I count Cotopaxi National Park amongst my favourite places in Ecuador – and even South America.
Sure, it’s not exactly off the beaten track, popular as it is with climbers attempting to scale the perfectly conical Volcán Cotopaxi – up at 5897m – or hikers out for an afternoon ramble. But the experience of riding through this high altitude moorland – amongst mosses, lichens and páramo grasses – is one that never fails to leave an impression. Simply being there is a real treat. Luckily for me, I spent my 41st birthday enjoying the area. Although we weren’t blessed with the best of weather, and Cotopaxi rarely showed herself, it was still a beautiful ride.
Inclement conditions aside, the National Park also makes a great setting for family outings. Once the plateaux (3400m+) has been reached, the riding is relatively mellow and almost completely traffic free, especially mid-week. Distances are short, leaving ample time for off-the-bike explorations. There’s plenty of water to be found, including a crystal clean spring. And, there’s a few abandoned houses dotted here and there in which to seek refuge if the heaven’s should open, as well the shelter of a midway chosa at the foot of the ruins of this former Incan staging post.
Seeing as our Big Agnes Copper Spur UL3 was being repaired, we borrowed a tarp from the Dammers. In fact, it was an old fly sheet from a Eureka tent, that happened to work perfectly strung across a bike. Although a bit of a squeeze for three – with a bike dividing living space – being able to pitch it quickly and avoid sudden showers. Like all tarps, at night it suffered from Ecuador’s super humidity. Still, I love the simplicity and minimal weight of tarps – I’d definitely consider bringing my Black Diamond Mega Light on the next trip, assuming it’s in a bug and critter free area.
Camping options are restricted in the park – and no wild camping is allowed. Hostería Tambopaxi (3750m) charges $7 per person for a spot, which is very reasonable given it includes access to a wood-burning pot belly stove to dry out damp gear, piping hot showers, and even wifi. Budget travellers will find food is expensive though. My three course birthday dinner cost $17, which is a small fortune compared to usual Ecuadorian prices. But the location is second to none, and I have to admit it was delicious and worth every penny.
There are various other haciendas with camping options just outside the gates of the park, including several that are easy to access from the north gate. Prices are similarly high, but such toasty spots are a good bail out options if the weather really caves in. We also celebrated Sage’s first night in an abandoned house, on the outskirts of the park.
Route-wise, we rode in from close to Pintag, entered the park across the Pita river, made a loop, exited via the North Gate, then descended to Machachi to pick up the bus.
Entry to the park is free.
If you would like to keep up with where I am between tardy blog entries, I keep my While Out Riding Facebook page more regularly updated – along with posting extra photos and gear ponderings. You can find it here. Occasionally, I post pictures on my Instagram feed. And if you haven’t overdosed by then, I’ve also started a While Out Riding Tumblr edition, focusing on images.