Full Day Cotopaxi
The easy accessible Cotopaxi National Park is Ecuador's most visited mainland reserve (Important Bird Area). No wonder, because the lovely symmetrical and glaciated cone of Cotopaxi volcano belongs to the prominents of whole Andean range; it looks very similar to Mount Fuji. With its elevation of 5,897m/19,347ft Cotopaxi also belongs to the highest active stratovolcanoes worldwide (latest eruption 2015), and is the second highest peak of Ecuador (after extinct Chimborazo).
At the main entrance of the National Park you will be registered and assigned to a National Park naturalist guide. There are also bathrooms and a souvenir and artisanal shop with gloves and hats for sale. To acclimatize gradually, you will make several stops at different altitude levels.
Before entering official National Park borders you will drive through extensive pine production forests. From the bridge across Agua Longa ravine you can observe lahars (mud flows) from 1877 and 2016 January, where sulphur odour can be smelt.
Mariscal Sucre station (about 3,600m/11,800ft) contains a basic interpretation centre/site museum, cafeteria and botanical garden with native plant species. Displays, maquettes, maps and photographs explain more about the geology, flora and fauna of the National Park. If lucky white-tailed deer can be spotted in its vicinity.
Above the tree line you will reach the desolate plains that have been flooded by mudflows when Cotopaxi's violent eruptions did glaciers melt. Boulders and spewed volcanic bombs of all conceivable formats are strewn along the dirt road. These paramo highlands with humid, arid, tundra, or freezing climates are home to semi-wild horses, carunculated caracaras, Andean condors, white-tailed deer, Andean foxes and even elusive spectacled bears and pumas.
At the picturesque postglacial Limpiopungo lake (3,840m/12,600ft) Cotopaxi's majestic cone mirrors into the water on clear days; though windy, cloudy or even foggy conditions occur as well. Stroll to a viewpoint/bird hide and observe different species of waterfowl and unexpected migratory birds, Andean gulls and Andean lapwings.
3km/2mi roundtrip/max 1hr+0.5hr
Even tundra-vegetation becomes scarce while driving in sharp zigzags straight up the cone. From the parking area at 4,600m/15,000ft you can hike a short sandy trail to the recently (2015) renovated mountaineers refuge (4,800m/15,750ft), knowing that the descent will be far less strenuous.
If you feel physically fit enough (and other conditions do permit as well) you can even continue with your naturalist guide to the snowline and ice tongues at about 5,000m/16,000ft!
Included : entrance Fees, English speaking guide, private transportation