I have a thing for volcanoes.
Not in a science fair diorama kind of way, or even in a particularly scientific or geological way. I just like to touch them, poke them, or at least get close enough to say that I’ve been there.
Cotopaxi Volcano in Ecuador is going to have to remain one of the latter experiences.
In August of 2015 the Cotopaxi National Park shut down a portion of the park surrounding the volcano due to increased activity. Unfortunately, the park’s Official Website isn’t particularly informative. We went into the trip assuming that it was still partially closed, but had a hard time confirming that in advance.
Of course, we were right. But, that’s not so bad. Unless you’re a hardcore hiker who is willing to attempt summiting one of the world’s highest volcanoes (5,897 m) covered in snow, a view from the bottom is quite allright. Besides, there is more to the park than just the volcano.
For starters, the park is free. According to one of the workers, the only national park that requires admission in Ecuador is the Galapagos. So, assuming you have a way to get there, it’s totally worth it. But be careful when considering tours or busses. My companion had already visited the park, but paid $30 per person for a “tour” that included little more than a drive through with some commentary. (This doesn’t include the taxi and bus rides that were needed to get there from Quito.)
If you’re feeling up to it. Renting a car is well worth it. For about $50/day we had ourselves a Chevy Spark (Sparky) to freely roam the country.
WARNING: Read the fine print carefully on any rental agreements. Some companies only include limited mileage. We didn’t take that into consideration, and got screwed after our 300 miles were used up. Other rental companies have much higher limits for the same price.
Of course the park has everything else you’d want in a park. Camping, trails, woods, mud flows created by ash, etc. I’d recommend it as part of a day trip, but not much more until the actual volcano reopens for exploring.
If you’re coming in from Quito, there is a “north” entrance, but we’d heard that it can get a little rough at times. The “south” entrance is very nice, and freshly paved for most of the way. It also seems to have more ranger stations and visitor centers if you need any supplies or information. Keep in mind that there’s a real good chance your GPS or phone will NOT have updated maps for this location. Simply drive down HWY 35 until you see signs. (It’s hard to miss…)
As tends to be the case with most of Ecuador, the weather will most likely not cooperate with you. The day we decided to visit Cotopaxi was only a little cloudy, but we were still pretty sure that actually seeing the peak was not going to happen. We were right. Oh well, almost all of the volcano was free of cloud cover, and the surrounding mountain ranges are just as impressive to see.