Cotopaxi is an active volcano that is currently erupting in the Andes Mountains of central Ecuador. It is located about 50 kilometers (31 miles) south of the capital city of Quito. Cotopaxi is one of the highest active volcanoes in the world, with an elevation of 5,897 meters (19,347 feet) above sea level, making it one of the most attractive climbs in South America. However, the extremely levels of volcanic activity in late 2022 and early 2023 means the volcano will be officially closed to mountain climbers for at least the next two years for safety reasons.
Nevertheless, while the volcano is off limits to mountain climbers (who are recommended to climb Mount Chimborazo or Mount Carihuairazo) visitors can still watch the volcanic activity from a safe distance inside Cotopaxi National Park. The park rangers guarding the entrance to Cotopaxi National Park are constantly monitoring the volcanic activity with seismologists, and will refuse entry if the volcano becomes dangerously active. When the volcano is only smoking, however, visitors have often arrived to the mountain refuge as well as various lookouts below.
How to get to the Cotopaxi refuge by car:
- Start from Quito: The starting point for most visitors is the city of Quito, which is located about 50 kilometers (31 miles) north of Cotopaxi.
- Take the Pan-American Highway: From Quito, head south on the Pan-American Highway, which is the main road that runs through Ecuador.
- Drive to Latacunga: Continue on the highway until you reach Latacunga, a city located about 35 kilometers (22 miles) south of Quito.
- Take the road to Machachi: In Latacunga, take the road that leads to the town of Machachi, which is located about 20 kilometers (12 miles) southeast of Latacunga.
- Turn onto the road to Cotopaxi National Park: From Machachi, turn onto the road that leads to Cotopaxi National Park. This road will take you through the town of Papallacta and eventually up to the park entrance.
- Drive to the refuge: From the park entrance, continue driving up the road to the Cotopaxi refuge, which is located at an elevation of 4,800 meters (15,744 feet) above sea level.
Note: it’s important to consider that the road to the refuge can be in poor condition and might not be accessible during inclement weather, so it’s recommended to check the road conditions before starting your journey. Also, some areas around Cotopaxi can only be accessed with a 4×4 vehicle.