van for what I thought was just going to be a simple drive back to the main tourist square in Mariscal, However it turned out that because we switched from 4wd to a van for the return journey someone had made a mistake on which van to give us resulting in us driving a vehicle on its prohibited day, Resulting in us…
Getting pulled over by the police!
In Quito, there is one day each week when you cannot drive a vechile. Which is determined by the License plate number. I’m assuming this is a law to help manage the amount of traffic in the city, After a 30 minute argument in Spanish between the police officer and the driver was resolved by the driver paying the police a bribe on a back street to not impound the car, We all got into a cab with the tour bus driver and made it back to Mariscal.
All in all it was a great day and even with the bit of drama at the end I would still recommend people to check out Cotopaxi.
Tips for people before climbing Cotopaxi
- Take something sweet to give you energy, chocolates or candy (The tour bus actually stopped at a service station where we had opportunity to purchase these)
- Give yourself a couple of days in Quito to adjust to the elevation before attempting to go up even higher.