The Cotopaxi volcano: 

a perfect snow-capped cone that stands at 5,897 meters above sea level, is something that is unique on the planet and is perhaps, together with the Galapagos, the greatest symbol of our natural geography recognized throughout the world.

Thousands of mountaineers of all nationalities have reached their summit and many others dream of doing so. Because it is located in the center of the inter-Andean alley and very close to several cities such as Quito and Latacunga, the Cotopaxi National Park is one of the most visited and surely where many people touch the snow for the first time.

The imposing Cotopaxi, one of the highest active volcanoes in the world, dominates the entire landscape of the protected area, which also includes two other smaller ones, Morurco (4,880 m), attached to Cotopaxi, and Rumiñahui (4,722 m), also very close. Cotopaxi is located in the area called “Avenue of the Volcanoes”, a name that the German naturalist Alexander von Humboldt gave in 1802 to the set of volcanoes of the central and northern Sierra of Ecuador. The predominant ecosystem in the park is the paramo, with its special flora and fauna, so the main vegetation is grasslands and small tall bushes.


Year of creation: Altitude range: Altitude

Cotopaxi, 33393 hectares 1,975 3,400 – 5,897 m


How to get there:

From Quito

The Park is located 60 km from the city of Quito Entrance control Caspi. To enter the park, follow the South Pan-American Highway (Quito – Latacunga section) until kilometer 42, where the detour to enter the Park is located. From here it is 15 minutes on a paved road to reach the checkpoint.

North control entrance. Take the Panamericana Sur to Machachi and then continue to the town of Güitig. From here, continue along the paved road until you reach El Pedregal. After 20 minutes you reach the control booth.


Cotopaxi, the second highest mountain in the country, is an active volcano and sometimes you can even see fumaroles, although its activity is never like that of neighboring Tungurahua and Sangay. On the eastern flanks of Cotopaxi and along the Pita River, which heads north, there are large rocks and volcanic material, a consequence of the last eruption of the volcano in 1877. Cotopaxi is the typical example of a stratovolcano: mounts with a more or less regular conical shape, the result of the accumulation of rocks, sand, and ashes from successive eruptions. The black soil of the paramo has been formed on this material.

The main hydrographic system of the homonymous province is the Cutuchi River, which rises in Cotopaxi, formed in turn by the Manzana Huayco and Rumiñahui rivers.

This river then becomes the Patate and heads towards the Amazon.


Average temperature varies between 9 and 11 °C, the absolute extremes are 0 and 22 °C


From the Cotopaxi and Rumiñahui volcanoes a large number of rivers are born, among them: Cutuchi, the San Pedro River, the Pita River, the Pedregal River, the Tamboyacu River, and the Tambo River. The entire Park is a water collection area that is used both for irrigation and for human consumption in the Andean part (Coello et al. 1996).

There are also a series of small lagoons, among which we have: Cajas, Limpiopungo, Santo Domingo lagoon, and one more located in the eastern part (Coello et al. 1996).

Cultural aspects:

The Cotopaxi, a sacred mountain for many native ethnic groups, has always caused admiration from locals and strangers. Although it is seen every day, its majesty never loses its validity. His name, although there is no unanimity about it, seems to be of Kichwa origin. By this, the most widespread translation indicates that “Coto” means neck or throat, and “paxi” refers to the Moon, so its meaning would be “neck of the Moon”.

The most violent eruptions on record occurred in the 16th and 17th centuries. In 1877, mud and stone flows reached the Pacific Ocean and the Amazon, seriously affecting Latacunga and the Los Chillos valley to the southeast of Quito. Sodiro and Wolf reports tell that:

“The impetus with which the waves rose and fell, pushing and crashing against each other, like an army of hills in the noisiest fight, the clash of the rocks and the trees swirling in that horrible storm, produced a resounding noise, to which the ground shook and spirits shook up to many leagues away. (Sodiro, L. 1877. Report on the Cotopaxi eruption that occurred on June 26, 1877. Imprenta Nacional, Quito.)

“Many people cannot be convinced to this day that the great floods that devastated the plains of Latacunga, the Chillo valley, and the banks of the Napo River, had simply come from the melting of the Cotopaxi ice…” (Wolf, T. 1878 Notes: Memoirs on Cotopaxi, Quito.)


By mainly protecting the paramo ecosystem, it is very interesting to know the adaptations of the vegetation to withstand and develop in such a harsh climate.

