Our first stop in our series Traveling Adventures with the Familia is the mighty and majestic Cotopaxi. Most of the time I find myself walking the streets of Quito with my head down. Not all the streets are paved evenly so I am usually focused on my feet. Sad because the panoramic view of this country is breathtaking.
Depending where you’re at you usually can get a peak of the amazing Cotopaxi volcano on a clear day. So when we arrived to this country my goal was to summit this majestic beast but quickly I realized my knees aren’t built to hike. I was “training” or more like hiking other volcanoes to see if I could handle this beautiful beast and after doing the Ruccu hike up Pichincha Volcano I quickly realized my knees were not going to make it past 4 hours of hiking. I have some weird thinking going on with my nerves and my toes and right part of my body start going numb after 4 hours of any strenuous walking or running.
After my dreams were shattered with the reality of my aging knees I decided the least I could do was hike Cotopaxi from the parking lot to the Refugio (Refuge) it’s a little house at the top of your hike where hardcore hikers spend the night before they enter the snow-capped beast.
We went as a family: my 18 months old, 4 year old and husband. Our youngest was in a hikers back pack on my husbands back and our 4 year old hiked up mostly on his own. Please note, I am not talking about summiting Cotopaxi in this article this info. applies if you’re going to go up to the parking lot or hiking up to the refugio. See picture below.
It’s one of the highest active volcanoes in the world at (5,897 m / 19,347 ft.). The refugio is located at 4,800 meters (15,744 ft.) it’s about a 45 minute hike from the parking lot to the Refuge.
I highly recommend hiking up mostly because of the experience. My son will forever be able to say he hiked a volcano. Depending on the clouds you may get a beautiful view from the Refugio. The weather changes lots in a matter of a few hours.
No worries you can still enjoy the beautiful view Cotopaxi Volcano without doing any hiking. Just drive up to the parking lot and get out of your car walk around in the flat area, take some pictures and jump back in your car and drive back down by one of the lakes below and enjoy a picnic.
This picture is from this past Christmas. One of our Christmas traditions is to go up to Cotopaxi parking lot every year to enjoy a white christmas and this is exactly what we did. We get out of the car at the top and we play in the snow and then we go down and enjoy a picnic by the lake and the weather down there is usually hot and windy.
If you’re not an active outdoor family you will not want to hike this with young kids. If you just got off the plan the day before you will not want to do this with your kids. I know of adults who have hiked the day they got off the airplane so maybe older kids can do it but definitely not young ones if you’re expecting them to hike up on their own two feet.
You can get there by bus or taxi but note they only take you the entrance and then it’s another hour to reach Cotopaxi parking lot. There is transport from the entrance to the parking lot but you will need to ask the park ranger at the entrance or set up transportation ahead of time.
Note it takes a little over an hour to get to the entrance of Cotopaxi National park from Quito and another hour to get to the parking lot up top of the mountain (see picture above). So make sure you’re prepared with snacks or travel after lunch. We usually bring a lunch and have it at the bottom by the lake.
There is no entrance fee. A new law was passed that national parks are not allowed to charge.
How to dress:
As I mentioned the weather changes so you will want to be prepared for wind and snow. So bring hats, scarves, rain coat (insulated or a jacket to wear under) and gloves. Make sure your kids scarves will cover their faces the wind can be pretty harsh.
There are periods where it’s warm but the wind can still make it chilly so just come prepared. I would rather peel off excess items then freeze because I didn’t have enough on.
If you plan on hiking take shoes you don’t mind getting dirty since there is lots of sand, dirt, rocks on the hike up.
Pack water and if you have a thermos take something warm especially if you don’t plan on hiking to the Refugio where you can get hot chocolate or soup (more like a broth).
If you have time I highly recommend you enjoy a picnic at the bottom of the mountain.
The entrance off the main highway has a little cafe and lots of vendors selling their traditional scarves, hats and other artisan type of items. The little cafe sells Te de Coca which is Cocaine Tea that is supposed to be good for altitude sickness. My mother had a cup since she wasn’t sure how her body would respond.
If you’re hiking up with kids:
Know your childs limits. Take it slow. The air gets really thin as you hike and it makes it hard to breathe. Make sure they are wearing shoes they can hike in. I encouraged my 4 year old to hike it and with the help of strangers he made it to the top. There were some young Texan looking hikers traveling to the Refugio with us and they were great at encouraging my 4 year old and for like 3 minutes they also gave him a lift. Since my husband had our baby on his back there was no way he could help him and I surely wasn’t able to carry him. Just turn back if it gets too hard. You tried it and it didn’t work and it’s okay. My kids mostly complained about being cold because somewhere along the way he lost one of his gloves. And also about going back down because the time of year we hiked the ground was really sandy and they kept “sliding” down which made them feel like they had no control.
This is not a stroller friendly hike so don’t even bother bringing the stroller.
Personally, I adjust well to altitude so I didn’t have a hard time breathing and though it was strenuous it was definitely doable.
Hope these tips are helpful. I tried to think of things that I wish I would have known before I ventured on our hike with a baby and 4 year old.
Other helpful articles about traveling in Ecuador with Kids: