A Guide to Discovering Cotopaxi National Park, Ecuador

Cotopaxi National Park, Ecuador | ©Justin Williams | Flickr
Cotopaxi National Park, Ecuador | ©Justin Williams | Flickr
Photo of Angela Drake
Founder, Not Your Average American15 July 2017

Cotopaxi National Park is only a short distance outside of Quito, making it a perfect day trip. But if you’re looking for those stunning early morning and late afternoon views of the volcano, consider staying overnight in one of the several lodges in the region. The best time of year for clear views of the Cotopaxi Volcano is mid-July until early October during the dry, windy season.

Volcán Cotopaxi | ©Agencia de Noticias ANDES | Flickr

Where to Stay


Camping has become more difficult since the recent eruption of Cotopaxi in August 2015. The National Park no longer allows camping on park grounds. Your best bet is to head north of the park where there are a few small hosterías on the back roads leading to Machachi and Sangolqui.


The best lodges for visiting Cotopaxi National Park lie outside the North Gate. The road is unpaved, sometimes just dirt, sometimes cobbled, and the experience of getting to the haciendas can be part of the adventure.

What to Do

Hike the Laguna Limpiopungo

The Laguna Limpiopungo is a seasonal lake that swells in size during the rainy season. It is home to nesting Andean Gulls which can be seen year-round. Hummingbirds can be observed along the trail along with tiny bunny rabbits and several species of seed-eating birds. The wild horses of Cotopaxi often graze near the end of the trail.

Cotopaxi National Park, Ecuador | ©Justin Williams | Flickr

Hike to the Refugio

Ecuadorians love to connect with their mountain deities and one way to do this is to hike as high as possible. Since the August 2015 eruption, the National Park has stopped all climbing to the glacier and the summit of Cotopaxi but has reopened the trail to the Jose Ribas Refuge at 14,764 feet (4,500 meters). The hike up is strenuous, requiring good lung capacity, and the views on a clear day are unparalleled.

Hiking in Ecuador | © / Flickr

Bike down the Mountain

Several companies offer mountain biking tours in Cotopaxi National Park. Most begin at the trail head to the Jose Ribas Refuge and head straight down the mountain on the windy, unpaved road. Others bike the main road to Laguna Limpiopungo. Traveling by bike rather than car allows increased opportunities to photograph wild horses and spot the beautiful Star of Ecuador Hummingbird with its bright purple head and brilliant white chest.

Cotopaxi National Park, Ecuador | ©Ángel M. Felicísimo | Flickr

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