How To Visit Cotopaxi National Park From Quito
There are four ways to visit Cotopaxi National Park from Quito and each one will benefit a different type of backpacker.
The four ways are:
- Book a day tour from Quito
- Book a stay at Cotopaxi Secret Garden Hostel
- A self-guided visit from Quito without a tour on public transport
- Book a stay at one of the other lodges in the park
In this guide to visiting Cotopaxi National Park, we break down each method in detail and outline the costs and benefits of each one so you know which way will suit you.
Cotopaxi Tour From Quito
• Guided tour around Limpiopungo lagoon
• Hike to Jose Ribas Shelter
• Breakfast and lunch
• Transport to and from Quito
Full day (10 hours)
2-Night Stay At Secret Garden Cotopaxi
$95 (plus extra for any tours or alcohol)
• Waterfall hike
• Pasachoa hike
• 3 meals and unlimited snacks/coffee/tea each day
3 days/2 nights
Self-Guided Trip from Quito
$5 max for public transport to and from Quito
$20-30 for a tour guide in the park or free if you hitchhike
If you pay for a tour guide you will get taken to the lagoon and can complete the shelter trek
10 hours or 1 day/1night if you decide to stay over
Overnight Stay In A Lodge
$60 for one night accommodation + extra for meals and tours
2 days/1 night
1. Book A Paid Tour From Quito To Cotopaxi
- Cost: $60-90
- Timing: 7AM – 5PM
- Duration: 10 hours
One of the simplest ways to visit Cotopaxi National Park is with a paid tour. Whilst it’s a more expensive option, it’s also a lot easier than trying to get there by yourself on public transport.
Tours will pick you up from your hotel or hostel in Quito or from a specific location in the city centre and on the way to Cotopaxi, there will be a brief stop somewhere for breakfast.
Once you reach the park, the first stop is a visit to the Mariscal Sucre Interpretation Centre, where your guide will discuss the various aspects of the park such as its history, nature, and geology.
After that you will walk to Limpiopungo Lagoon, one of the most popular locations in the park sat on the slopes of the volcano. It’s here that you will get some of the best views of the volcano. If it’s a clear day you should be able to get some amazing reflection shots of the volcano using the lake as a mirror.
After some time at the lake, you will start your climb up Cotopaxi Volcano, driving to the parking lot at 4500m above sea level. From here you start the ascent to the Jose Ribas Shelter which we outline below in more detail.
Cotopaxi Glacier Hike
- Elevation: 4500m to 4800m
- Timing: 3-4 hours total (1-2 hours climbing up, 1 hour round trip to the glacier and a time to stop at the refuge)
The hike to Jose Ribas Shelter and the edge of the Cotopaxi glacier is short but tough.
You will start out driving towards Cotopaxi Volcano, winding your way up its slopes until you reach the parking area. The parking spot is at 4500m elevation and 300 meters down from the shelter.
From the parking spot, you will trek up to the shelter at 4800m. The incline is steep, and the path is loose gravel and rocks. This is also probably the highest point you will reach during your time in Ecuador, so the altitude and lack of oxygen make it even harder.
To hike should take anywhere between 45 minutes to 2 hours depending on how fit you are. We did it in 50 minutes, but we powered on through, followed a straight path and had no issues with altitude. If you are less confident you can take a zig-zag path up to make it easier.
Once you reach the shelter, take a break, and have a sit down with a nice warm drink and some chocolate. You can also ask the owner of the refuge to stamp your passport for $1 if you want and why not, 4800m is an impressive achievement!
From the shelter, you can then walk to the edge of Cotopaxi Glacier. This is a much easier trek as you are going across the volcano rather than up, so it is mostly flat. The altitude is still an issue though so take it easy. It should take 20-30 minutes to reach the edge of the glacier.
When you are ready to come back down, simply head down the same gravel path you came up. If you are confident then best to run down as it’s a lot quicker. The loose gravel means your feet will sink easily into the ground making it easier to slow yourself down.
There’s the option of riding mountain bikes back down as well which makes sense as it’s pretty fun and saves you trekking back down! This option depends on the tour company you have booked with though.
Once you are back at the car park you will be driven back to Quito.
The Best Cotopaxi National Park Tours From Quito
Here is the cheapest Cotopaxi tour from Quito we have found:
- Get Your Guide – Cotopaxi National Park Tour From Quito
It costs $60 and has the same itinerary as the more expensive tour below but only one review at 5 stars.
