Hike to Cotopaxi Volcano’s snow line for commanding views of the rugged peaks surrounding you and the plains down below.
Follow a series of switchbacks up from the parking lot at 15,200 feet, slowly but surely making your way another 700 feet in elevation to the Refugio José Rivas, a launching point for summit attempts. Catch your breath here with hot chocolate or mint tea, or to eat your packed lunch, before continuing to climb another 500 feet to the edge of the glacier.
You will find that you get short of breath easily due to the high elevation of this hike. Proceed at a slow pace and take plenty of breaks.
Weather changes rapidly on the slopes of Cotopaxi and it can be very cold and windy. Pack accordingly with a winter hat, gloves and extra layers. You will also be at around 16,000 feet and while your stay at this elevation will be brief, it’s important as ever to maintain proper hydration and nutrition in the day’s leading up to this hike, and during the hike itself.
Don't proceed onto the glacier itself without a guide, as there are crevasses and the terrain and weather is unpredictable.
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.
Points of Interest
At 19,347 feet, Cotopaxi is the second highest point in Ecuador (behind the Chimborazo Volcano) and a popular climbing destination. The volcano holds significant cultural and historical value for locals in the surrounding valleys and, on a clear day, can be seen from Quito. Cotopaxi is an active volcano, with the most recent activity occurring between August 2015 and August 2016. The Ecuadorian Government reopened the park in August 2016 and the summit in October 2017.
Refugio José F. Rivas
This mountain hut was built in 1971 and expanded in 2005. It’s used primarily as a staging point for climbers attempting to summit Cotopaxi. By spending the night here and starting the ascent in the middle of the night, climbers can reach the summit and descend in a day without having to use any other intermediate camps.
Food & Drink
Hot chocolate, tea and snacks can be purchased at the Refugio. Make sure to pick-up your packed lunch from Tambopaxi Lodge.
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.