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 small finches and wrens hopping up and down the trail. Larger waterfowl and shore birds congregate 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 might even be fortunate enough to catch at least a glimpse of the majestic Cotopaxi Volcano.
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.
Only about a 20-minute drive from the south entrance of Cotopaxi National Park, Laguna Limpiopungo is easy to find. A well-marked spur road off the main road through the park directs visitors to a large parking lot with immediate views of the wetlands. Even if you don’t hike, the stop is worthwhile, especially if one of the herds of wild horses is nearby.
Hiking Laguna Limpiopungo
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!
If you are looking for a shorter trail, consider hiking out to the first or second gazebo and back. The views towards the volcano from the gazebos are stunning on a clear day. Additionally, the further you walk away from the parking lot, the more likely you are to see a little wildlife. Hummingbirds visit the many flowering bushes on the hillsides, the Plumbeous Sierra Finch eats seeds along the path, and the Andean Lapwing hides in the low scrubby grass. This is a place where keen observation skills can lead to delightful discoveries.
This post was originally published before the eruption of the Cotopaxi Volcano.
While the National Park was closed for a time, it is once again re-opened and it is possible to visit most of the park.
From the Main Entrance, follow the main road. Head right at the intersection that heads toward Tambopaxi and the North Entrance.
From the North Entrance, follow the road in and turn left at the crossroads.
The access road to Laguna Limpiopungo is just off the main road that runs through the park. If you enter using the North Entrance, turn right on the main road as if you are headed to the Main Entrance of the park, not towards the Refugio.
The Pucara Salitre can be found using backroads accessible from the North entrance of Cotopaxi National Park.
Information For Your Trip
Prepare for cold weather, even on beautiful days. Snow and rain can occur at any moment. Carry plenty of water and high energy snacks. Be prepared to stop hiking if anyone in your party exhibits signs of high altitude sickness.
- Direction by Car, use WAZE and look for Refugio Cotopaxi, Latacunga Canton, Pichincha; for Limpiopungo, look for Laguna de Limpios, Pichincha, Ecuador.
- Direction by Public Transportation Unfortunately, there are no great public transportation options that make it possible to arrive, hike, and depart Cotopaxi on the same day. We recommend hiring a driver and car or staying the night at a nearby lodge. Camping is prohibited while the volcano active.