Mountain climbing in Ecuador is but one of many adventure activities offered in the northern stretch of the Andes, and climbing Cotopaxi is often featured on the bucket lists of backpackers from around the globe. Overlooking the capital city of Quito at over 19,000 feet (5,900 meters) above sea level, Cotopaxi is Ecuador’s second highest peak and one of the highest active volcanos on the planet.
Situated in Cotopaxi National Park, 30 miles south of Quito, the sleeping monster last erupted in the 1940s. Since then, glacial ice has retaken the peak, rendering the entire landscape an ethereal snowy wonderland and providing a breathtaking setting for the spectacular sunrises at the summit. Several tour operators have developed climbs of varying intensity for groups and individuals. Regardless of how experienced you are as a climber or how many people are in your group, you must be sure to acclimatize yourself to the altitude before beginning the climb. This means arriving in the area at least a week before the climb and taking high-altitude treks on smaller neighboring summits.
Visitors usually arrive by car or van, often arranged by the tour company, and the park entrance fee of $10 may or may not be included in the tour package price. The park houses three mountain lodges, the largest being Refúgio José F. Rivas ($24 per night, including breakfast), about 45 minutes by foot from the main parking area, as well as several campgrounds along the hiking trails. Most hikes start from the lodges at around midnight, heading up the mountain in the wee hours of the morning to arrive at the summit by daybreak.
The climb to the top of Cotopaxi isn’t grueling, but it is fairly technical, requiring crampons, ice axes, and harnesses. These items, along with cold-weather gear, tents, and transportation to and from Quito are provided depending on which tour company you choose. Two-day guided treks start at $200 per person and can go as high as $1,200 per person for lengthier, more luxury-oriented tours.
-Ernest White II