Plan the best road trip from Quito to the Cotopaxi volcano, Ecuador
As you embark on this road trip you will enjoy beautiful landscapes along the avenue of the volcanos in the Andes cordillera. Definitely a highlight for anyone visiting this truly diverse country.
Along the highway you will start to find some of the snow-capped mountains that have inspired many, including famous geographer Alexander von Humboldt.
The highlight of this road trip is the majestic Cotopaxi volcano.
Some come for the vistas, the flora and fauna of the National Park and many for the opportunity to reach the top of the highest active volcano in the world with 5897meters.
This is one of the most booked tours for visitors coming to Ecuador. So whether you decide to book a tour on this link or to do it on your own, I will give you some information and inspiration so tha you can plan the best road trip from Quito to Cotopaxi, Ecuador and have the most memorable Andes experience.
“Stunning beyond words” is one way this sight of the imposing Cotopaxi volcano has been described as!
It is indeed.
How to get there
Tour: Book a day tour to fully enjoy the experience. Getting there and getting all the information is always a good idea. I recommend booking here your tour.
By Car: The other option is to rent a car (4×4 preferably), get a GPS or a good map on your phone or offline and plan accordingly.
The highway from Quito to Latacunga is in pretty good shape. Take the Panamericana Highway until Machachi, to the sign that reads Entrada Norte al Cotopaxi. In approximately 90 minutes you will arrive to the entrance of the park. The video below has some more details so that you can have an idea of the park and places.
Parking area: Here you will find restrooms, a restaurant with snacks and warm meals, and the registration area. You need to park your car and then walk to the entrance to register.
If you want to, you can hire a guide there, who will give you an introduction to the origin of the volcano and area, the flora and fauna of this ecosystem and bring you to the best spots in the park.
What to visit
I would recommend you take a day or two for this trip.
The first stop once you enter the National Park is the Limpiopungo lake.
Continue driving and enjoying postcard views of the imposing Cotopaxi until you reach the parking lot at 4500 m.
From here you can hike approximately 30 to 45 minutes to the refuge and then 300 meters to the snow.
About the Cotopaxi Volcano
The majestic snow-capped conical-shaped volcano towering over the Andean landscape is located just some kilometers outside the capital city of Ecuador, Quito.
At a peak elevation of 5,897 meters it is one of the highest snow-capped volcanos on earth. The top of the Cotopaxi volcano is covered with snow year round despite being located just 100 km South of the equator line.
Beware of altitude sickness
In my case I needed to stop a lot on the way up and forgot to get some coca leaves or coca candy that they sell at the restaurant in the entrance. If you just arrived to the highlands and decided to do this hike or trip right away, be careful. Take it slowly, get some coca candy, coca tea or chocolate for the hike up.
My advice is that you take a day or two in Quito before, in order to get your body used to the altitude.
The admission fee to the Cotopaxi National Park is now free, it used to be $10 last time I checked but this past November we visited with my husband who is a foreigner and neither one of us had to pay. Just make sure to register.
What to bring:
My first recommendation is to dress in layers and to wear warm clothes, gloves, scarf, warm socks.
Bring something to eat, something to drink and sunscreen.
Buy some coca leaves, coca candy or chocolate for the hike up at the restaurant at the entrance to the park.
Wear sunblock. The sun is stronger around the equator so from 10 am to 2pm you need to be extra careful about the sun exposure and wear sunblock every 2 hours.
Where to stay
What can add more to the experience of being in the heart of the Andes and in the avenue of the volcanos, than spending the night in an old traditional hacienda from the 17th century?
Spend the night at the luxurious Hacienda La Cienega in the Andes, for the most memorable experience in the highlands of Ecuador. In addition to the charm of the hacienda, the views are amazing and the service is outstanding.
To have the best Andes experience, make sure to add a visit to the Cotopaxi to your bucket list and then spend the night at one of the oldest haciendas in the country, Hacienda La Cienega
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If you want more in-depth information and also a guide that you can bring along during your trip, I recommend the travel guide Lonely Planet Ecuador & the Galapagos Islands.
This is a great source of information and tips, maps and all you need if you plan on visiting Ecuador. I personally like the option of having a hard copy version where I can take notes and have at hand.
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