Plan your Cotopaxi mountain biking trip in Ecuador

Would you like to travel by mountain bike in Ecuador? It’s not everyday you get to bike around an active volcano at 3,500 m (11,480 ft). In Ecuador, Cotopaxi Mountain Biking is a regular weekend activity for local cyclists and is among one of numerous incredible mountain biking destinations you can experience during your visit.

What do I need to know to plan my adventure?

Before you embark on your Cotopaxi mountain biking adventure, consider this: Ecuador is hard core. You’ll be biking at +3,500 meters and altitude sickness is a real risk. You’ll be biking around an active volcano that put the country in a state of emergency only three years ago. Finally, this is mainly a downhill ride. The chances of eating shit are relatively high.

Now that we’ve covered that, let’s get into the logistics.

Unless you have a mode of transport during your visit, you’ll most likely need to pay for a tour with a Quito-based outdoor and/or mountain biking company. There are a few recommended companies with loads of experience, and the Biking Dutchman sits high on the list (link listed below).

Most companies offer cotopaxi mountain biking day tours that depart Quito in the early morning and bring you back in the early evening. However, recently a few companies have started offering multi-day tours, also called bike-packing tours, where you have the opportunity to camp out in Cotopaxi National Park while mountain biking along its trails.

Whichever you choose, make sure to select one that is staffed with English-speaking guides, unless you speak decent Spanish.

Also, while most companies will provide the majority of your gear, including a helmet, gloves and even packed lunch, you should bring your own rain and wind protection, which leads us to the topic of weather.

If you’re planning to go mountain biking around Cotopaxi, expect the following conditions: Your Cotopaxi bike ride will likely begin at the the Cotopaxi base camp (refugio), which sits at 4,500 m (14760 ft). With wind chill, it is literally freezing up there. As you descend from that point, it’ll start to feel warmer, but expect to feel cold most of the time on this trip. Remember, you’re in the Andes, even when the sun is out, it probably feels chilly.

This area of the Andes is called the páramo and is known for high winds and constant drizzle. In fact, there’s even a specific term for this type of misty, high-altitude weather: garúa de páramo.

At some point, the sun will come out at some point on your ride and you’ll get to observe the Cotopaxi volcano in its full splendor. If that happens, consider yourself very fortunate! Many visitors come to Cotopaxi only to look at a grey cloud where a volcano should sit.

Also, if the sun does come out, remember to wear sun protection! On the equator, at this altitude, and if you have a lighter skin tone, YOU WILL FRY. Sunscreen, sunglasses, a cap that fits under your helmet (or that you wear when you’re not biking), proper hydration and long sleeved layers are essential.

Tips for Mountain Biking Cotopaxi Volcano

If you hire a travel company for a day or multi-day trip, they should provide all the information necessary. Just in case, here are a few tips for mountain biking Cotopaxi Volcano.

  • Layer up and make it waterproof: You won’t regret it. Going downhill at this altitude, plus windchill, plus possible garúa de páramo (see previous section) is C-O-L-D. There’s nothing more miserable that being cold and wet.
  • Check your brakes: Again, if you go with a professional mountain touring company, you probably won’t have to worry about this, but better be safe than sorry. Make sure both the front and back brakes work and test them out before you head downhill on a bumpy road.
  • Ask for a crash course: If it’s your first time doing mountain biking, make sure the company you hire provides an intro to mountain biking; a few practical lessons can go a long way. For instance, knowing how to use your brakes (back brake 70% – front brake 30%) is crucial.
  • Take sun protection: The sun on the equator is no joke, and when you’re as high as 3,500 meters (or higher), UV radiation gets even more serious. Get some reflective glasses, sunscreen and whatever else might protect you from the sun (if it comes out :).

I feel like I’ve made Cotopaxi sound like some dreary, wet and windy destination. Keep in mind that it is often sunny in this area! But the weather tends to shift quickly and you should always be prepared for bad weather.

You might be wondering, “when is the best time to visit Cotopaxi?”. Again, while the weather tends to be quite volatile, try to go there during dry season which is between June and October. Rainy season in this region falls between March and April and starts again around October to December.

Can I rent a mountain bike in Ecuador?

Yes, there are numerous places where you can rent a mountain bike in Ecuador for a self-guided Cotopaxi mountain biking adventure. Below are a few places you can approach to inquire about rentals.

  1. Biking Dutchman – Likely the most experienced bike tour company in Quito, Biking Dutchman also rents out mountain bikes to individuals on a day to day basis.
  2. Pacha Bikers – Rents out city and mountain bikes at $30 for a half day. They also offer trips in the city and in other areas of the country.
  3. Freedom Bike Rental – Known more for their motorcycle tours and rentals, Freedom Bike Rental also rents out a specialized rockhopper mountain bike.
  4. Flow Bike Rental – Based in Quito, this small company offers a number of high quality mountain bikes for rent on a daily/weekly basis.

Renting a mountain bike isn’t the complicated part. The real question is, how will you get you and your bike to Cotopaxi? For that, you’ll probably need to rent a car, too. With this in mind, you might be better off hiring a company that offers Cotopaxi mountain biking tours since they’re well-equipped to take numerous bikes up the mountain.

If you decide to go ahead and rent a bike, and have found a way to get to Cotopaxi National Park with that bike, the sky’s the limit and biking is an incredible way to explore this area. Make sure to stop through Tambopaxi Hotel for lunch and hot chocolate (or a beer) and lake Limpiopungo.

Are you an experienced mountain biker? Every year, there’s a mountain biking race around Cotopaxi called the “Vuelta al Cotopaxi”. This year it’s taking place in November and anyone can enter, though you must have a teammate and registration costs $150 per person. The route can be found online so, even if you’re not interested in competing, you can follow this route to explore Cotopaxi.

Getting to Cotopaxi on the Wanderbus

If you don’t need to ride a mountain bike in Cotopaxi, you can always visit it for the day by jumping on the Wanderbus. It’s one of the first stops on the majority of Wanderbus routes leaving from Quito, and you can even combine it with a stop through Quilotoa lake (southwest of Cotopaxi).

Remember that Wanderbus offers convenient hop on and hop off locations in cities and towns across Ecuador. It’s a safe, fun and hassle-free way of exploring the country.

Wrapping up

One of the perks of life and travel in Ecuador is that pretty much anything goes. In another country, I’m not sure biking around an active volcano would be permitted. Here? No problemo. Also, who knows how long Cotopaxi Volcano will be around? Call a mountain bike touring company (or rent your own bike) and head on up to this increible place before it’s too late!


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