The surreal Cotopaxi volcano is one of the main tourist draws to Ecuador - you'd be hard pressed to find someone visiting Quito who doesn't have this majestic summit on their list.
Cotopaxi is Ecuador's second highest volcano after Chimborazo and the glacier at the summit is one of the main sources of water in Ecuador. The incredible Cotopaxi National Park is home to surreal, barren landscapes which foxes, wild horses and many species of bird call home.
You can summit Cotopaxi; it takes between six and eight hours and involves spending the night at the Refugio to begin your ascent at midnight, so that there is less risk of avalanches and melting snow in the sunshine. However, most tourists make the 1km trek from the parking lot up to the Refugio which offers breathtaking (literally) panoramic views of the park.
The Refugio of Cotopaxi sits at nearly 16,000 feet above sea level so you must ensure you wait a few days after arriving in Quito to do this hike as altitude sickness is a serious risk here. I highly recommend coming here with a guide both to learn about the national park as well as to keep you safe while you climb. The hike is only 1km each way, but is a slow and steep trek as the oxygen is much thinner here. Having said that, if you stay hydrated and are well prepared and aclimatised, this hike is absolutely one of the greatest experiences in all of Ecuador.
COTOPAXI VOLCANO REFUGIO HIKE DETAILS
When: year round
Where: Cotopaxi National Park
Difficulty: hard; although a very short trail, the altitude is high (you reach nearly 16,000 feet) and must be wary of altitude sickness
Length: the return hike is 2km, which took me 45 minutes
Directions: from the parking lot, you can take the zig zag path which is less steep but more prone to wind and takes longer, or the direct path up between the two sides which is less windy and more direct - the direct path is preferred
Bathrooms: yes, at the Refugio
Public Transit: yes, with a Get Your Guide tour