Key information: Volcan Cotopaxi
- Climb Ecuador's most famous mountain, a huge and superb snow capped volcanic cone.
- A tough slog up rock and ice and on changing glaciers where a good guide is vital. Cotopaxi is very high and frequently cloudy, so it is for peak baggers and not contemplative walkers. But it is a real achievement.
- Walkopedia rating81
- Natural interest18
- Human interest2
- Negative points5
- Total rating81
- Note: Negs: Altitude
- Length: 9-13 hours
- Maximum Altitude: 5,897
- Level of Difficulty: Very Difficult
This walk description page is at an early stage of development, and will be expanded over time. Your comments on this walk, your experiences and tips, and your photos are very welcome.
Cotopaxi is special. It is not only one of the highest (it used to be claimed to be the highest) active volcanoes in the world, but it is a superb, classical, symmetrical conical stratovolcano, with a 22km diameter at its base, which soars above the surrounding landscape, its snow-capped peak visible for miles around. It is (sorry) iconic, and one of the world's best-known volcanoes.
Von Humboldt described Cotopaxi as "the most beautiful and regular of all the colossal peaks in the high Andes. A perfect cone covered by a thick blanket of snow that shines so brilliantly at sunset it seems detached from the azure of the sky."
To put this climb into perspective, at 5,897m (19,347ft), Cotopaxi is 2m taller than Kilimanjaro, which the majority of people fail to get up and some die on every year. But many climb it too fast, whereas you are more likely to have acclimatised here, at least if you have read our warnings!
The main approach is from the north, a route pioneered by the great Edward Whymper. This isn't a technical climb, but you will need an experienced guide, and good ice/snow equipment. (The route changes with changing glacier conditions, so the guide will need to be up to date.)
Most people will get driven to the roadhead below the Jose Ribas refuge at 4,600m. A steep loose trail will get you to the refuge at 4,800m. It has 70 beds and cooking facilities.
It is a 6-10 hours climb, mainly on ice and glacier but also rock, from the refuge to the peak. And 3-6 hrs for descent. A LONG day, so start early/by 2am.
The peak, when it is clear, commands outstanding views of the peaks and plateaux of the Avenue of Volcanoes. The intriguing ice-ringed crater usually has (even when not "active"!) smoking fumeroles to add atmosphere.
While it has its beauties and thrills, Walkopedia suggests that this long altitudinous slog up steep ice and glaciers is attractive more to the peak bagger than the contemplative walker, and is almost pointless were the peak to be cloudy (as is quite likely) when you finally drag your body there.
There is also a southern approach via Morurco/Guago Cotopaxi, which takes 3 days and requires tents and carrying a lot of water, so is a major undertaking. But would be crowd free.
To repeat, this is really tough walking in remote mountains with uncertain weather, where altitude can cause real problems. Come fully prepared, including proper acclimatization.
Very cold. Not fun if you struggle with heights.
Ecuador Climbing and Hiking Guide - Viva has a worthwhile section on this walk. Find relevant books by using our Amazon search function:
Find the books and maps listed above, and many more:
For more information and photos, including detailed practical information (and guide advice) and some warnings, see our Cotopaxi Area walk page.
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Your comments on this walk, your experiences and suggestions, and your photos are very welcome. Where appropriate, you will be credited for your contribution.
Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and potential problems, and many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks, dangers and problems. Problems of any sort can arise on any walk. This website does not purport to identify any (or all) actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to any particular walk.
Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information.
Anyone planning an expedition to this place should see further important information about this walk.
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