This tour with the same itinerary costs $89 but has 92 reviews and 5 stars is the most well established.
There are also alternative tours you may want to consider. For backpackers looking for more of an adrenaline rush, once you reach Cotopaxi Glacier, you have the option to ride a mountain bike back down to the bottom.
This tour here for $74 combines the hike with mountain biking:
- Get Your Guide – Cotopaxi Tour & Mountain Biking
Or if you are short on time and looking to see as much of Ecuador as possible, this tour combines Cotopaxi with a visit to the Quilotoa Crater as well:
- Get Your Guide – Cotopaxi Volcano & Quilotoa Crater Tour From Quito
Is A Tour To Cotopaxi National Park Worth It?
In our opinion, a paid day tour to Cotopaxi is only worth it if you are short on time in Ecuador.
If you have one spare day in Quito but not enough time to stay for a few nights in Cotopaxi National Park, then definitely go for it as it’s one of the best attractions in the country.
However, if you do have the time to spare then don’t bother. You will be missing out if you don’t spend a couple of days in the park. All you need to do is look at the $95 package deal offered by Secret Garden up next to see what great value it is.
For more on the best day tours from Quito and whether they are worth it:
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2. Book A Stay At Secret Garden Hostel Cotopaxi
- Cost: $95 minimum (extra activities and alcohol cost extra)
- Duration: Three days, two nights minimum
Staying at Secret Garden Cotopaxi Hostel is one of the best ways of visiting Cotopaxi National Park, especially if you are a backpacker wanting to experience an amazing hostel and meet other travellers.
At Secret Garden you will have your every need met: transportation to the park, access to great tour services, and amazing accommodation all slap bang in the middle of Cotopaxi National Park.
There are four reasons why you should stay at the Secret Garden:
- it’s an easy way to get to the park
- it’s a great way to see the volcano (either from the hostel or by booking tours through them)
- it’s one of the best hostels in Ecuador and probably South America
- it’s cheap but also great value for money so this option works well for budget travellers
Secret Garden is situated right in the middle of the national park, directly opposite Cotopaxi volcano. Every day you will wake up to incredible views of the volcano and you get to see it at multiple points throughout the day from sunrise to sunset.
This is one of the best views from a hostel you will ever get.
Read our full review here to get a better idea of why this hostel is so great:
The hostel is beautiful. You may have come across one of the photos from the hostel on Instagram as it often goes viral. Honestly, every time we look back over our photos, we want to be back there sitting in the hammock watching clouds swirl around Cotopaxi’s snow-capped peak.
Check out their YouTube drone video for a tour of the grounds:
All stays are offered as a package tour that includes all your food and two free treks.
The 3 days/2 nights in an 8-12 bed dorm costs $95 and includes:
- all food: breakfast, lunch, and dinner as well snacks and drinks (unlimited bananas, banana bread, tea, and coffee)
- a short 2-hour waterfall trek
- a full-day trek to the summit of Pasachoa mountain.
- transport from Quito on your first day
- transport to Machachi or back to Quito on your final day
Secret Garden also have private rooms. If you are a couple, then you have the option of staying in one of the more unique accommodation options such as the hobbit holes for $115 or the hill house with a private bathroom and fireplace for $145.
We suggest a budget of around $35 a day in Ecuador, however some days it will be slightly more and some slightly less.
So, for $47.50 a day to have all your food arranged for you, comfy accommodation and an activity included, it’s definitely worth it.
Check out our full budget breakdown for backpackers in Ecuador if you need more tips on saving money whilst travelling:
Secret Garden Cotopaxi Hostel - Free & Paid Activities
On top of the amazing location and food, Secret Garden also run their own private tour company from the hostel so that you can pay extra for tours such as horse-riding or visiting Cotopaxi Glacier if you wish.
Here’s a quick breakdown of the free treks you receive with the package as well as the paid tours:
Waterfall Hike (Free)
This is a two-hour guided trek up through the beautiful cloud forest behind the hostel.
This is an easy trek and depending on the weather, you have the option of swimming in the refreshingly cold waterfall pools. A great way to start your stay at Secret Garden and to get to know the other travellers who have just arrived at the hostel.
Pasachoa Hike (Free)
Pasachoa is an extinct volcano sat in the fields behind the hostel.
The trek starts at the base of the cloud forest with around an hour spent climbing up a steep incline to get out of the forest. Once out of the forest, the trail flattens onto beautiful tall grasslands for an hour or so.
