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PARKS AND TRIBES

 

10 COTOPAXI, FACTS [VOLCANO, HEIGHT, MAP. TOUR, HIKE, ACTIVITY]

  1. Geology;

  2. Hydrology;

  3. Conservation status;

  4. Things to do;

  5. Vegetation;

  6. Mammals;

  7. Birds;

  8. Other critters;

  9. How to get there on your own;

  10. Best tour.

Thinks to do in Cotopaxi National Park

At about 1,5 hours from Quito, Cotopaxi National Park is a popular destination for visitors looking to hike, climb and trek, or just enjoy the stunning panoramas down below.

 

Of all Ecuador's volcanoes, Cotopaxi has the highest number of clear days per year, 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.

 

You can visit Cotopaxi National Park as part of our National Parks tour.

 

Jose Rivas Shelter at 4800 masl: Located 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 Andinistas.

 

Visitor center Mariscal Sucre: with information on the flora, fauna and geology of the area is located at the main entrance of the park.

 

10 COTOPAXI, FACTS [VOLCANO, HEIGHT, MAP. TOUR, HIKE, ACTIVITY]: Cotopaxi cafe.10 COTOPAXI, FACTS [VOLCANO, HEIGHT, MAP. TOUR, HIKE, ACTIVITY]: Cotopaxi shop.

Headquarters of the park.

New visitor center Mariscal Sucre.

 

10 COTOPAXI, FACTS [VOLCANO, HEIGHT, MAP. TOUR, HIKE, ACTIVITY]: Mountain hut.10 COTOPAXI, FACTS [VOLCANO, HEIGHT, MAP. TOUR, HIKE, ACTIVITY]: In the snow of Cotopaxi.

The Jose Rivas mountain center provides food and shelter for visitors as well as mountaineers.

Many Ecuadorians experience their first feel of snow at the Cotopaxi.

 

There are 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; a permanent larger lake than the Cajas Lakes and deeper than the Limpiopungo Lake, which is closer to the Cotopaxi Volcano. There is another small lake in the eastern part of the park.

 

Limpiopungo Lake: the most visited lake of the park has a raised trail that leads to a covered observation platform from where one can observe quite a variety of Andean aquatic birds, many of which are nesting during their breeding season. One often gets to see Andean foxes that like to hang out and beg for food from visitors.

 

10 COTOPAXI, FACTS [VOLCANO, HEIGHT, MAP. TOUR, HIKE, ACTIVITY]: Cotopaxi,Limpiopungo Lake with Cotopaxi10 COTOPAXI, FACTS [VOLCANO, HEIGHT, MAP. TOUR, HIKE, ACTIVITY]: Limpiopungo raised trail.

View of the Cotopaxi Volcano from Limpiopungo Lake.

Limpiopungo Lake visitors walkway.

 

Most of the park is characterized by undulating terrain with steep gullies cutting through the plane which facilitates great hiking. The dominant soils are black loamy-sandy deposits.

 

10 COTOPAXI, FACTS [VOLCANO, HEIGHT, MAP. TOUR, HIKE, ACTIVITY]: Cotopaxi peak10 COTOPAXI, FACTS [VOLCANO, HEIGHT, MAP. TOUR, HIKE, ACTIVITY]: Cotopaxi creek.

The snow-capped cone of the Cotopaxi Volcano.

Gullies are carved out in the sandy volcanic soils, giving shelter to shrubs and wildlife in the otherwise sparsely vegetated plateau.

 

10 COTOPAXI, FACTS [VOLCANO, HEIGHT, MAP. TOUR, HIKE, ACTIVITY]: Snow

 

 

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10 COTOPAXI, FACTS [VOLCANO, HEIGHT, MAP. TOUR, HIKE, ACTIVITY]: Cotopaxi Road map10 COTOPAXI, FACTS [VOLCANO, HEIGHT, MAP. TOUR, HIKE, ACTIVITY]: Cotopaxi Park map

 

Geology of Mount Cotopaxi

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.

 

Learn all about the Cotopaxi Volcano Facts (5897 masl) with its beautiful snow cone, wildlife and flora. Surrounded by several volcanoes, most notably the Ruminahui 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.

 

Cotopaxi Volcano

With 87 known eruptions, the Cotopaxi Volcano is one of Ecuador's most active volcanoes. Learn more Cotopaxi fun facts: The first known eruption: 1534 with 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 Jose Rivas refuge has been closed.

 

The worst eruption  in history of the Cotopaxi Volcano occurred 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, 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.

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Hydrology

The Cotopaxi and Ruminahui 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.

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Conservation status of Cotopaxi National Park

Learn all about Cotopaxi, one of the most impressive national parks in Ecuador only an hour from Quito, with the Cotopaxi Volcano and 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 Ruminahui, and by the northeastern part of the Pita River that constitutes a natural boundary.

