On the Road

Traveling in Ecuador is fraught with complications, even when driving your own car and especially when traveling on holiday weekends. I thought it was about time I shared some of the down and dirty realities!

Limpiopungo – The Wetlands at Cotopaxi National Park

On a clear day, it is possible to see Cotopaxi beyond the marshes and lake.

On a clear day, it is possible to see Cotopaxi beyond the marshes and lake.

There is one hike always worth taking at Cotopaxi National Park, the trail around Limpiopungo. No matter what the weather, you’re guaranteed to see birds, small finches and wrens hopping up and down the trail itself and larger waterfowl and shore birds in the many small ponds and marshy areas. You’re also guaranteed stunning vistas of the surrounding mountains and of wild horses on the paramo. If the weather is clear, you should be fortunate enough to catch at least a glimpse of the majestic volcano, Cotopaxi, as well. Each time we’ve visited, the weather has changed rapidly and the ever present clouds weave in and out of the mountain valleys and make each moment unique.

The trail around the lake takes about 1.5 hours. The trail is well maintained and practically flat, making it a perfect hike for those that aren’t handling high altitude well. Bring a lunch in your daypack and you can sit under a shady gazebo about one third of the way into the trail. And, if you’re lucky, you may spot rabbits near the small bridges about midway through. At the end, beware of the cattle. They roam at will and though they have never charged us, they do tend to own the trail. Just give them wide berth!

Click on any photo to enter a slide show and see each photo in more detail.

Hiking to the Glacier at Cotopaxi National Park

We hiked the switchback up, the glacier trail over, and the "Up the Gut" trail back down.

We hiked the switchback up, the glacier trail over, and the “Up the Gut” trail back down.

If you find yourself at Cotopaxi National Park on a sunny day, you may just want to take the opportunity to hike up to the glacier above the Refugio, especially if you’ve already taken the time to hike that far! The views are spectacular, both up towards the icy mountain peak and down into the valley below. The trail is fairly easy, inclined but rarely steep. In fact, it is probably easier than the hike up to the Refugio itself, especially if you used the main trail straight up the gut.

Even with the occasional steep slope, I felt exhilarated the entire hike. My husband tells me I was experiencing an altitude high and he may have been right. But with no high altitude headache, no stomach upset, and glorious weather, the trip to the glacier remains the high point of my summer (pun intended).

This slow hiker made the additional trip in about 45 minutes. In total, the hike from the parking lot to the Refugio and then to the glacier takes about 2 hours. Round trip, about 4 hours. If you are an avid photographer, you may want to add an hour or two more, depending on how much time you spend setting up your shots. As for me, the photos were only a part of what slowed me down. I stopped to talk to several people on the trail. So if you’re a quiet person who tends to just hike and is in decent shape, you may even cut this trip down to 3 hours round trip! But please don’t be in a hurry. The wonders of this place should not be rushed.

This panorama is stitched from multiple photos. The view is found about halfway between the glacier and the Refugio but on a higher trail that the one we walked out.

This panorama is stitched from multiple photos. The view is found about halfway between the glacier and the Refugio but on a higher trail that the one we walked out.

We shared the slopes with all kinds of people – tour groups visiting from the United States with college students split between those practically running up the slopes and others with altitude symptoms that would have made it smarter to turn back; Ecuadorians taking every opportunity to snap a picture with the Ecuadorian flag as proof of how high they climbed; a group of Columbians who were proud to pose for my camera and then holler back and forth with us about how beautiful the day was; children from the town just outside Cotopaxi and a friend of theirs visiting from Venezuela. The list goes on. It was an international party, everyone amazed by the clear skies and our luck in choosing this day to hike. Those of us who started early in the morning were very fortunate because as we finished the day, the clouds were rolling in. I felt bad for those hiking up as we were hiking down. Weather here changes rapidly but your best chance for clear views means starting early.

If you plan on making this trip yourself, please read Part 1 about the trail to the Refugio and suggested items to bring to make sure you day is one of the best.