The last 30-45 minutes of this trek are the toughest but when you reach the top at 4200m, you won’t be disappointed with the panoramic views of the park. If it’s a clear day, you’ll get an incredible view of Cotopaxi volcano as well.
The trek is roughly a 4-5-hour return trip and includes a private guide from the hostel and lunch/snacks are provided.
Cotopaxi Glacier Hike ($35)
The is the exact same hike that we outlined in more detail above.
This is probably the cheapest glacier tour around and you can also pay an extra $5 to come back down on mountain bikes!
Other Paid Activities
Three extra activities are also run by the hostel that you can pay for:
- Ruminahui Trek
- Cotopaxi Summit
Or if you are feeling brave, they can also arrange the complete Cotopaxi summit tour which requires 2 days in total.
You can read their guides here for more information:
3. Self-Guided Trip To Cotopaxi National Park
There are a couple of ways to do a self-guided visit to Cotopaxi National Park:
- Take public transport to Cotopaxi and then book a local tour guide outside the park
- Take public transport to Cotopaxi then hitchhike into the park
You also need to decide if you want to return to Quito on the same day or stay somewhere closer like Machachi or Latacunga.
Cotopaxi National Park is one of our 12 reasons for visiting and backpacking Ecuador. For more great reasons, check out the post below:
How Do I Get To Cotopaxi From Quito?
To get from Quito to Cotopaxi National Park you need to take the local bus. Buses leave from Terminal Terrestre Quitumbe in the south of the city.
The bus takes about 1.5 hours and costs around $2.
There isn’t a ‘Cotopaxi Park’ bus stop so you will have to ask the driver to stop on the Panamerica (E35) at the Cotopaxi junction (A la Ingressa del Parque Nacional Cotopaxi – map here).
From here you have two options: hitchhike into the park or book a local guide.
Booking A Local Guide
You can easily find local guides where you get dropped off. Most will be waiting there for customers anyway.
The going rate should be around $20. If they ask for anything over $30 then walk away or haggle them down.
The tour guide will have a 4×4 and they will take you into the park, most likely following the same itinerary as the paid tours with a trip to Limpiopungo Lagoon, and then the hike to Jose Ribas Shelter and Cotopaxi Glacier.
If you decide to hitchhike instead then just start walking along the road towards the park with your thumb out.
This is a fun and free option if you get picked up quickly, but you may be waiting for a long time. If you do find a ride, then it might not take you exactly where you want to go either so you may need to hitch multiple rides. However, it’s a great chance to meet some locals and practice your Spanish.
You can hitchhike to the lagoon and then to the car park so you can trek up to the glacier. Again, getting back might be difficult if you can’t get a ride, so that’s something to consider.
Through the Lens has a great blog post on her hitchhiking experience in Cotopaxi National Park so go check it out for more information:
4. Book A Stay At One Of The Lodges In The Park
The final way to visit Cotopaxi National Park is to book a stay at one of the beautiful lodges. There are several to choose from, all catering to different traveller needs from budget to luxury accommodation.
If you are staying at one of the lodges, you will have to organise your own transport to them. The best option is to follow the guide above to get to Machachi or the Cotopaxi junction from Quito, and then book a taxi or 4×4 transport into the park.
This option is probably best for flashpackers and travellers who want to treat themselves a bit, especially if you feel like Secret Garden Hostel isn’t for you and you would prefer your own private double room more like a hotel.
However, this will also be the most expensive option with most rooms costing over $75 a night.
Most of these lodges only offer breakfast included in the price as well, so there will be an extra added cost of paying for your lunch and dinner. They also don’t include any tours in the price which will have to be paid for, and again, these will probably be more expensive as they are run as private tours.
Where To Stay In Cotopaxi National Park
Hacienda El Porvenir
This lodge is located on the slopes of Rumiñahui Volcano and is an ideal spot to explore Cotopaxi Volcano and its surroundings.
El Porvenir is a working ranch that is dedicated to sustainable agriculture, conservation, and ecotourism. They offer private tours on their website, but they recommend booking in advance (up to 1 month) to be safe. Tours include exploring the park, horseback riding and mountain biking.
Prices for rooms can be anywhere between $100-200 depending on the time of year and demand.
Chilcabamba is a cosy and charming lodge.
