Hike from Chilcabamba Lodge to Tambopaxi Lodge, making your way through the Pita River Canyon and a vast plateau of alpine tundra (or Páramo) as you enter Cotopaxi National Park.
You’ll experience the diversity of the Pedregal Valley in full, starting in dense high alpine scrubland at Chilcabamba Lodge. Pass through fields planted with quinoa, potatoes and wheat before dropping into the upper reaches of the Pita River Canyon. Turn south, and if it’s a clear day, see Cotopaxi Volcano looming ahead of you. Begin ascending up to the head of the canyon, passing through an old control gate and into the National Park. You’ll immediately ascend out of the canyon onto a broad plateau of open grassland dotted with giant boulders – an ancient lava flow. Wind your way through this otherworldly landscape, passing herds of wild horses and cattle, keeping your eye out for Condors (Ecuador's unofficial national animal) and pausing at Pucará Salitre (saltpeter fort), the ruins of an ancient Incan lookout. Finish your hike by turning west toward Rumiñahui volcano, crossing the open plauteau and arriving at the red-walled lodge of Tambopaxi.
Check the weather ahead of time, for this day. You will be on the Páramo (alpine tundra), which is a awe-inspiring, beautiful landscape but is also exposed to the elements.
Today you climb from 11,330 feet to almost 12,500 feet. At this altitude, it’s important to maintain proper nutrition and hydration, so plan ahead by packing plenty of water, snacks and lunch. The sun is especially strong at this elevation and can cause sunburn even on a cloudy day, so sunscreen is a must.
The terrain is also open and exposed, especially as you leave Pita River Canyon and enter the National Park. While most days are relatively clear, the weather in the National Park can change rapidly and thunderstorms do occur. Plan ahead by checking the weather ahead of time and familiarize yourself with what to do in the event of lightning on open terrain.
As you hike you will pass herds of wild horses and cattle, in addition to some bulls. While they are rarely aggressive, proceed with caution and give these animals wide berth.
Please note that there is no cell phone service in the park.
The Ecuadorian government monitors Cotopaxi Volcano 24/7 and has an early warning system and marked evacuation routes in place for visitors to the National Park. While an eruption is unlikely, check in with the staff at Chilcabamba Lodge regarding emergency procedures in the event of volcanic activity.
The weather changes rapidly in the Andean Highlands so pack accordingly, carrying plenty of warm layers and rain gear. Sturdy, waterproof hiking boots are also strongly recommended, as the hiking surface varies greatly from dirt roads to slippery singletrack trails.
Points of Interest
Old Control Gate
This marks the border of Cotopaxi National Park. Once an entry point for vehicles, the park closed down this entrance for the more popular Tambopaxi entrance to the west. This means more wide-open terrain for you.
Situated at the head of the Pita River Canyon on the slopes of Sincholagua, the remnants of this Incan fort offer commanding views of the surrounding terrain and volcanos. Cotopaxi looms to the south and Rumiñahui to the wet. On a particularly clear day, this site offers views down into the sprawling Quito valley, allowing the fort’s occupants to prepare for any intruders coming their way from the city.
Food & Drink
There are no stops for food or water today, so pack plenty of snaks and water and pick-up your packed lunch from Chilcabamba lodge.