When flying into Quito during the day, people can often appreciate its majestic shape through their airplane window, but that’s not to say that Cotopaxi can also be seen from various points in Quito and the central highlands.
When you search for Ecuador on the internet, it’s not uncommon to see pictures of Cotopaxi – one of the country’s most famous snow-capped and conically-shaped volcanoes. Cotopaxi is a photographic, geological and overall sentimental icon in the hearts of many, if not all, Ecuadorians. Travelers fall victim to the beauty of the volcano as well, loving and admiring its enchanting features.
Cotopaxi, volcanic peak, in the Cordillera Central of the Andes, central Ecuador. Rising to 5,911 meters; it is among the world’s highest and active volcanoes. Cotopaxi has an almost perfectly symmetrical cone, interrupted only by one minor cone: Cabeza del Inca (“Inca’s Head”).
The first European to attempt an ascent of Cotopaxi was Alexander von Humboldt in 1802. He failed to reach the top and pronounced the mountain unclimbable. But in 1872 the German scientist and traveler Wilhelm Reiss succeeded in reaching the top.
Some visitors, with the necessary strength, preparation, and will, go on the slopes to crown the high summit. While soaking up everything that forms the Cotopaxi National Park: a wide area of páramo, home of the Andean condor, Andean fox, wild horses, and many other species.
- Cultural Aspects: Cotopaxi is a sacred mountain for many native ethnic groups, and has always caused admiration from insiders and outsiders alike. Even if you see it every day, its majesty never becomes outdated. Its name, although people disagree, is believed to be of Kichwa origin. Accordingly, the most widespread translation states that ‘coto’ means neck or throat, and «paxi» refers to the Moon so that its meaning would be «neck of the moon».
- Biodiversity: The extreme conditions of the moorland forces plants to adapt. The most adept at this survival tactic is the grasslands: plants with long thin leaves (which does not look like leaves, more like spines) do not lose as much water as the broad leaves of most common plants. The leaves die but remain on the plant, protecting the fragile young leaves and flowers in the center of the plume. Shrubs, such as chuquiragua, have small and resistant leaves to withstand the shortage of usable water. Many plants grow as thick pads, creating an interior microclimate that protects their delicate young bodies. Stemless rosettes, such as chicory and one of the valerian, grow their leaves on the ground to keep moisture and generate heat.
- As you trek through this area it will be relatively easy to see rabbits, skunks and even deer and Andean weasels (known as chucuris), and hawks, pigs, quilicos and Andean gulls soaring through the sky. With luck, you might see condors and mandolins. In the Limpiopungo lagoon, coots and Andean ducks bathe. Two marsupial mammals inhabit the park, Andean foxes and marsupial mice. Marsupial frogs, cutines, lizards and guagsas add to the range of diversity.
- Highlights: Cotopaxi also wonderful for its perfect cone shape, and brilliant mantle of perpetual snow, and for Yanasacha, a huge wall of black rock that looks like an eye, visible from the north. The crater is 800 meters in diameter and 334 meters deep.
- Camping: Camping has become more difficult since the recent eruption of Cotopaxi in August 2015. The National Park no longer allows camping on park grounds. Your best bet is to head north of the park where there are a few small hosterías on the back roads leading to Machachi and Sangolquí.
- Hike the Laguna Limpiopungo: The Laguna Limpiopungo is a seasonal lake that swells in size during the rainy season. It is home to nesting Andean Gulls which can be seen year-round. Hummingbirds can be observed along the trail along with tiny bunny rabbits and several species of seed-eating birds. The wild horses of Cotopaxi often graze near the end of the trail
- Hike to the Refugio: Ecuadorians love to connect with their mountain deities and one way to do this is to hike as high as possible. Since the August 2015 eruption, the National Park has stopped all climbing to the glacier and the summit of Cotopaxi but has reopened the trail to the Jose Ribas Refuge at 14,764 feet (4,500 meters). The hike up is strenuous, requiring good lung capacity, and the views on a clear day are unparalleled
- Bike down the Mountain: Several companies offer mountain biking tours in Cotopaxi National Park. Most begin at the trailhead to the Jose Ribas Refuge and head straight down the mountain on the windy, unpaved road. Others bike the main road to Laguna Limpiopungo. Traveling by bike rather than car allows increased opportunities to photograph wild horses and spot the beautiful Star of Ecuador Hummingbird with its bright purple head and brilliant white chest.
- Clothing: Warm clothes, waterproof poncho or raincoat in case of rain or drizzle. Proper footwear, and walking boots if medium or long walks intended.
- Hike to the refuge: There are people who become affected by altitude, especially during the walk from the parking lot to the refuge of Cotopaxi. Walk slowly, and make several stops for the body to get used to the altitude. If you feel dizziness or headaches, it is best to descend.
- Discover one of the highlights of Ecuador: Cotopaxi volcano during the Ecuador Trekking the Avenue of Volcanoes, Ecuador Multisport, Cross Country Cycling and Haciendas, The Best of Ecuador & Galapagos trips, or get an one day adventure. It is a once in a lifetime adventure you can not lose if you are planning to visit Ecuador
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