Cotopaxi on a Budget

Cotopaxi is the highest active volcano in the world at 5897masl and lies about 100km south of Quito, the capital of Ecuador. It’s possible to climb up to the summit or, for the less intrepid, to hike up to the glacier’s edge at 5000 metres. I wanted to climb up to the top but unfortunately the weather was no good for climbing so I opted for the hike up to the glacier.

Ecuador - Cotopaxi

Volcan Cotopaxi

There are loads of tour companies that do the 1 day tour from Quito and Latacunga to Cotopaxi for around US$40 and up. The tour includes transport, a guide, and usually includes lunch. But you can save some money by going to the volcano on your own by simply taking the public bus there.

  • From Quito, take a bus from the south bus terminal (Quitumbe) towards Latacunga. Tell the bus conductor that you want to go to “entrada de parque nacional cotopaxi”. The ride takes about 1 hour and costs about $1. From Latacunga, take a bus towards Quito and tell the bus conductor the same thing.
  • On the east side of the road, there are guides with 4×4 vehicles parked and ready to take you on a day tour of the volcano. Rates usually start from $20/person, but this is negotiable.
  • The tour consists of hiking up to the climber’s refuge at 4800m, followed by a hike up to the glacier at 5000m, and a stop at a lagoon (3800m) nearby. The tour lasts around 4 hours, depending on your walking speed and how many times you stop to take photos.

    Ecuador - Cotopaxi - Refuge

    The Refuge. On a clear day you can easily see the summit from here.

  • There is a visitor’s centre with a restaurant, but the food here is expensive compared to what you would pay in Quito or Latacunga so it’s best to pack your own lunch.
  • Once the tour is over, you’ll be dropped off back on the main highway where you can catch the bus back to Quito or Latacunga.

And that’s it! We were a group of 4 and managed to get the price down to $15. Including the bus and lunch, the total tour cost me only $21, about half of what I would’ve paid by going with a tour company! If you are keen to go with a tour company, Neiges Travel Agency in Latacunga is my recommendation. In my dealings with them, they were friendly, honest, and fair.

Ecuador - Cotopaxi - Lagoon

The Lagoon at 3800m

Have you been to Cotopaxi? If you went with an organized tour, which company did you use and would you recommend them?

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