Cotopaxi – A day hike to the glacier

When the weather is clear in Quito, you can see the snowy top of Cotopaxi south of the city. We decided to take a closer look while we were staying in Latacunga. Getting to Cotopaxi is tricky, so we booked a day trip with Tovar Expeditions at Hostel Tiana. With 5 people going, it ended up being $35 p/person – a great deal!

Video from our trip

We met Julian in the morning, got into his trusty red Toyota Land Cruiser and headed out to the park. About an hour later we arrived at the interpretive center where Julian told us about Cotopaxi’s history and the ecology of the area. The city of Latacunga has been leveled 3 times by the volcano, luckily the last time it erupted in 2015 it only shot out ash. We got to touch the ash and it felt like fine coal powder.

After the interpretive center, we went for a short walk around Limpiopungo lagoon to get used to the altitude and explore the terrain. There were wild horses and birds all around the lagoon, but it was cold and foggy and the visibility was poor. We feared the worst for our hike up the volcano.

Limpiopungo Lagoon in Cotopaxi National Park

After another 30 minutes in the car we got to the start of the hike up the mountain. We started in the same place as the groups that were climbing all the way to the summit at 19,347 feet and about 4,500 feet above us. Ours was a day excursion and we were only headed up to the glacier at about 16,000 feet. Fun fact, we ended up higher than the summit of Mt. Rainier which is only 14,410 feet. The way up was quite foggy.

Julian had a good saying on the way up – take it easy. We moved at a comfortable pace and 40 minutes later made it up.  At the refugio we stopped and had a chance to warm up with some hot chocolate. There was still another 30 minutes to go to our destination.

Cotopaxi diagram at the refugio

Eventually we broke through the clouds and got to the start of the glacier. While we stood and caught our breath, Julian described how every year the glacier receded because of global warming. We started to turn back and Hayley decided to take a final look at the summit. As luck would have it was totally clear.


We started back down, satisfied with the fact that we got what we came for – we saw the top of Cotopaxi! 

As we started to walk down the wind picked up and all of a sudden we were walking through a snowstorm. There’s a clip 30 seconds into the YouTube video that does a great job of capturing that. 

Once we got to the level of the refugio we were rewarded with beautiful views of the valley below. 

We had one more stop before we got back to Latacunga, at the cafe by the interpretive center there was hot lunch waiting for us. We feasted on locro and a main of rice and meat. The locro was the star – an andean soup that’s similar to cream of potato but instead of cream has cheese. The corn nut and avocado toppings made it extra special. Both of us were pretty spent from the hike so forgot to document.

As we drove back, the summit of Cotopaxi was again covered by clouds, they just seemed to stick to the top of the volcano.

Cotopaxi in the clouds

Trip Details

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