What’s The Best Way To Visit Cotopaxi National Park?
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 stay at Cotopaxi Secret Garden Hostel
- Book a day tour from Quito
- 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 our opinion, the best way to visit the park is by staying at Secret Garden Cotopaxi Hostel and we will cover this method in this article.
If you are interested in the other methods, maybe because you don’t have the time or need to return to Quito after visiting Cotopaxi, then head to this post first:
Secret Garden Cotopaxi Review
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 big reasons why you shoulI 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 so works well for budget travellers
Secret Garden is situated right in the middle of the national park, directly opposite Cotopaxi volcano. This is one of the best views from a hostel you will ever get. 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.
Staying at Secret Garden Cotopaxi is also one of our 12 great reasons for visiting and backpacking Ecuador in 2022. For more reasons to inspire you, check out the post below:
Secret Garden Cotopaxi – How Much Does It Cost?
The two-night/three-day stay is offered as a package tour that also 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
Here’s a breakdown of the cost in comparison to a day tour from Quito to give you a better idea of its value for money:
Day Tour From Quito
• Guided tour around Limpiopungo lagoon
• Hike to Jose Ribas Shelter
• Breakfast and lunch
• Transport to and from Quito
2-Night Stay At Secret Garden
• Waterfall hike
• Pasachoa hike
• 3 meals and unlimited drinks/snacks a day
• Accommodation (8-12 bed dorm)
If you decide to pay for a tour such as a hike to Cotopaxi Glacier and then have a few beers or a bottle of wine in the evenings, budget around $130-140.
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 private bathroom and fireplace for $145.
We suggest a budget of around $35 a day in Ecuador. So, for $47.50 a day, to have all your food arranged for you, comfy accommodation and two activities included, it’s definitely worth it.
Check out our full budget breakdown for backpackers in Ecuador here:
Secret Garden Cotopaxi – Free & Paid Activities
On top of the amazing location and food, they 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:
- Cost: 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.
- Cost: Free
- Elevation: 4220m max
Pasachoa is an extinct volcano sat in the fields behind the hostel. The trek starts as 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
- Cost: $30
- Elevation: 4500m to 4800m
- Timing: Full day – 2 hour drive up to the volcano, 3-4 hours total climbing (1-2 hours climbing up, 1 hour round trip to the glacier and a time to stop at the refuge)
The Cotopaxi Glacier hike is one of the more popular tours in the park.
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! It costs an extra $5 for this.
Once you are back at the car park you will be driven back to the hostel.
- Cost: $35-40 depending on group size
- Timing: 3-4 hours riding
Release the cowboy or cowgirl in you by riding horses across the high Andean plains in the shadow of Cotopaxi Volcano.
The day starts by leaving the hostel around 8.30am and you will have a short 15 min drive to meet the horses. You will spend roughly 3 to 4 hours in the saddle before riding along spectacular routes across remote, rugged countryside.
The guide takes snacks/drinks and has you back at the hostel for a late lunch around 1.30 PM. No experience is necessary.
- Cost: $40
- Elevation: 4,631m max
- Timing: Full day
For those looking for more of a challenge, the hike to the summit of Rumiñahui offers one of the best views in the park of Cotopaxi Volcano.
The route up this extinct volcano starts near the shores of Lake Limpiopungo, before heading through sloping grass fields and finally to the summit at 4,631m. This is a more challenging climb, requiring a higher level of fitness and confidence than the Cotopaxi Glacier and Pasachoa treks.
- Cost: $100+
- Timing: 1 day/1 night
Fancy standing on the summit of one of the world’s highest active volcanoes? At approximately 5900m (nearly 19,000ft), this climb is a once in a lifetime experience.
The Secret Garden arranges acclimatisation programs and all-inclusive summit climbs (all equipment, meals, transport, guides, accommodation etc). Summit trips can be arranged once you are at the hostel.
You can read their guides here for more information:
How To Get To Secret Garden Cotopaxi
There are multiple ways to visit the park including day trips from Quito or by organising tours from the nearest town of Machachi, but if you are staying with Secret Garden it’s a lot easier.
Secret Garden Cotopaxi and Secret Garden Quito are sister hostels. So, if you are staying at the hostel in Quito or even if you just book to stay at Cotopaxi, the hostels run free shuttles down to Cotopaxi. So all you need to do is be outside Secret Garden Quito on the morning you are booked in for a free ride.
If you are travelling up from southern Ecuador, then you will need to get a bus to Machachi which is the nearest town to Cotopaxi National Park. From here, the hostel will give you a designated meeting point and a shuttle bus will come and pick you up. Simple.
Is Secret Garden Cotopaxi Worth It?
Secret Garden is one of the best hostels in Ecuador.
