Where: Cotopaxi National Park, Ecuador
Best Sights: Magnificent views from the world’s highest active volcano
Remember To Bring: Food, water and your own sleeping bag
Watch Out For: Altitude sickness – acclimatize before you begin the trek
Where It’s At
Mainland Ecuador’s most popular national park, Parque Nacional Cotapaxi, hosts the world’s highest active volcano. At over 18,000 feet, Cotopaxi is Ecuador’s second highest peak… and this snow-capped giant just begs to be climbed!
Although active, the ice-cream cone shaped volcano has not erupted since 1942, although some tremors were felt in the 1970’s. Hundreds of climbers of all levels attempt the peak each year, but altitude sickness is a real problem and you will need to make sure that you acclimatise first. Nausea, headaches and fatigue may signal a bout of altitude sickness and sufferers should descend until feeling better.
The park is about 30 miles south of Ecuador’s capital city, Quito, and halfway to Banos on the Pan-American Highway – or the Avenue of Volcanoes as it is aptly named. From the parking lot you can ascend as far as the somewhat spartan Jose Ribas Refugio at 13,000 feet before attempting the last 3,000 foot climb to the summit before dawn at around 12:00/1:00 am to avoid melting afternoon snow.
Entrance fee to the park is $20, and it costs $10 a night to stay at the Jose Ribas Refugio where there is running water, but you need to bring food and sleeping bag.
Guides can be arranged in Quito and Ambato. The SAEC organization in Quito can advise potential climbers of conditions in the park.
Trekking tours from one to four nights up the volcano
main image: Cotopaxi, image courtesy of Ángel M. Felicísimo, Flickr creative commons