The national park is particularly interesting because the volcano suddenly
surges out of relatively flat terrain, offering spectacular views of the volcano
from all directions.
The Mount Cotopaxi height of 5897 masl with its beautiful snow cone is surrounded by
several dormant volcanoes, most notably the Rumiñahui Volcano of 4757 masl, with
its pointed almost black peaks, that are frequently covered with snow. There
also is the Morurco Volcano of 4880 masl, close to Cotopaxi.
With 87 known eruptions, the Cotopaxi Volcano is one of
Ecuador's most active volcanoes. The first recorded eruption took place in 1534 with
the other violent events in 1742, 1744, 1768, and 1877. The 1744 and
1768 eruptions destroyed the city of Latacunga twice. In the1877 eruption, large pyroclastic mudflow flows of "lahars" descended all sides of the mountain as the
heat melted the entire ice cap, with lahars traveling more than 100 km into the
Pacific Ocean and western Amazon basin. The city of Latacunga was again wiped
away by the mudslides. There were more major eruptions from 1903 - 1904, after
which activity persisted until the 1940s.
In 2015, two large steam eruptions
occurred on 14th of August followed by 2,100 minor earthquakes and emissions of sulfur dioxide
daily reaching about 20,000 tonnes. An estimated 300,000 inhabitants are at risk
in case of e major eruption.
Among these volcanos are extensive lahars, created as fluids
composed of volcanic sediments with large amounts of melt water caused by the
heat of an eruption when the glaciers of the volcano melt, carrying sands and
volcanic ash saturated with water and rocks.
The Cotopaxi is still very active and since its eruption end
2015, the road to the José Rivas refuge has been closed.
The worst eruption in history of the Cotopaxi
in 1877. A catastrophic explosive eruption casted dense pyroclastic flows and
immense amounts of ash that arrived in Quito in 3 hours submerging the capital
in complete darkness as the ashes clouded the sky, covering the city under 6 mm
of ashes. Even in Guayaquil ash rains clouded the city for a full week.
By the thawing of the glaciers, lahares reached the cities of
Latacunga, Alangasí, Guangopolo and Conocoto. Towards the north, a lahar
traveled as far as 300 km to Esmeraldas, taking 150 million m3 of deposits.
Especially Latacunga and the Valle de los Chillos suffered severe damage, as the
lahars leveled haciendas, bridges, plantations and killed cattle while taking
about 1000 human lives.
Most of the park is characterized by undulating terrain with
steep gullies cutting through the plane. The dominant soils are black
The snow-capped cone of Mount Cotopaxi.
carved out in the sandy volcanic soils, giving shelter to shrubs and wildlife in
the otherwide sparcely vegetated plateau.
The Cotopaxi and Rumiñahui volcanoes are the sources of the
Cutuchi, the San Pedro, the Pita, the Pedregal, the Tamboyacu and the Tambo
Rivers. Thus the Park protects the water sources for both irrigation and
drinking water of the population centers in the Central Andes valley.
There are also several small lakes in the park:
Cajas Lakes: 15 small permanent
lakes at 3 km from the Mauca Sudadero Park Entrance. The Santo Domingo Lake is a
permanent larger lake than the Cajas Lakes and deeper than the Limpiopungo Lake,
which is closer to Mount Cotopaxi. There is another small lake in the eastern part of
View of the Cotopaxi Volcano from
Only an hour's trip from Quito, this is one of the most
impressive national parks in Ecuador, and it contains the famous Cotopaxi
Volcano surrounded by paramo highlands between about 3400 masl to the
height of Cotopaxi of 5,897 m.
Declared the August 11, 1975, the park has an extension of 32 255 ha that is
located on the eastern flank of the Andes. The boundaries pass through the great
massif formed by the volcanoes: Cotopaxi and Rumiñahui, and by the northeastern
part of the Pita River that constitutes a natural boundary.
about 1,5 hours from Quito, Cotopaxi
National Park is a popular destination for visitors looking to hike, climb and
trek, or jsut enjoy the stunning panoramas down below.
The Cotopaxi has the highest
number of clear days per year in the Ecuadorian Andes, and as such it is
possible to climb the volcano throughout the year, although strong winds occur
frequently in July and August - the dry season in the Andes. Thus thousands of
climbers have reached the summit. Because it is in the middle of the
inter-Andean valley and very close to several cities such as Quito and Latacunga,
Cotopaxi National Park is one of the most visited parks and for many Ecuadorians
the first place in their lives to touch snow.
The José Rivas Shelter at 4800
masl near the snow line has been closed since the eruption in 2015. To reach the
shelter - when in operation - visitors have to climb 200m on foot from the
parking lot. It has two floors; one for visitors and another exclusively for
The visitor center Mariscal Sucre
with information on the flora, fauna and geology of the area is located at the
main entrance of the park.
New visitor center Mariscal
The José Rivas mountain
center provides food and shelter for visitors as well as mountaineers.
experience their first feel of snow at the Cotopaxi.
It should be noted, that the vegetation in the park is
generally degraded by feral horses and domestic animals, such as cattle and
alpacas grazing the paramo. Especially the horses heavily pressure the fragile
high altitude ecosystems, both by grazing and trampling with their hoofs.
Under these conditions, there are mainly 2 predominant
ecosystems in the park both in the páramo zone.
At lower elevations, 3400-4000 masl,
the herbaceous páramo predominates with its grassy,
herbaceous flora, mosses and lichens and small shrubs.
The high Andes cloud forest is not present in the park,
as it naturally only grows up to 3400 masl, the elevation at which the parks
begins, although in some gullies near the park limits, one can find some shrubs
of Polylepis, the genus of trees with the highest growth worldwide. There are
also plantations of Pinus Radiatus, an exotic tree species planted in the 1970s
by the same United Nation / FAO forestry project that selected the areas for the
protected areas system of Ecuador. The pines were planted to produce wood for a
paper plant that was never built.
