Are you planning a Cotopaxi day tour? No doubt one of the first things that will catch your eye from the plane when you’re about to land in the Ecuadorian capital is the jaw-dropping sight of the cone-shaped Cotopaxi volcano…
So, if the idea of conquering this magnificent peak is crossing your mind, keep reading because you are about to find the perfect Cotopaxi day tour for your next adventure.
Cotopaxi, the best option for a day tour!
Cotopaxi National Park is the second most visited National Park in Ecuador, after the Galapagos Islands. And the best part is that you don’t need to be a mountain climbing expert to enjoy a Cotopaxi day tour.
This national park includes not only one of the world’s highest active volcanoes but a number of beautiful mountains and lakes. Visitors will be rewarded with remarkable views of the Ecuadorian páramo (high altitude grasslands) covered by wildflowers and wild horses running free.
For those –like me– who find their element in nature, but struggle with climbing at very high altitudes, a Cotopaxi day tour is the perfect option to get a glimpse, not only of the magnificent Cotopaxi Volcano but of its stunning surroundings.
Check out the following list of a few charming destinations near Cotopaxi that you definitely shouldn’t miss. But keep in mind there is no public transportation service that takes you directly to these places. This may seem like an inconvenience in a tourist place, but I prefer to think of these beautiful attractions as rewards for those who make the effort to see them. The easiest way to visit them is to get together with a few friends and hire a private car.
- Limpiopungo Lake: The trail around this lake offers the opportunity to spot a vast variety of birds and wild horses. If you are fortunate with the weather during your visit, you may have the chance to see the awe-inspiring sight of the Cotopaxi Volcano reflected in the surface of the water. The trail around the lake is flat and offers an enjoyable and scenic experience for walkers (1,5 hours approx.) and cyclists.
- Cajas Lake: Located southwest from the National Park (around 3 km from Mauca-Sudadero control), this lake is not as deep as Limpiopungo, but it also offers an impressive landscape to photograph.
- Santo Domingo Lake: This lake trail is a must for committed cyclists. The ride may be made more interesting by unexpected changes in the wind and occasional bursts of rain! However, the breathtaking views of the lake make it all worthwhile, so make sure you take plenty of breaks to stop and admire the beautiful highlands.
- Inca Ruins: On the northeast side of the park you can see the remains of some Inca fortresses (pucará in the native language) such as El Salitre and Ingaloma. The trek to the ruins, which lasts a few hours, gives you the chance to learn about this famous prehispanic empire.
Why is Cotopaxi so great?
The Cotopaxi experience goes beyond “climbing to the summit of the volcano”. Don’t get me wrong, of course conquering this peak located at 5,897 meters (19,347 ft) above sea level is a lifetime dream for many people.
But there is more!
Its name, for example! In the native language, Cotopaxi means “Cuello de Luna” (Neck of the Moon). Ecuadorian indigenous communities are rich in stories and legends, one of which tells that this volcano was once an old lady. According to the tale, the woman killed and cooked two of her son’s new brides in a cauldron on their wedding night. When the community found out about this horrifying secret they put a spell on the old lady and turned her into a furious cauldron for the rest of the time.
Visiting Cotopaxi means being surrounded by nature! Did you know that in 2014 the Cotopaxi volcano was rated as one of the 10 most photogenic volcanoes in the world? With its perfect cone shape and permanent mantle of snow, it’s no wonder why! And there are plenty of opportunities for adventure too! In the national park, you can challenge yourself in climbing, trekking, and mountain biking with the volcano and its wildlife as your silent witnesses.
Our proposed itinerary
The easiest way to travel to Cotopaxi is to depart from Quito and take the E35 route south on the Panamericana highway (luckily the Ecuadorian section of this famous road is very well maintained). The earlier you set off for your Cotopaxi day tour, the better, so you can make the most of your experience in the National Park. An ideal time to depart would be around 7:00 am.
Just before arriving at the National Park, you will find a few beautiful Spanish-style haciendas, where you can stop and have a delicious breakfast while admiring the colossal presence of the Cotopaxi volcano just in front of you. Haciendas El Porvenir and Tambopaxi are two of the best options, not only for food but to stay a couple of nights if you fancy that idea.
If you are driving your own vehicle, you can head to the main entrance of the National Park (Control Sur), from where you can drive about 10 km northeast to a small museum with an exhibition on the geology, history, flora, and fauna of the park. The next stop is Limpiopungo Lagoon, where a 90 min. walk around the lagoon will take you to the Control Norte. Those feeling fit might attempt a breathless 45-minute walk to the José Rivas Refuge at 4,800 meters (15,750 ft) above sea level. If you still have time and energy, you may like to go further to the Santo Domingo Lake or even make a quick visit to the Rumiñahui volcano.
The National Park closes at 6 p.m. Afterwards, you could pay another visit to one of the haciendas for a proper and well-deserved meal before heading back to Quito.
What to do next?
If your plan is to head south instead, no doubt your next destination is the Quilotoa Lake, only 3 hours southwest of Cotopaxi National Park. The color of this magnificent lagoon located in the heart of a crater will leave you speechless!
Fortunately, Wanderbus offers you some Passes that can take you to Quilotoa and Ecuador’s other beautiful destinations. Check our options and feel free to ask us about any aspect of our service.
Enjoy your Cotopaxi day tour!