We have fantastic memories staying there; sipping a beer in the giant hammock watching clouds float around Cotopaxi’s peak, having a hearty home-cooked meal with newfound friends after a long day hiking and falling asleep to the crackle of a log fire are just some.
If you break down the cost per day, $42.50 for 3 meals, snacks, an activity and a night’s accommodation in one of the most picturesque national parks in South America – it’s totally worth it.
Here are our 5 main reasons why it’s worth staying:
1. The Views Of The Volcano
Not many other hostels in the world can boast to have the views of Cotopaxi Secret Garden. Upon waking every morning and leaving your hostel room you will be treated to an epic view of Cotopaxi Volcano every time.
Grab a beer, wrap up warm in one of the hostels communal poncho’s and sit yourself down in the huge hammock outside to watch Cotopaxi bathed in a golden glow as the sun sets. You can even enjoy the view from the toilet! The hostel is designed in a way that never obscures the view of the volcano.
Secret Garden Cotopaxi made it onto our best hostels list for the whole of South America for a reason.
For more on our favourite hostels in South America, check out the post below:
2. It's A Super Cosy Hostel
The actual hostel itself is one of the nicest places we’ve ever stayed in, with wood-burning fires, sofas, and a selection of dogs to cuddle up with.
After a long day of hiking one of the many mountains or volcanoes in Cotopaxi National Park, there’s no better feeling than coming back to a hostel equipped with warm showers, comfy beds and the cosiest of communal spaces.
Bean bags and sofas are spread around for you to collapse in after a strenuous day and you will likely have one of the four dogs that live there for company. Moreover, free tea, coffee and banana bread are on offer all day. Even if you decide to miss a trek, it’s the perfect place to snuggle up for the day with a book and a coffee.
3. The Food Is Incredible
This isn’t like some package tours where you are given a bit of rice and something that resembles meat – the food here is quality. You will never go hungry as there’s always more than enough and it’s all made from ingredients they grow in the gardens.
Hearty soups made with organic fresh fruit and veg, fresh bread cooked on-site or healthy eggs from local farms in the region – you won’t be disappointed.
And did we already mention the free banana bread?
4. It's Great Value For Money
The dorm room 3-days and 2-nights deal cost $95 with two activities included, all your food, drink and snacks as well as transportation to and from the hostel – this is one of the best deals you will find for a hostel in the whole of South America. Then combine this all with the amazing setting and you’d be a fool not to stay here.
If you decide you want to do something else like the hike up to Cotopaxi’s glacier or go horse riding in the park, then this is also possible as Secret Garden run their own tour service. These extras need to be paid for on-site, but prices are reasonable and probably much cheaper than private tour companies from Quito.
5. The Setting And Llammas
From the hobbit hole rooms set up in mounds of the hills to the rows of lush vegetables, fruits and flowers that flank every path – Secret Garden is the perfect name for this hostel as you can feel as if you are walking through a scene out of a fantasy film.
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.
If this isn’t enough, at the entrance to the hostel are the local llamas which they use for milk and fur. So, if you haven’t seen a llama yet on your Ecuador trip this is the best time – grab a banana from the hostel and head down to feed them.
Secret Garden Cotopaxi & Quito Itinerary
If you are travelling through Ecuador for a week or longer then Cotopaxi National Park is a perfect stop on your way from Quito down south to places like Quilotoa or Banos.
If you are confused about how to plan it, here’s how we did it:
- Day 1 – Shuttle bus from Quito, Arrival and 2-hour Waterfall Trek
- Day 2 – Cotopaxi Glacier Hike
- Day 3 – Pasachoa Hike in the morning, Lunch, then Bus to Latacunga
On your first day, you arrive mid-afternoon to a mulled wine welcome before heading off for the waterfall trek. You then have the evening to explore the grounds, make friends with the other travellers and marvel at the beauty of Cotopaxi volcano. Then on the second day, you have a choice of doing the free Pasachoa trek or booking a paid activity such as horse riding.
On our second day, we decided to pay for the Cotopaxi Glacier Trek as it takes a little bit longer than Pasachoa. This meant on our third and final day we could get up and do the Pasachoa trek, return to the hostel in time to shower and lunch, and then grab the shuttle bus.
We think leaving Pasachoa to the last day is the best day to do this, so you aren’t rushing back and aren’t in any danger of missing the bus. Secret Garden mentions that all activities run from 8:00- 1:30 PM so you can do an activity on the last day, however, some activities can take a little longer than others.
Check out is at 10 AM, but most guests stay for lunch and until 3:00 PM for the shuttle bus back to Quito or to the nearest bus station to go South.
For a look at some extended itineraries going through Ecuador, head to the posts below:
We’ve compared three different day trips from the capital and a trip to Cotopaxi is one of the best value for money.
Or if you haven’t got your Ecuador route planned yet, our month long itinerary can help!