Parque Nacional Cotopaxi, Ecuador – The road of the volcanoes

Ruta de los Volcanes is the name of the valley that extends along 500 km / 310 mi and a width of 20 to 30 km / 12 to 19 mi from north to south. In 1,800 to 3,200 m / 5,900 to 10,500 ft elevation it snuggles up to the two Andean cordilleras, the Cordilliera Occidental and the Cordilliera Oriental that cut through the entire Ecuador. The two mountain chains are larded with volcanoes, but even in the long valley some of the more or less dormant giants are situated. Today we again proceed to the old bumpy Pan Americana that brings us from Quito directly to Cotopaxi National Park. We want to thank the Carrera family whom we left this morning for their hospitality and their repeated introductions to Ecuadorian cuisine. In the town of Sangolqui south-east of Quito we just have to find the way to Rumipamba (partially signed / ask around). Once on the cobblestone road it is only 32 km / 20 mi straight ahead to the park’s north entrance. The pavement stones are partially torn out and left deep holes that ask for vehicles with some clearance. It is a bit narrow with deep hanging branches in one spot, but besides scratches the road doesn’t cause any problems.

A watchman opens the gate of the EMAAP waterworks, or lend a hand yourself if the guy is absent. The volcano route takes us through lonesome páramo scenery with scattered tiny Indigene villages. On our way south we pass the flattened volcano Pasochoa to our right, and then we see the deeply fissured Sincholagua peak at 4,898 m / 16,070 ft on our left hand side. Rumiñahui Mountain is again on the right with its three peaks that lend it the appearance of a face in a lying position. Just in front of us we can guess Cotopaxi Volcano that wraps itself in clouds like most of the other mountains today.

At the little used north entrance of the park we have to pay admittance. Foreigners shell out 10 $, but for an unknown reason we only pay the local charge of 2 $ pp, and since we want to camp there are another 2 $. Park’s opening hours are daily 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Soon we reach the flat plateau nearly without vegetation at 3,800 m / 12,470 ft where Cotopaxi stands completely secluded. The volcano is with 5,897 m / 29,190 ft not Ecuador’s highest but possibly most famous one, perhaps due to its perfect cone shape. It is said that its glacier is technically easy to climb. The plateau is a bit spooky: It is covered with lumps of rock in different sizes, dumb witnesses of the volcano’s eruptions of the past thousands of years. It was especially active during the 18th and in the middle of the 19th century. The last eruption occurred in 1904. Scientists become aware of a warming of Cotopaxi during the last years, measures of evacuation were prepared.

The park ranger at the entrance explains us that we can camp everywhere, and that there are two designated camping zones. We decide for the parking lot at Laguna Limpiopungo where it is very lonely. On our way there we already get to see the wildlife highlights: wild horses with long manes and tails down to the ground; the timid Andean fox that nearly reaches the size of a coyote; and buzzards that are attacked by way smaller birds.

Laguna Limpiopungo: S 00°36’53.9’’ W 78° 28’25.8’’
Other camping options in the park: Tambopaxi Hosteria close to north entrance
Camping zone 1: S 00°37’38.8’’ W 78°28’30.4’’
Camping zone 2: S 00°38’11.6’’ W 78°28’57.0’’
Along Ruta de los Volcanes there are many options for free camping, the area seems to be safe; for example:
S 00°29’37.1’’ W 78°26’22.7’’
S 00°31’38.2’’ W 78°26’52.7’’
S 00°31’52.0’’ W 78°26’59.6’’
S 00°32’28.2’’ W 78°27’09.3’’

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