The extreme conditions of the paramo cause the plants to develop special adaptations. According to these characteristics they can be grouped into “forms of life”. Probably the most abundant form of life is that of the grasslands: plants with long, thin leaves (which do not look like leaves) that do not lose as much water as the broad leaves of most common plants. The leaves remain on the plant after death, protecting the fragile young leaves and flowers in the center of the plume. Shrubs, such as chuquiragua, have small, tough leaves to withstand the scarcity of usable water. Many plants grow as dense cushions, generating an internal microclimate that protects the delicate young organs. Stemless rosettes, such as chicory and one of the valerians, grow against the ground and with their leaves close together to store moisture and generate heat. The few trees (such as yaguales and kishwares) have small, hard, hairy, shiny leaves to protect themselves from the cold and radiation, and stems that store heat and water. There are many herbs, such as gentians, ferns, and deer horns, that take advantage of the proximity to these other plants to live in the moor.

Cotopaxi has a herb named after it, Cotopaxi asplundii, from the celery family and which grows near the Limpiopungo lagoon. Walking through the paramo it is relatively easy to see rabbits, skunks, and even deer and Andean weasels, known as chucuris, as well as hawks, guarros, quilicos, and Andean gulls soaring through the sky. With a lot of luck, you can see condors and bandurrias. In the Limpiopungo lagoon, you can see coots or Andean coots and Andean ducks swimming.

Two marsupial mammals inhabit the park, Andean foxes and marsupial mice. Field mice and páramo wolves are other species that inhabit the park, although they are difficult to see. Marsupial frogs, cutines, lizards, and guagsas complete the range of diversity.

Main attractions:

The Cotopaxi Volcano is also amazing for its perfectly conical shape, its blanket of perpetual snow, and yana-sacha, a huge wall of black rock that looks like an eye, visible from the north. The crater measures 800 meters in diameter and 334 meters deep.

Rumiñahui Volcano and Limpiopungo Lagoon is a mountain full of peaks that give them a wild appearance. It reminds us of the last indigenous warrior who heroically resisted the Spanish invasion and whose name means “stone face”. The peaks are walls 800 meters high that surround the caldera that probably collapsed due to the violent emptying of the chamber where the magma was housed. The Limpiopungo lagoon is located at an altitude of 3,800 meters and covers approximately 200 hectares.

It does not have a clear border like other lagoons, but the land around it gradually becomes muddy. It has many reed plants among which ducks nest; Andean gulls and other birds fly around the lagoon.

Enchanted Valley and Pita River Canyon On the eastern side of the park, entering through Machachi, is the Enchanted Valley.

From here you can see the traces of the most recent eruption of Cotopaxi: lahars (rivers of mud now covered by moss and very resistant bushes) and stones, sometimes huge, that came out like bombs from the volcano.

The Pita River runs through a canyon that goes into forests and agricultural areas outside the park, where it forms impressive waterfalls. This is one of the rivers that provides the drinking water consumed in Quito.

Permitted Activities

existing facilities

In the sector known as Mariscal Sucre, there is an interpretation center that has several exhibition rooms, a souvenir shop, and a cafeteria. At 4,810 meters of altitude is the “José Rivas” refuge.

Páramo Trail:

Leaves and returns to the Interpretation Center. You can see the Mishauaico canyon and the species of the area. The route is barely 1 kilometer and of low difficulty.

Laguna de Limpiopungo Trail: Elevated trail along the edge of the lagoon. There are viewpoints for observing the landscape and the aquatic birds of this site: coots, ducks, and seagulls. From here you can also see the Rumiñahui volcano.

Jose Rivas Shelter:

From the entrance to the park, you travel about 20 kilometers until you reach the parking lot under the shelter. The path is signposted and is usually reached without problems. The refuge is reached after walking approximately one hour from the parking lot, which is at an altitude of 4,500 meters.

The Refuge is advanced level due to the steep slope. There are also camping and picnic areas such as La Rinconada and Condorhuayco.

It is located in the Cotopaxi National Park and was built by the Climbing Club of Colegio San Gabriel in the 70’s, before the declaration of the protected area. In 2013, the MAE acquired the infrastructure and began its remodeling, which contemplates the expansion of the infrastructure by increasing the spaces for accommodation and food, as well as the sanitary batteries, and thermal insulation installed on the walls, roof, and floor. The work is completed and has been concessioned together with the El Boliche facilities. Investment: $382,086.15

Shelter Services:

Access to clean shelters, with food supply according to the ascent activities.

Facilities with added value to stay as part of the coupling process prior to the coronation of the volcanoes.

Spaces with a food offer for day visitors, who go for other reasons such as visiting snow-capped mountains, and glaciers, getting to know the snow.

Complementary services such as the sale of handicrafts

Integration of communities linked to reserves in the value chain.

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