 

10 COTOPAXI, FACTS [VOLCANO, HEIGHT, MAP. TOUR, HIKE, ACTIVITY]: head quarters Cotopaxi10 COTOPAXI, FACTS [VOLCANO, HEIGHT, MAP. TOUR, HIKE, ACTIVITY]: Cotopaxi visitor center.

Headquarters of Cotopaxi National Park.

New visitor center Mariscal Sucre.

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Vegetation of Cotopaxi National Park

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 paramo zone.

 

At lower elevations, 3400-4000 masl, the herbaceous paramo 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 Superparamo or Gelidofitia occurs from the herbaceous paramo to the the snow line at 4700masl. The soil is mostly bare, with occational shrubs, low rosettes, mosses and lichens.

 

10 COTOPAXI, FACTS [VOLCANO, HEIGHT, MAP. TOUR, HIKE, ACTIVITY]: Cotopaxi paramo.10 COTOPAXI, FACTS [VOLCANO, HEIGHT, MAP. TOUR, HIKE, ACTIVITY]: Cotopaxi Polylepis.

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 lifestock.

A few Polylepis trees can be found in the gullies at the lower elevations.

 

10 COTOPAXI, FACTS [VOLCANO, HEIGHT, MAP. TOUR, HIKE, ACTIVITY]: Cotopaxi Chuquiraga.10 COTOPAXI, FACTS [VOLCANO, HEIGHT, MAP. TOUR, HIKE, ACTIVITY]: Orange Sunset

A very cold resistant shrub is the Chuquiraga jussieui.

At lower elevations, the Bomarea hirsuta shrub can be found.

 

10 COTOPAXI, FACTS [VOLCANO, HEIGHT, MAP. TOUR, HIKE, ACTIVITY]: Hypochaeris sessiliflora.10 COTOPAXI, FACTS [VOLCANO, HEIGHT, MAP. TOUR, HIKE, ACTIVITY]: Werneria nubigena.

Typical of the high elevation paramos are stemless rosette composites.

 

10 COTOPAXI, FACTS [VOLCANO, HEIGHT, MAP. TOUR, HIKE, ACTIVITY]: Werneria pygmaea10 COTOPAXI, FACTS [VOLCANO, HEIGHT, MAP. TOUR, HIKE, ACTIVITY]: Culcitium nivale.

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 slow-growing cushions.

A relative to the famous Frailejones of the north is the little Culcitium Nivale, which grows close to the snow level.

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Mammals of Cotopaxi National Park

  • Puma, Puma concolor;
  • Andean Fox, Lycalopex culpaeus;
  • White Tailed Deer, Odocoileus virginianus;
  • Red Brocket Deer, Mazama rufina;
  • Striped Hognose Skunk, Conepatus semistriatus;
  • Raposa, Didelphis albiventris;
  • Common marsupial Rat, Caenolestes fuliginosus;
  • topo mouse, Cryptotis equatoris;
  • Brasilian or Forest Cottontail, Sylvilagus brasiliensis
  • field mouse, Akodon mollis;
  • chucuri o comadreja, Mustela frenata;
  • Andian Ear Bat, Histiotus montanus;
  • Bats of the genus Sturnida, Histiotus y Myotis;
  • Alpacas;
  • Llamas;
  • Feral Horses.

 

10 COTOPAXI, FACTS [VOLCANO, HEIGHT, MAP. TOUR, HIKE, ACTIVITY]: alpaca herd.10 COTOPAXI, FACTS [VOLCANO, HEIGHT, MAP. TOUR, HIKE, ACTIVITY]: Andean Fox.

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.

 

10 COTOPAXI, FACTS [VOLCANO, HEIGHT, MAP. TOUR, HIKE, ACTIVITY]: Red Brocket Deer.10 COTOPAXI, FACTS [VOLCANO, HEIGHT, MAP. TOUR, HIKE, ACTIVITY]: Mointain Lion.

The Andean Red Brocket Deer,  Mazama rufina, is omnipresent and rather common in the Andes, although permanent persecution keeps them wary.

Pumas are widely spread throughout the highlands and the Amazon, but they keep a safe distance from humans and are rarely seen.

 

10 COTOPAXI, FACTS [VOLCANO, HEIGHT, MAP. TOUR, HIKE, ACTIVITY]: White-tailed Deer.10 COTOPAXI, FACTS [VOLCANO, HEIGHT, MAP. TOUR, HIKE, ACTIVITY]: Striped Hognose Skunk.

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.