The Superpáramo or Gelidofitia occurs from the
herbaceous páramo to the the snow line at 4700masl. The soil is mostly bare,
with occational shrubs, low rosettes, mosses and lichens.
While blamed on
the extreme weather and poor soil condiotions, the sparce vegetation at the
lower levels of the park is more likely due to grazing by feral horses and other
A few Polylepis
trees can be found in the gullies at the lower elevations.
A very cold resistant shrub
is the Chuquiraga jussieui.
At lower elevations, the
Bomarea hirsuta shrub can be found.
Typical of the
high elevation paramos are stemless rosette composites.
Plant cushions of
composites like Werneria pygmaea are typical for the high paramo and may
be hundreds of years old. Just imagine what a horse hoof can do to such
A relative to the famous
Frailejones of the north is the little Culcitium Nivale, which grows
close to the snow level.
Brasilian or Forest Cottontail, Sylvilagus brasiliensis
ratón de campo, Akodon mollis;
chucuri o comadreja, Mustela frenata;
murciélago orejón andino, Histiotus montanus;
murciélagos de los géneros Sturnida, Histiotus
While domesticated, the
theory has always been that the Incas brought their alpacas and lamas. Plausible
as this may be, we found no evidence of that in the 1970s nor could we find any
alpacas or llamas being herded anywhere in Ecuador. Nevertheless, they have been
introduces since and are now part of the landscape.
Some Andean foxes have
become so accustomed to visitors that they can be approached very closely.
The Andean Red
Brocket Deer, Mazama rufina, is
omnipresent and rather common in the Andes, although permanent persecution keeps
Pumas are widely spread
throughout the highlands and the Amazon, but they keep a safe distance from
humans and are rarely seen.
White Tailed Deer are also
widely distributed in the Andes and Amazon, but again, poaching keeps them on
edge and seeing one is rather unusual.
Striped Hognose Skunks are rather common too, but
being mostly nocturnal, they are not seen very often.
Sources vary greatly
about the number of birds for Cotopaxi. No doubt there will be several hundreds
of species that pass by or reside in the park. We give you a little
list of some of the species you may expect or hope to see when you go on a
At those high
elevation, very few lower vertebrates can be found. Most
notably there are some lizards: Pholidobolus, Stenocercus guentheri and
Pholido bolus montium.
Some frogs are Gastrotheca
riobambae and G. pseustes, and some species of the genus
All high elevation fish species
belong to the "preñadilla" genus, Astroblepus, so named after a
penis-like organ. As trouts have been introduced, they only survive in shallow
spots where trouts can't come.
Caspi park entrance: To enter the park, drive along the Southern Panamericana Highway (section
Quito - Latacunga) to kilometer 42, from where a road goes to the park entrance. From there it is 15 minutes to get to a paved checkpoint pathway.
North park entrance: take the Panamericana Highway to Machachi and drive to the town of Güitig. From there you continue along the paved road up
to the Pedregal. Within 20 minutes you get to the admission checkpoint.
No public buses enter the
Cotopaxi National Park but entrance of the park is about half an
hour’s ride from the highway where buses do drop off passengers.
Day trips to the park are organized by a large number of agents departing from
Quito. However, nobody else offers a
national parks tour like we do of which you
will find the itineraries below, which includes visiting the Cotopaxi
National Park with one of our top class nature guides:
OUR PARKS AND TRIBES ECO TOURS
(Scroll down for the full description of the current page)
STANDARD COFAN LODGE TOUR
Start your Cuyabeno journey on
Ecuador's most scenic wide Amazon tributary, the Aguarico River. Spend 3 nights in the Cofan Lodge,
exploring the lower Cuyabeno and Zábalo Rivers.
The Cuyabeno Loop explores
the breathtaking scenery of lower Cuyabeno and Zábalo
Rivers and the Cuyabeno Lake. Watch the amazing birds and
wildlife. Pass 2 nights with the amazing Cofan Indians in
the Cofan Lodge and enjoy 2 nights of comfort in the famous
The Lagarto Cocha Expedition on hidden
creeks and lakes is the best Amazon journey in Ecuador!
Discover Indian tribes in Ecuador, Monkeys, Sloths,
Dolphins. No other Amazon rainforest in any of the
Amazon-Andean countries can match the wildlife viewing
of Cuyabeno and it is far better than Yasuní!
The Cuyabeno Lake Program
explores all the wild places surrounding the Cuyabeno Lake.
Bonsai-shaped Macrolobia trees with the whispering of the
mysterious prehistoric Hoatzin birds and the noisy Blue and
Yellow Macaws. Our Cuyabeno Lodge is on the best location,
because we were the first and chose the best location on a
seasonal island in the Cuyabeno Lake itself.
Our Northern Andes Tour lets you get a
taste of some of the best Andean National Parks,
visiting the highest groves in the world: the Polylepis
trees, the highest mountain in the world calculated from
the center of the Earth, the Chimborazo with Vecuñas and
Lamas, the highest active volcano in the world, the
Our National Parks Tours take you on a fantastic
journey along the best possible sample of Andean and coastal
parks. They have been designed to complement
Galapagos and/or Amazon cruises. They can start from different places, particularly Quito,
Guayaquil and Cuenca. While the full program lasts 9 days, it is possible to
make a limited selection of parks, like the 6 days' "Andes
and Coast" module.
A fabulous program for visiting the most
famous cultural highlights Lima, Cusco, Machu Picchu and the
Sacred Valley. At the same time it serves as the Lima hub
for the Peru National Parks Tour. This module is an
extension to our National Parks Tour Ecuador and/or Galapagos National Park
and/or Amazon Cruises.