Rooms are equipped with a wood-burning stove to keep you warm at night, along with cosy ponchos and thick duvets to keep off the mountain chill. They offer walks to the Pita River, trips into Cotopaxi National Park, and treks up Pasachoa and Rumiñahui.
Single rooms start from $66 a night, doubles from $81
Cuello De Luna
This mountain lodge offers standard and superior rooms with private bathrooms and fireplaces. They also offer a few dorm beds with shared facilities and camping and RV ground, so this is the best budget option on the list.
They serve tasty and delicious food with locally grown vegetables and regional products. And like the rest, they will arrange your trips in the park, including climbing, hiking, and trekking.
Rooms start from $60 a night.
Cotopaxi National Park FAQs
How Far Is Cotopaxi From Quito?
Cotopaxi National Park is approximately 50 km (31 miles) away from Quito. The journey takes around an hour and a half on public transport.
How Much Does It Cost To Visit Cotopaxi From Quito?
Visiting by yourself without a guide can cost as little as $30. Public transport there and back will cost a maximum of $4 and once you get to the park you can book a local guide for around $20.
Single-day tours from Quito to Cotopaxi cost between $60-90.
A two-night stay at Secret Garden Cotopaxi Hostel situated in the park costs $95 and includes your food and two free activities.
A stay at one of the other lodges in the park will be more expensive and can cost around $100 or more for a night stay without any tours or food included.
What Is The Biggest Attraction Of Cotopaxi National Park?
The biggest attraction in Cotopaxi National Park is Cotopaxi Volcano.
This huge strato-volcano is like something out of a picture book, with its perfect cone shape covered in a snow-capped peak swirling with clouds. Most tourists and backpackers come to see the volcano in all its glory and take photos. It can be especially beautiful at sunrise or sunset when it is lit up by the sun.
The second-biggest attraction is the park itself which is covered in beautiful Andean flora and fauna. The flowing long grass of the plains around the volcano is a beautiful yellow colour and you will see herds of wild llamas and alpacas everywhere.
There are also other natural sights like Limpiopungo Lagoon which is a perfect stop for pictures.
How High Is Cotopaxi National Park?
The summit of Cotopaxi volcano, which you can book a guided overnight trek to is 5897 m high.
Cotopaxi refuge and glacier, which is the highest point you can trek to without a guide is at 4800m.
The flatter parts of the Cotopaxi National Park where most of the lodges are located are around 3500m high.
Is Visiting Cotopaxi National Park Worth It?
You won’t regret visiting Cotopaxi National Park. It is one of the most popular attractions in Ecuador and well worth a visit, especially as it’s so close to Quito.
The flora and fauna of the park are beautiful and the panoramic views of all the mountains and volcanoes in the park are insane. The best views are of Cotopaxi Volcano, and if it’s a clear day you will be able to see this perfectly cone-shaped snow-capped volcano in all its glory.
Tips For Visiting Cotopaxi National Park
- Arrive as early as possible to hopefully see the volcano completely uncovered by clouds. It’s more likely to be cloudier and raining in the afternoon. If you are travelling to Cotopaxi from Quito, try to leave at around 7AM so you get into the park for around 10AM.
- If you can, stay in the park for a couple of days. This means you will get more chances to see the volcano if there is bad weather one day.
- One of the best activities is the trek to Jose Ribas Refuge. On the drive to the trail, you will get great views of Cotopaxi volcano and then once you reach 4800m you will have even better views of the park. If you only have time for one, then do this. Riding back down on mountain bikes is also super fun.
- If you haven’t completed any treks in Ecuador yet or if you have issues with altitude, then don’t attempt the climb. 4800m is incredibly high and you will get ill. Stay down in the park and enjoy the beauty of the volcano from there.
- Most of the park is above 3000m in elevation. Make sure you have spent a couple of days in Quito first to acclimatise to the altitude.
- The easiest, cheapest, and best way to see the park is with Secret Garden Cotopaxi. Do it!
- Pack layers. The park will get cold at night so make sure you have packed jumpers and a warm coat so you can still sit outside and watch the sunset.
- There’s no internet in the park. Log off your devices and enjoy being away from civilisation for a couple of days!
For more articles like this on other great countries in South America and why you should visit them, head to the posts below:
Visiting Cotopaxi National Park From Banos Or Latacunga
If you are travelling through Ecuador in the opposite direction from South to North, then you also have a couple of options for visiting Cotopaxi National Park.
To see the best backpacking itineraries and routes for Ecuador, check out our two most popular Ecuador posts below:
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