Cotopaxi Overview

Cotopaxi is the world’s third highest active volcano and the second tallest mountain in Ecuador. It has the classic volcano shape, with a symmetrical cone and deep crater at the summit.

Due to its close proximity to the country's capital and the relatively low technical difficulty required to climb, it is one of the country's most popular mountaineering destinations.

Cotopaxi can be climbed from either the north or south. There are currently two different routes that can be taken to the summit. These begin with a steady hike through the high plains, which give way to scree-covered slopes. The top of the volcano is glaciated and requires the use of ice axes and crampons to summit.

Quick Facts about Cotopaxi

  • Cotopaxi is an active stratovolcano in the Andes. It last erupted from August 2015 to January 2016.
  • There is one mountain hut situated on Cotopaxi, refugio Jose F. Rivas. The hut is a 45 minutes hike from the car park on the north face of the mountain.
  • Climbing any glaciated mountain in Ecuador is prohibited by law unless you hire a certified mountain guide.

History of Cotopaxi

Cotopaxi is an active volcano and since 1534 there have 87 known eruptions. Prior to the invasion of the Incas, Cotopaxi (which means moon neck in the local language) was considered a sacred mountain to the inhabitants of Ecuador’s central valley. 

The first attempt to summit Cotopaxi was made in 1802 by Alexander von Humboldt, who made it to 4,500 metres (14,760 feet) before having to turn back. In 1858, Moritz Wagner tried to climb the mountain, but also had to turn back before reaching the summit.

The first known expedition to reach the summit of Cotopaxi came in 1872 when Wilhelm Reiss and Angel Escobar arrived at the summit via the Southwest Route.

Experience Required for Climbing Cotopaxi

The two main routes up which to climb Cotopaxi are rated at Grade II/PD. These are technically not very difficult, requiring only glacier travel with ice axes, crampons and rope.

However, the climb is very physically demanding. Upon reaching the summit glacier, there are few places to stop. Climbers should expect to steadily ascend without a break for the first 3 to 4 hours of the climb. Overall, summit day requires 7 to 9 hours of steep climbing. 

Among the factors that impact moutnaineers on Cotopaxi is the high altitude. Many guides recommend arriving in Ecuador early in order to acclimatize and, if time allows, climbing one or more smaller peaks prior to Cotopaxi

Main Routes up Cotopaxi

There are two main routes up to the summit of Cotopaxi: Rompe Corazones, on the north face, and the Southwest Route.

Rompe Corazones is the more popular of the two routes and passes by the mountain’s only hut. The extremely scenic route more or less follows the now-closed normal route and winds up a series of switchbacks on the mountain’s glacier. Most guides opt to climb via this route.

The Southwest Route follows the path established by Reiss and Escobar in 1872. It is best reserved for highly experienced mountaineers, as it will require setting up camp on the exposed mountain flanks. Otherwise, the climbing is very similar to the Rompe Corazones route.   al guides expeditions for more information.

Useful info about Cotopaxi

Height: 5,897 m (19,347 ft)

Weather: Due to its location near the equator, the weather at the base of Cotopaxi is fairly consistent year-round, with average daily temperatures around 13 ºC (55 ºF). Temperatures drop to well-below freezing as you ascend the volcano. The climbing season is also the driest time of year.

Peak Climbing Season: June to August, December to January

Summit Window: June to August, December to January

Average Expedition Length: 2 days

Accepted Currencies: US dollar (USD)

Language: Spanish, Kichwa, Shuar

How To Get To Cotopaxi

Most trips to Cotopaxi begin with a flight into Quito’s Mariscal Sucre International Airport (UIO) or Cotopaxi International Airport (LTX), in Latacunga. Cotopaxi sits about 50 kilometres (31 miles) to the south of the capital. Most guides will opt to meet you in Quito, however it is also possible to rent a car and drive to the park. There are few public transport options available.

Your travel route will vary depending on the expedition you choose. Please refer to the individual guides expeditions for more information.

Cotopaxi Equipment List coming soon

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