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MOUNT COTOPAXI NATIONAL PARK [2020]

  1. Geology;

  2. Hydrology;

  3. Conservation status;

  4. Thinks to do;

  5. Vegetation;

  6. Mammals;

  7. Birds;

  8. Other critters;

  9. How to get there on your own;

  10. Best tour.

 

COTOPAXI NATIONAL PARK: Cotopaxi Road mapCOTOPAXI NATIONAL PARK: 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.

 

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.

 

Cotopaxi Volcano

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 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, 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 loamy-sandy deposits.

 

COTOPAXI NATIONAL PARK: Cotopaxi peakCOTOPAXI NATIONAL PARK: Cotopaxi creek.

The snow-capped cone of Mount Cotopaxi.

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

 

COTOPAXI NATIONAL PARK: Snow

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Hydrology

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 the park.

 

COTOPAXI NATIONAL PARK: Cotopaxi,Limpiopungo Lake with CotopaxiCOTOPAXI NATIONAL PARK: Limpiopungo raised trail.

View of the Cotopaxi Volcano from Limpiopungo Lake.

Limpiopungo Lake visitors walkway.

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Conservation status of Cotopaxi National Park

Only a short hour to an hour and a half trip from Quito, Cotopaxi National Park 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 peak of almost 6000 masl.

 

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.

 

COTOPAXI NATIONAL PARK: head quarters CotopaxiCOTOPAXI NATIONAL PARK: Cotopaxi visitor center.

Headquarters of Cotopaxi National Park.

New visitor center Mariscal Sucre.

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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 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 Andinistas.

 

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.

 

COTOPAXI NATIONAL PARK: Cotopaxi cafe.COTOPAXI NATIONAL PARK: Cotopaxi shop.

Headquarters of the park.

New visitor center Mariscal Sucre.

 

COTOPAXI NATIONAL PARK: Mountain hut.COTOPAXI NATIONAL PARK: In the snow of Cotopaxi.

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

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

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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 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.

 

COTOPAXI NATIONAL PARK: Cotopaxi paramo.COTOPAXI NATIONAL PARK: 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.

 

COTOPAXI NATIONAL PARK: Cotopaxi Chuquiraga.COTOPAXI NATIONAL PARK: Orange Sunset

A very cold resistant shrub is the Chuquiraga jussieui.

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

 

COTOPAXI NATIONAL PARK: Hypochaeris sessiliflora.COTOPAXI NATIONAL PARK: Werneria nubigena.

Typical of the high elevation paramos are stemless rosette composites.

 

COTOPAXI NATIONAL PARK: Werneria pygmaeaCOTOPAXI NATIONAL PARK: 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;
  • ratón topo o musaraña, Cryptotis equatoris;
  • 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 y Myotis;
  • Alpacas;
  • Llamas;
  • Feral Horses.

 

COTOPAXI NATIONAL PARK: alpaca herd.COTOPAXI NATIONAL PARK: 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.

 

COTOPAXI NATIONAL PARK: Red Brocket Deer.COTOPAXI NATIONAL PARK: 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.

 

COTOPAXI NATIONAL PARK: White-tailed Deer.COTOPAXI NATIONAL PARK: 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
  • Páramo Ground-Tyrant
  • Spot-billed Ground-Tyrant
  • Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant
  • Páramo Pipit.

Rare:

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

COTOPAXI NATIONAL PARK: Andean Condors are the largest birds of South America.COTOPAXI NATIONAL PARK: 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.

COTOPAXI NATIONAL PARK: Andean fish Prenadina.

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.

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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 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.

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Best tour

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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Indians take you in their agile dug-out canoes along winding rivers.

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.

 

 

Price: $ 499

 4 days

Children learning about the rainforest.

CUYABENO LOOP

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 Cuyabeno Lodge.

Price: $ 799

5 days

 

Birdwatching by visitors of the Amazon in Ecuador

LAGARTO COCHA EXPEDITION

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!

 

Price: $ 1099

7 days

excursion on Lake Cuyabeno

CUYABENO LAKE PROGRAM

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.

Price: from $ 410

4 - 5 days

 

Alpacas in Chimborazo Wildlife Reserve are the domesticated form of the vicuñas.

NORTHERN ANDES TOUR

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 Cotopaxi.

 

 

Price: from $1149

5 days

San Rafael Falls

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: $ 1999

9 days

 

Bartelome Island at Galapagos National Park

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

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: $ 1199

7 days

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MOUNT COTOPAXI NATIONAL PARK

PARKS & TRIBES and the COFAN LODGE have their sales office inside:

Hotel Balmoral, Address: Calle Moreno Bellido E6-57 & Avenida Amazonas, Quito

Telephone: (++593)(02) 2 50 5310, Cell phone: (++593) (0) 96 29 35 271

Email: [email protected]

Skype: ecotravelworldwide

Parks Man Dr. Daan Vreugdenhil is author of this website and founder of Parks and Tribes. He dedicated his life to the conservation of nature. https://www.facebook.com/DrDaanVreugdenhil, https://www.linkedin.com/in/drdaanvreugdenhil/. He was part of the team that selected the first 39 protected areas of Ecuador, including. Yasuní and Cuyabeno, the latter of which he he later recommended to be expanded from originally 150,000ha to 600,000ha, together with then Cuyabeno director Prof. Dr. Flavio Coello and Parks and Tribes partner. Daan is also the founding father of the Cuyabeno Lodge and co-manager of the Cofan Lodge.