Cotopaxi Circuit/Loop

  • Ruminahui from Cotapaxi - © Flickr User - David Hamill
  • Lovely shrubby paramo - © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • Cotopaxi over Limpiopungo herds - © William Mackesy
  • Ruminahui from Cotapaxi - © William Mackesy
  • © Flickr User - David Hamill

Key information: Cotopaxi Circuit/Loop

  • A trek around Cotopaxi (indeed, perhaps better, the traverse/loop described here) will give you a fascinating insight into the area, including superb panoramas of the great cone and surrounding of the area. It will also get you away from the places of easy access, for some quality isolation.
  • Top-rank walking.

Walkopedia rating

  • Walkopedia rating86
  • Beauty34
  • Natural interest18
  • Human interest2
  • Charisma34
  • Negative points2
  • Total rating86
  • Note: Negs: Altitude

Vital Statistics

  • Length: 4-7 days
  • Level of Difficulty: Strenuous

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.

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Lovely shrubby paramo - © William Mackesy

WALK SUMMARY

Cotopaxi is special. It is not only (at 5,897m) one of 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.

Cotopaxi sits in 33,400 hectares of scenically magnificent and geologically fascinating national park, which takes in the great majority of its slopes as well as Cerro Ruminahui to its north, and some lovely lakes and Inca ruins to boot. The peak protects biozones ranging from montane forests (fringe cloud forests) to shrubby lower paramo and classic higher tussocky paramo grasslands.

A trek around the great Cotopaxi volcano (indeed, perhaps better, the traverse/loop described here) will give you a fascinating insight into the area, including superb panoramas of the great cone and surrounding Avenue of the Volcanoes area. It will also get you away from the more popular places of easy access, for some quality isolation.

There are a number of ways you could do this walk, including where to start and end. There are 2 primary choices:

A circuit of Cotopaxi, starting anywhere but usually at Mulalo or the western park entrance (or indeed at Laguna Limpiopungo for more of a horshoe). This will be on (empty) dirt tracks for much of the way, although some pathfinding across paramo will also be needed. For further details read below. Allow 5-7 days. Not too difficult, but quite a lot of up-and-down and some long days if you aim for 5.

A traverse/loop around the area: we think this the better option, not least for the greater variety available, including more distant panoramas of Cotopaxi.

You can either start at Pansaleo (3,160m) near Machachi and make a long climb (1,000m) to the Quebrada Garcia Aucu campsite on the southern flank of Ruminahui then descend to Laguna Limpiopungo and head on to camp at Rio Gualpaloma to the northeast of Cotopaxi. An alternative could be to start at the Hacienda Porvenir to Ruminahui's north-east, and cross its flank to Laguna Limpiopungo and then head on to the Rio GuaIpaloma in one long day.

You are now on the same route as the circuit, traversing the little-visited eastern flanks, lovely empty landscape with continuing fine views of the volcano (on good days) and to the east and south. There are valleys to drop in and out of and an interesting variety of landscapes and vegetation. As you come round to the southern flanks, you may get views of Cotopaxi's south side and will get views of the central valley. A long descent through (relatively dull) pine plantation and fields and hamlets to Mulalo.

You will need to camp so you will need to be carrying heavyish loads. With a small detour, you could spend a night at the hotel at Tambopaxi near the northern park entrance, if you need some downtime and good food.

This is demanding walking in remote mountains with uncertain weather, where altitude can cause problems. Come fully prepared including proper acclimitisation.

Ecuador Climbing and Hiking Guide - Viva,and Trekking in the Central Andes - Lonely Planet have worthwhile sections on this walk. Find relevant books by using our Amazon search function:

Find the books and maps listed above, and many more:

ANYONE GOT ANY GOOD PHOTOS? WE WOULD BE DELIGHTED TO POST THEM!

For more information and photos, including detailed practical information and some warnings, see our Cotopaxi Area page.

Other accounts: share your experiences

Your comments on this walk, your experiences and suggestions, and your photos are very welcome. Where appropriate, you will be credited for your contribution.

© Flickr User - David Hamill

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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Ruminahui from Cotapaxi - © William Mackesy...
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