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10 COTOPAXI NATIONAL PARK FACTS

  1. Geology;

  2. Hydrology;

  3. Conservation status;

  4. What to do;

  5. Vegetation;

  6. Mammals;

  7. Birds;

  8. Other critters;

  9. How to get there on your own;

  10. Best tour.

10 COTOPAXI NATIONAL PARK FACTS: Cotopaxi Road map10 COTOPAXI NATIONAL PARK FACTS: Cotopaxi Park map

 

Geology

The national park is particularly interesting because the volcano suddenly surges out of relatively flat terrain, offering spectacular views of the volcano from all directions.

 

The Cotopaxi volcano of 5897 masl with is beautiful snow cone is surrounded by several dormant volcanoes, most notably the Rumiñahui Volcano of 4757 masl, with its pointed almost black peaks, that are frequently covered with snow. There also is the Morurco Volcano of 4880 masl, close to Cotopaxi.

 

With 87 known eruptions, Cotopaxi is one of Ecuador's most active volcanoes. The first recorded eruption took place in 1534 with the other violent events in 1742, 1744, 1768, and 1877. The 1744 and 1768 eruptions destroyed the city of Latacunga twice. In the1877 eruption, large pyroclastic mudflow flows of "lahars" descended all sides of the mountain as the heat melted the entire ice cap, with lahars traveling more than 100 km into the Pacific Ocean and western Amazon basin. The city of Latacunga was again wiped away by the mudslides. There were more major eruptions from 1903 - 1904, after which activity persisted until the 1940s.  

 

In 2015, two large steam eruptions occurred on 14th of August followed by 2,100 minor earthquakes and emissions of sulfur dioxide daily reaching about 20,000 tonnes. An estimated 300,000 inhabitants are at risk in case of e major eruption.

 

Among these volcanos are extensive lahars, created as fluids composed of volcanic sediments with large amounts of melt water caused by the heat of an eruption when the glaciers of the volcano melt, carrying sands and volcanic ash saturated with water and rocks.

 

The Cotopaxi is still very active and since its eruption end 2015, the road to the José Rivas refuge has been closed.

 

The worst eruption  in history of the Cotopaxi occurred in 1877. A catastrophic explosive eruption casted dense pyroclastic flows and immense amounts of ash that arrived in Quito in 3 hours submerging the capital in complete darkness as the ashes clouded the sky, covering the city under 6 mm of ashes. Even in Guayaquil ash rains clouded the city for a full week.

 

By the thawing of the glaciers, lahares reached the cities of Latacunga, Alangasí, Guangopolo and Conocoto. Towards the north, a lahar traveled as far as 300 km to Esmeraldas, taking 150 million m3 of deposits. Especially Latacunga and the Valle de los Chillos suffered severe damage, as the lahars leveled haciendas, bridges, plantations and killed cattle while taking about 1000 human lives.

 

Most of the park is characterized by undulating terrain with steep gullies cutting through the plane. The dominant soils are black loamy-sandy deposits.

 

10 COTOPAXI NATIONAL PARK FACTS: Cotopaxi peak10 COTOPAXI NATIONAL PARK FACTS: Cotopaxi creek.

The snow-capped cone of the Cotopaxi.

Gullies are carved out in the sandy volcanic soils, giving shelter to shrubs and wildlife in the otherwide sparcely vegetated plateau.

 

10 COTOPAXI NATIONAL PARK FACTS: Snow

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Hydrology

The Cotopaxi and Rumiñahui volcanoes are the sources of the Cutuchi, the San Pedro, the Pita, the Pedregal, the Tamboyacu and the Tambo Rivers. Thus the Park protects the water sources for both irrigation and drinking water of the population centers in  the Central Andes valley.

 

There are also several small lakes in the park:

Cajas Lakes: 15 small permanent lakes at 3 km from the Mauca Sudadero Park Entrance. The Santo Domingo Lake is a permanent larger lake than the Cajas Lakes and deeper than the Limpiopungo Lake, which is closer to Cotopaxi. There is another small lake in the eastern part of the park.

 

10 COTOPAXI NATIONAL PARK FACTS: Cotopaxi,Limpiopungo Lake with Cotopaxi10 COTOPAXI NATIONAL PARK FACTS: Limpiopungo raised trail.

View of the Cotopaxi from Limpiopungo Lake.

Limpiopungo Lake visitors walkway.

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Conservation status

Only a short hour to an hour and a half trip from Quito, Cotopaxi National Park is one of the most impressive national parks in Ecuador, and it contains the famous Cotopaxi Volcano surrounded by paramo highlands between about 3400masl to the peak of almost 6000masl.

 

Declared the August 11, 1975, the park has an extension of 32 255 ha that is located on the eastern flank of the Andes. The boundaries pass through the great massif formed by the volcanoes: Cotopaxi and Rumiñahui, and by the northeastern part of the Pita River that constitutes a natural boundary.

