Cotopaxi – Fire and Ice



Cotopaxi Shortfacts

The Cotopaxi is a 5 897m active volcano, between Latacunga and Quito. It is the highest active volcano in Ecuador and under close surveillance, because Latacunga and Quito are so close that an eruption could kill a lot of people. Cotopaxi is in the middle of a national park with the same name. There is a glacier at the top of the volcano. If it erupts, it would first flood the valley before covering it with ashes and lava.

How to get to Cotopaxi

Going up the Cotopaxi is a day trip. From Latacunga it is possible to book a tour for US$45-US$50. The tour includes:

  • Minibus ride from Latacunga to the national park
  • Admission fee for the park
  • Guide
  • Visit of the “laguna”
  • Climb up to the first refuge
  • Lunch
  • Ride back to Latacunga

This price is pretty high, and you can easily do the same on your own. We will now explain how to save money on this trip.

First of all, it is easy and cheap to get to the park on your own. At the bus terminal in Latacunga, jump on the bus going to Quito. Ask the driver to drop you off at the park. It is a 15 minutes ride and it costs US$1.00. The bus driver will let you on the side of the road, you just need to walk 50 m to reach the first stands. You will need to use your negociation skills at this point. The price will be the same for 1, 2, 3 or 4 people. We negociated US$45.00 for three people. There are fix costs, like the national parc admission fee, so you can’t lower the price that much. For about US$12.00 on top (price obtained after negociation) you can even rent a mountain bike. They will bring the bike on the volcano in the pickup and you can ride downhill. We didn’t do it, we thought that it was too expensive for a bike ride .

To get back to Latacunga, it is easy: wait for the bus coming from Quito on the side of the road (US$1.00). Some buses just pass the city but won’t go to the terminal. They will let you at the entrance of the city. We had to take a taxi to our hostel (US$5.00 divided by three people). So better ask they driver before.

With an agency, the Cotopaxi trip would have cost us US$45.00, we paid only US$23.00. The only difference was the lunch. Of course, if you are alone, it is not cheaper to do it on your own. Try to find a few fellow travellers at your hostel to share the costs. With a little bit of negociation, you can save a lot of money.

Ascent of the Cotopaxi

We started at 8h30 from Latacunga from our hostel. At 9h30 we were already at the Cotopaxi (after a 15min bus ride). After negociating our tour with a guide, we finally started. The first stop is at the Laguna. It is way less impressive than the tour operators told us, but from there, there you will have a beautiful view of the Cotopaxi. A second volcan, inactive, can be seen from there too.

The driver/guide drove us up to 4000m high in his pickup. From there we walked with him to the first refuge “Jose Rivas” at 4864m. Normally you need about one hour to reach it, we did it in 30min. The Quilotoa loop the day before trained us! At the refuge we drank a well deserved hot chocolate.

Tip: it is possible (for free) to get a Cotopaxi stamp in your passport at the refuge, just ask nicely 🙂 Unfortunately, it was not possible to go further, a recent eruption increased the risk of avalanche.

Back to the car. On our way back, before leaving the park, the guide let us hopp off on the side of the road. There is a nice trail (20 min walk) where you can see a lot of the local flora. At the end of the trail the driver was waiting for us.

We arrived in Latacunga at 1p.m..

What to bring – Cotopaxi Packing List

  • Small backpack with rain cover
  • Cap
  • Woolly
  • Sunglasses
  • Scarf / Cloth
  • Rainjacket / Windbreaker
  • Sweater
  • Long pants or leggings(thermo-undercloths is a good alternative to travel light but warm)
  • Thick and thin socks
  • Hiking Boots
  • Bottle of water
  • First-Aid-Kid
  • Sunblocker
  • Snacks
  • Camera
  • Mobile phone
  • Cash
  • Passport


  • Guide/Driver: US$45.00 divided by 3 : US$15.00
  • Tip for the guide: US$2.00
  • Transport:
    • Latacunga > Cotopaxi: US$1.00
    • Cotopaxi > Latacunga: US$1.00
    • Taxi to the hostel in Latacunga: US$1.50
  • Snacks and water: US$1.50
  • Hot chocolate at the refuge: US$1.00

Total: US$23.00


The Cotopaxi is a beautiful volcano. By good weather the view is truly amazing. The price asked by the agencies is high, but with this article you know how to save money on this trip. Of course, check the weather before, it is only worth it if it is sunny.