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Cotopaxi Volcano, Ecuador

Updated: Apr 1, 2023

Account of an experience of the organized tour to the Cotopaxi volcano with prices and course of the day. Culminating at 5,897 meters above sea level, the Cotopaxi Volcano is an icon of Ecuador. With its eternally snow-capped summit, it is the perfect shot in a travel movie! I had obviously put it on my itinerary. It was on that day that we remembered that in the Andes, a day that promises to be absolutely perfect can quickly turn weird.

Volcan Cotopaxi (5897m)
Cotopaxi Volcano (5897m)


We are informed that the tour bus will pick us up at 6:30 am. I was delighted, because I had read that it was recommended to arrive as early as possible to be able to have THE perfect shot of the cloudless Cotopaxi. I said to myself, what a great opportunity to capture the sunrise over the Loma El Panecillo, which we can see perfectly from the hostel, so I get up around 5am. Everything captured and the morning routine over, we wait for the bus at the entrance of the hostel... for two hours. Yes, it rang a bell for me, but I was trying to stay positive. What really stressed me out was not getting my Cotopaxi shot! I was on the verge of losing patience (and you're probably thinking that if you waited 2 hours, you would have been impatient long before me, but hey, patience is one of my strongest qualities) when the bus finally arrived. We hadn't had lunch yet, but the short stop on the edge of the highway to observe the size of the volcano is really worth it. The wait for lunch too, it was of high quality and was served to us in a magnificent restaurant filled with beautiful bay windows giving a view of the mountains and a flower garden.

Some facts about the volcano

Nearly 2 hours after our departure from Quito, we finally arrive at the foot of the Cotopaxi volcano, where we are all charmed by the stratovolcano with its almost perfect cone. But it's actually a sleeping monster that has been trying to wake up for a very long time. Scientists have been able to calculate its first and most violent tremors around 5820 BCE. Around the years of the Spanish conquests, it erupted a few times, including once when the inhabitants barely had time to take refuge on the top of a hill to escape the lahars (mudslides which is a mixture of volcanic ash and snow or water). Another time around 1877, it caused thousands of victims and darkened the sky in broad daylight with its ashes. Its explosions are heard 350 km away. Hopefully it won't burst today. But be aware that the last seismic activities and explosions of the volcano were recorded in 2015.

Volcan Cotopaxi vu du bord de l'autoroute près de Quito
Cotopaxi volcano seen from the edge of the highway near Quito


So silently we all crossed our fingers a bit. The effect of the altitude was starting to be felt a bit, but the guides are very attentive and take us to a small tienda (small store/convenience store) where we can buy coca leaf, Ecuadorian chocolate, water, etc. . See remedies for altitude sickness. We are therefore ready for the ascent of the Cotopaxi, which begins with the ascent by bus of the path... everything seemed very beautiful despite the curves being quite intense, but hey! We were getting used to it, they all drive the same way, it seems! Must not say that we did not expect it (here too we all crossed our fingers a little so that it did not happen, must believe!) the bus capsizes and gets stuck in the soft sand! Impossible to get out, and we are at least 1h, 1h30 walk (very steep slope) only to arrive at the parking lot and then start the ascent to base camp... everyone got out of the bus and we try to help the organizers push him out of there...

What we don't know yet is that this is only the beginning of our adventures of muddied buses in South America! For the filming of AURORA, it happened to us at least 3 times. Read our Rainbow Mountain adventure. But we laugh anyway, it could be worse! The temperature is with us, it's superb (for the moment).

So the guides give us two choices which are not really choices. Either we wait for the trailer that will unlock the bus to take us to the parking lot, or we start climbing right away. Well, we're not going to spend the day here! So we start to climb, but it's still difficult, because we obviously have shortness of breath because of the lack of oxygen and the path we take is clearly not usually used. So every step we take, we take two steps back... but then again, it could be worse...

L'autobus prise dans le sable... mais quelle vue!
The bus stuck in the sand... but what a view!
Notre début prématuré de l'ascencion du Cotopaxi
Our premature start to the Cotopaxi ascent

So far the tour was really worth it. I confess that I had my shot of Cotopaxi, I was satisfied! It's good to stay alert to all situations because you never know what will happen in travel shooting. I was beginning to think to myself that it would make a very good anecdote for the editing.

Obviously, as in any trek, there are people who go faster, and others who don't. Me, I'm usually one of those who don't go very quickly at altitude (again... we hadn't been to Peru yet. You will notice that the more the filming of AURORA progresses, the more we go up in altitude, it's is quite intense.) and I had a rather unbelievable headache that blocked me from climbing quickly. My traveling companions, on the other hand, were doing quite well and we split up momentarily. I preferred to take my time and the truth is that, for the film, I didn't really have a choice. For me, guided tours are always a bit annoying because I'm always in a hurry to make my plans and it's sometimes frustrating... I still do well every time. But there I think film or not, I could not have gone up as quickly as the rest of the band. The important thing at altitude is to listen to yourself and not push, it can be dangerous for the brain and the lungs. The guides are very serious about this and will never push you to go faster than you can. No problem! Everyone enjoys the visit as they wish.

Le paysage incroyable lors de l'ascencion. Un peu plus bas à droite, l'autobus encore pris dans le sable!
The incredible scenery during the ascent. A little lower to the right, the bus still stuck in the sand!

The descent by bike

My travel partners traveled to 5015 m above sea level, very close to the snowy peak. For my part, I had to go back down because my head was really hurting me too much despite the fact that I chewed coca leaf and chocolate. My energy was starting to leave me little by little. To my surprise, when I arrived at the parking lot before most of the climbers, I realized that the bus was still stuck in the sand! It is also starting to get colder and colder. Clouds were approaching dangerously and the wind was piercing my coat. We're Canadian, but that doesn't mean we like the cold either... I'm sitting on a rock and I look at a bit of everything to forget the cold, I try to take advantage of it. The landscape is breathtaking. The guides begin to get the bikes off the bus, and that's when I say to myself ''it's true, you have to get that off by bike''! Nearly an hour later, the base camp group joins us and the trailer has just arrived to take the bus.

Me the cold was starting to take over my mood, but so far, it was going relatively well, I was happy with my plans.

It was the cycling adventure that finished me off! We were given bike helmets (which looked like they were for 7 year olds) to protect us, but I don't know if that would have actually made a difference. The sky changed completely. From blue to black. In addition to the descent which seemed endless, the shocks on my wrists, it started to rain, then to hail (it was suddenly 5 degrees!), then the sky started to throw lightning (yes, we were in the middle of nowhere, with lightning and thunder, not super reassuring...) we were soaked to the bone. We took it all with the Gopro, and I swear to you that on the video, it looks like a very easy little descent... I don't know how to explain it, but it was as if the the whole earth pull pulled us down, it was very demanding mentally (headache due to the altitude) and physically. I fell in the face, I was crying with fear, exasperation, frustration with the universe... Could I have stopped and taken the bus like most people did? But no, I have way too much pride for that (and that's my worst fault)! I made it to the end of his cursed descent on a mountain bike and today, looking back, I am proud of it. The other side of the coin is that Michaël loved it and even decided to venture on a mountain bike on the Death Road in Bolivia... do you think I gave in to the experience? This is an other story!

My respects to those who ride mountain bikes, I think it was that day that I understood how much of a challenge it can become and why enthusiasts are so challenged!

When I finally sat down on the bus, I think I was actually a bit hypothermic. A good soup during the late lunch invigorated me a little, but let's just say that I was in a hurry to go take a shower and go to bed!

Mimi et Michaël au Volcan Cotopaxi
Mimi and Michaël at the Cotopaxi Volcano

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