 

10 COTOPAXI NATIONAL PARK FACTS: head quarters Cotopaxi10 COTOPAXI NATIONAL PARK FACTS: Cotopaxi visitor center.

Headquarters of the park.

New visitor center Mariscal Sucre.

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What to do

At about 1,5 hours from Quito, Cotopaxi National Park is a popular destination for visitors looking to hike, climb and trek, or jsut enjoy the stunning panoramas down below.

 

The Cotopaxi has the highest number of clear days per year in the Ecuadorian Andes, and as such it is possible to climb the volcano throughout the year, although strong winds occur frequently in July and August - the dry season in the Andes. Thus thousands of climbers have reached the summit. Because it is in the middle of the inter-Andean valley and very close to several cities such as Quito and Latacunga, Cotopaxi National Park is one of the most visited parks and for many Ecuadorians the first place in their lives to touch snow.

 

The José Rivas Shelter at 4800 masl near the snow line has been closed since the eruption in 2015. To reach the shelter - when in operation - visitors have to climb 200m on foot from the parking lot. It has two floors; one for visitors and another exclusively for Andinistas.

 

The visitor center Mariscal Sucre with information on the flora, fauna and geology of the area is located at the main entrance of the park.

10 COTOPAXI NATIONAL PARK FACTS: Cotopaxi cafe.10 COTOPAXI NATIONAL PARK FACTS: Cotopaxi shop.

Headquarters of the park.

New visitor center Mariscal Sucre.

 

10 COTOPAXI NATIONAL PARK FACTS: Mountain hut.10 COTOPAXI NATIONAL PARK FACTS: In the snow of Cotopaxi.

The José Rivas mountain center provides food and shelter for visitors as well as mountaineers.

Many Ecuadorians experience their first feel of snow at the Cotopaxi.

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Vegetation

It should be noted, that the vegetation in the park is generally degraded by feral horses and domestic animals, such as cattle and alpacas grazing the paramo. Especially the horses heavily pressure the fragile high altitude ecosystems, both by grazing and trampling with their hoofs.

 

Under these conditions, there are mainly 2 predominant ecosystems in the park both in the páramo zone.

 

At lower elevations, 3400-4000 masl, the herbaceous páramo predominates with its grassy, herbaceous flora, mosses and lichens and small shrubs.

 

The high Andes cloud forest is not present in the park, as it naturally only grows up to 3400 masl, the elevation at which the parks begins, although in some gullies near the park limits, one can find some shrubs of Polylepis, the genus of trees with the highest growth worldwide. There are also plantations of Pinus Radiatus, an exotic tree species planted in the 1970s by the same United Nation / FAO forestry project that selected the areas for the protected areas system of Ecuador. The pines were planted to produce wood for a paper plant that was never built.

 

The Superpáramo or Gelidofitia occurs from the herbaceous páramo to the the snow line at 4700masl. The soil is mostly bare, with occational shrubs, low rosettes, mosses and lichens.

 

10 COTOPAXI NATIONAL PARK FACTS: Cotopaxi paramo.10 COTOPAXI NATIONAL PARK FACTS: Cotopaxi Polylepis.

While blamed on the extreme weather and poor soil condiotions, the sparce vegetation at the lower levels of the park is more likely due to grazing by feral horses and other lifestock.

A few Polylepis trees can be found in the gullies at the lower elevations.

 

10 COTOPAXI NATIONAL PARK FACTS: Cotopaxi Chuquiraga.10 COTOPAXI NATIONAL PARK FACTS: Orange Sunset

A very cold resistant shrub is the Chuquiraga jussieui.

At lower elevations, the Bomarea hirsuta shrub can be found.

 

10 COTOPAXI NATIONAL PARK FACTS: Hypochaeris sessiliflora.10 COTOPAXI NATIONAL PARK FACTS: Werneria nubigena.

Typical of the high elevation paramos are stemless rosette composites.

 

10 COTOPAXI NATIONAL PARK FACTS: Werneria pygmaea10 COTOPAXI NATIONAL PARK FACTS: Culcitium nivale.

Plant cushions of composites like Werneria pygmaea are typical for the high paramo and may be hundreds of years old. Just imagine what a horse hoof can do to such slow-growing cushions.

A relative to the famous Frailejones of the north is the little Culcitium Nivale, which grows close to the snow level.

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Mammals

  • Puma, Puma concolor;
  • Andean Fox, Lycalopex culpaeus;
  • White Tailed Deer, Odocoileus virginianus;
  • Red Brocket Deer, Mazama rufina;
  • Striped Hognose Skunk, Conepatus semistriatus;
  • Raposa, Didelphis albiventris;
  • Common marsupial Rat, Caenolestes fuliginosus;
  • ratón topo o musaraña, Cryptotis equatoris;
  • Brasilian or Forest Cottontail, Sylvilagus brasiliensis
  • ratón de campo, Akodon mollis;
  • chucuri o comadreja, Mustela frenata;
  • murciélago orejón andino, Histiotus montanus;
  • murciélagos de los géneros Sturnida, Histiotus y Myotis;
  • Alpacas;
  • Llamas;
  • Feral Horses.

