On a clear day, Cotopaxi is an ominous sight that can be seen looming in the distance outside of Quito. It is an active volcano that last erupted in August of 2015 and spewed ash and steam until January of 2016. You are no longer able to hike all of the way to the top, but you can hike up to the refuge shelter that sits about half way up the side of the volcano. There are evacuation route signs throughout the park providing a sense of how seriously one should take the possible threat of a future eruption.
Upon entering the park, you pass through a forest that is owned by a local lumber mill that provides wood for making furniture and other items. The road quickly deteriorates as you move your way closer to the base of the mountain and you pass through fields with wild horses roaming in the grasslands. It was a cloudy, foggy day, as is often the case, during our visit to the Cotopaxi National Park. We did get a few glimpses of the peak, although most of the time is was shrouded by clouds.
The steep road, which was made up of deep sand and ash, continued to get more and more difficult to travel the closer we got towards the trailhead. At several spots the road was almost unpassable due to the deep, slippery, sand and then as we rounded a bend just short of the trailhead, our driver got stuck and was not able to make it up the steep slope. We were just one of several vehicles that were not able to make it up this stretch of road even though we were in an all-wheel drive vehicle. It is definitely important to have a 4-wheel drive vehicle if you want to make it to the trailhead. We could have hiked up to the trailhead and then continued to the shelter house, but decided that due to the cold conditions and high altitude that we would pass on this particular hike.
Our guide then took us to the Limpiopungo glacier lake, which was created centuries ago and is home to an abundance of waterfowl and other birds. We did a nice hike around the lake, enjoying views of the wetlands and the volcano on the horizon. It was cold and windy, but the hike was very pleasant anyway. Afterwards, we stopped at a small, family-owned restaurant to enjoy a nice hot lunch before returning to Quito in the afternoon.
Visiting Cotopaxi is a simple, hour and a half drive from Quito and is well worth the time to visit. There are so many volcanoes in Ecuador that are part of the Pacific Ring of Fire and each is unique in their own way. If it is possible to go on a sunny day, you will be greeted with stunning views of the snow capped volcano.