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Birds of Cotopaxi National Park

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 birding:

Common in Cotopaxi National Park:

  • Andean Teal
  • Yellow-billed Pintail
  • Andean Ruddy-Duck
  • Carunculated Caracara
  • Andean Coot
  • Andean Lapwing
  • Andean Gull
  • Bar-winged Cinclodes
  • Grass Wren
  • Plumbeous Sierra-Finch

Uncommon in Cotopaxi National Park:

  • Ecuadorian Rail
  • Noble Snipe
  • Ecuadorian Hillstar
  • Stout-billed Cinclodes
  • Andean Tit-Spineatil
  • Streak-backed Canastero
  • Tawny Antpitta
  • Tufted Tit-Tyrant
  • Paramo Ground-Tyrant
  • Spot-billed Ground-Tyrant
  • Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant
  • Paramo Pipit.

Rare:

  • Andean Condor
  • Andean Snipe
  • Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe
  • Black-chested Buzzard Eagle
  • Black-winged Ground-Dove.

10 COTOPAXI, FACTS [VOLCANO, HEIGHT, MAP. TOUR, HIKE, ACTIVITY]: Andean Condors are the largest birds of South America.10 COTOPAXI, FACTS [VOLCANO, HEIGHT, MAP. TOUR, HIKE, ACTIVITY]: White Colared Swift.

Condor sightings are extremely rare but they still may roam the skies.

Sometimes a swift may race through the sky.

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Other critters of Cotopaxi National Park

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 Eleutherodactylus.

10 COTOPAXI, FACTS [VOLCANO, HEIGHT, MAP. TOUR, HIKE, ACTIVITY]: Andean fish Prenadina.

All high elevation fish species belong to the "prenadilla" 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.

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How to get there on your own

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 Guitig. 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 houruis ride from the highway where buses do drop off passengers.

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Best Cotopaxi Tour and Hike

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

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AMAZON RIVER CRUISE ECUADOR: In Ecuador, birding is for all ages.

 NEW! CUYABENO DAY TRIP

For those that are limited in time, we are now organizing the Cuyabeno Day Trip that takes you at 9 AM from the park entrance to the surroundings of Lake Cuyabeno, to the Siona village and back by 5 PM.

 

 

 

Price: from $ 99

 1 día

RÍO NAPO LODGE TOUR, ECUADOR: La plataforma en el árbol de Ceibo de la comunidad Kichwa Añagu.

NEW YASUNI / NAPO RIVER TOUR

Lodges along Yasuni ­ National Park are excessively expensive and excursions are just organized close to each lodge. We developed a fabulous and affordable tour to all the highlights along the Napo, while staying in 2 different decent Quichua lodges.

 

 

Price: from $ 450

3 days

viaje a Cuyabeno

 NEW LAGARTOCOCHE EXPEDITION

The most remote part of the Amazon is the Lagartocoche lake system at the border with Peru. Hosted in a Secoya Indian Village.

 

Price: from $ 450

 4 days

admirando la increíble vida silvestre

CUYABENO LOOP

The Cuyabeno Loop explores the breathtaking scenery of the lower Cuyabeno and Zabalo 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 Cuyabeno Lodge.

Price: from $ 799

5 days

 

admirando las increíbles aves

COFAN LODGE PROGRAMS

Located in Southern Cuyabeno, the Cofan Lodge is the only lodge in that part of the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve with quality programs and great facilities. It is owned by the Cofan Indians and provides a totally different experience from any other lodge in Cuyabeno.

 

 

Price: from $ 450

4 days

Laguna Cuyabeno

CUYABENO LAKE PROGRAMS

The Cuyabeno Lake Programs 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 lodge and chose the best location right on a seasonal island in Lake Cuyabeno.

Price: from $ 390

4 - 5 days

 

Chimborazo con Lamas

ANDES CUSTOM ECO TOURS

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 Vecunhas and Lamas, the highest active volcano in the world, the Cotopaxi.

 

Price: from $750

5 days

Cascada San Rafael

NATIONAL PARKS TOUR

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.

Price: from $ 1999

9 days

 

Bartelome ent Galapagos

GALAPAGOS LAST MINUTE

We have a fabulous selection of Galapagos programs, including cruises, island hopping, scuba diving or relaxing on one of the many different hotels varying from modest inns to deluxe resorts.

 

 

Price: from $ 550

From 3 days

25 COOLEST THINGS TO DO IN PERU [LIMA,CUSCO, MACHU PICCHU]: Inca wall in Cusco.

PERU HIGHLIGHTS

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.

Price: from $ 1199

7 days

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10 COTOPAXI, FACTS [VOLCANO, HEIGHT, MAP. TOUR, HIKE, ACTIVITY]

PARKS & TRIBES Travel Agency in Quito
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Tel: (++593)(02) 2 2324 4086, Cell: (++593) (0) 99 283 2187 USA: (++)1 304 901 0718
Email: info@parks-and-tribes.com
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