Ecuador, So Much More Than the Galapagos! A Stop at Cotopaxi

Guest Post and Photos by Amy Perry Basseches

On a Saturday morning in late February, my daughter and I set off for a weekend of outdoor fun in Parque Nacional Cotopaxi, home to Ecuador’s second-highest peak, about two hours southeast from Quito. This park’s namesake, the enormous 19,000-foot stratovolcano Cotopaxi, has, since 1738, erupted more than 50 times, resulting in the creation of numerous valleys. The last eruption lasted from August 2015 to January 2016.
Our base for 2 days was the Chilcabamba Mountain Lodge, a recommended rustic hotel described as "cozy, unpretentious and charming." We loved it! Bear in mind, no one at the lodge spoke English, they are all from Cotopaxi and the surrounding area, so Sophie’s presence as Spanish translator was vital. The food and views were good, and we really liked our room, equipped with a warming stove, wool ponchos and thick duvets. We didn’t get to make S’mores at the outdoor firepit, but we did enjoy the complimentary Canelazo (a warm Ecuadorian drink concocted from sugar cane alcohol, boiled water, cinnamon, sugar, and local citrus fruit or blackberry). Chilcabamba is at 3480 metres (11,400 feet), and I suggest taking altitude sickness-prevention medicine if you visit (you can get from a travel medicine doctor ahead of time). 
From Chilcabamba, we enjoyed two main activities, and wished we had had time for two others:
  • Inside the Park, near the Tambopaxi Lodge, we got our horses and rode for a few hours across grassy and rocky terrain, with our guide. Unforgettable!
  • Also inside the Park, we walked around the Laguna Limpiopungo, watching a herd of wild horses, and newborn colt, graze nearby. 
  • Stargazing in Ecuador is purported to be amazing — not only are you away from light pollution in many of these natural areas, but you are at a high altitude, and, the closer you are to the equator, you can see both Northern and Southern Hemisphere constellations, perfect for the growing field of Astrotourism. It was too cloudy for us.
  • Unfortunately, we did not get to trek to the base camp on Cotopaxi, an outlook at an elevation of 4,864 metres (almost 16,000 feet). Our guide had worked for 7 years at the base camp, the José F. Ribas Refuge, which is a 40 to 80 minute uphill hike from the car park. Here, climbers can spend the night and begin their summit bid. Mountain biking is also available from the Refuge. 
Tomorrow, the Mindo Cloud Forest, a premier destination for birdwatching, hiking, butterflies, chocolate, and adventure activities (tubing, ziplining, rafting, waterfall rappelling), just two hours from Quito.