 

10 COTOPAXI NATIONAL PARK FACTS: alpaca herd.10 COTOPAXI NATIONAL PARK FACTS: Andean Fox.

While domesticated, the theory has always been that the Incas brought their alpacas and lamas. Plausible as this may be, we found no evidence of that in the 1970s nor could we find any alpacas or llamas being herded anywhere in Ecuador. Nevertheless, they have been introduces since and are now part of the landscape.

Some Andean foxes have become so accustomed to visitors that they can be approached very closely.

 

10 COTOPAXI NATIONAL PARK FACTS: Red Brocket Deer.10 COTOPAXI NATIONAL PARK FACTS: Mointain Lion.

The Andean Red Brocket Deer,  Mazama rufina, is omnipresent and rather common in the Andes, although permanent persecution keeps them wary.

Pumas are widely spread throughout the highlands and the Amazon, but they keep a safe distance from humans and are rarely seen.

 

10 COTOPAXI NATIONAL PARK FACTS: White-tailed Deer.10 COTOPAXI NATIONAL PARK FACTS: Striped Hognose Skunk.

White Tailed Deer are also widely distributed in the Andes and Amazon, but again, poaching keeps them on edge and seeing one is rather unusual.

Striped Hognose Skunks are rather common too, but being mostly nocturnal, they are not seen very often.

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Birds

Sources vary greatly about the number of birds for Cotopaxi. No doubt there will be several hundreds of species that pass by or  reside in the  park. We give you a little list of some of the species you may expect or hope to see when you go on a birding:

Common:

  • Andean Teal
  • Yellow-billed Pintail
  • Andean Ruddy-Duck
  • Carunculated Caracara
  • Andean Coot
  • Andean Lapwing
  • Andean Gull
  • Bar-winged Cinclodes
  • Grass Wren
  • Plumbeous Sierra-Finch

Uncommon:

  • Ecuadorian Rail
  • Noble Snipe
  • Ecuadorian Hillstar
  • Stout-billed Cinclodes
  • Andean Tit-Spineatil
  • Streak-backed Canastero
  • Tawny Antpitta
  • Tufted Tit-Tyrant
  • Páramo Ground-Tyrant
  • Spot-billed Ground-Tyrant
  • Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant
  • Páramo Pipit.

Rare:

  • Andean Condor
  • Andean Snipe
  • Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe
  • Black-chested Buzzard Eagle
  • Black-winged Ground-Dove.

10 COTOPAXI NATIONAL PARK FACTS: Andean Condors are the largest birds of South America.10 COTOPAXI NATIONAL PARK FACTS: White Colared Swift.

Condor sightings are extremely rare but they still may roam the skies.

Sometimes a swift may race through the sky.

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Other critters

At those high elevation, very few lower vertebrates can be found. Most notably there are some lizards: Pholidobolus, Stenocercus guentheri and Pholido bolus montium.

 

Some frogs are Gastrotheca riobambae and G. pseustes, and some species of the genus Eleutherodactylus.

10 COTOPAXI NATIONAL PARK FACTS: Andean fish Prenadina.

All high elevation fish species belong to the "preñadilla" genus, Astroblepus, so named after a penis-like organ. As trouts have been introduced, they only survive in shallow spots where trouts can't come.

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How to get there on your own

Caspi park entrance: To enter the park, drive along the Southern Panamericana Highway (section Quito - Latacunga) to kilometer 42, from where a road goes to the park entrance. From there it is 15 minutes to get to a paved checkpoint pathway.

 

North park entrance: take the Panamericana Highway to Machachi and drive to the town of Güitig. From there you continue along the paved road up to the Pedregal. Within 20 minutes you get to the admission checkpoint.

 

No public buses enter the Cotopaxi National Park but entrance of the park is about half an hour’s ride from the highway where buses do drop off passengers.

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Best tour

Day trips to the park are organized by a large number of agents departing from Quito. However, nobody else offers a national parks tour like we do of which you will find the itineraries  below, which includes visiting the Cotopaxi National Park with one of our top class nature guides:

Dear visitor, our website gives you info about our National Parks Tours, Cuyabeno Loop, as well as our Cuyabeno  and Cofan Lodges in the Amazon.   For those who want to combine the Exuberant Nature of Ecuador with the Famous culture of Peru, we even have a 7 days Highlights of Peru extension! Here you can find our Prices. Our website has hundreds of high-resolution pictures of National Parks and monuments of Ecuador, with thumbnails that open by clicking on them. If you love our pictures or find our info useful you can help others finding our pages too you can share them from the mobile menu bar with a

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