Discover an Andean Playground at Tierra del Volcán

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Added by Nick Lake

Horseback ride, mountain bike, and hike on the doorstep of Parque Nacionál Cotopaxi, Ecuador's second-tallest volcano. Enjoy miles of private single-track and hiking trails and endless views of the surrounding páramo.

UPDATE: as of August 2017, Cotopaxi is open again to climbing.

Though only Ecuador’s second-tallest peak, Cotopaxi (19,347 ft.), the world’s tallest active volcano, is certainly its most iconic.  Visible from Quito, the near-perfect volcanic cone is visible from Quito and stretches nearly four miles above sea level.  The surrounding national park is a wonderland of adventure and, due to increased regulations regarding foreign visitation, is most-easily experienced with a licensed guide or outfitter.

Though plenty of guide agencies operate within Ecuador’s borders, experiencing the area via local experts Tierra del Volcan gave us plenty of inside-insight into the history, geology, topography, and adventure opportunities before us in the park.  We set up base camp at the Hacienda el Porvenir lodge just outside the park’s borders nestled in a broad, verdant valley between four volcanoes: Cotopaxi (who’s glaciated summit was visible from my room), Rumiñahui, Pasochoa, and Sincholagua.

Take advantage of the abundant hiking opportunities by summiting Pasochoa solo (13,850 ft.), or by hiring a guide to take you to the top of either Rumiñahui (15,489 ft.) or Sincholagua (16, 730 ft.), both of which require some technical climbing skills or a difficult approach.  Unfortunately, due to an ongoing eruption, Cotopaxi is currently unavailable for climbing.  Hiking trails that leave directly from the Hacienda provide incredible views of all four volcanoes, as well as El Corazon to the west.

If you’re looking to take it easy, hire a horse and guide and don traditional Andean cowboy attire for a horseback ride up into the valley directly beneath Rumiñahui’s eastern flanks and towards Cotopaxi.  The trails you’ll ride along take you past other older haciendas, some no longer in use, and a bullfighting ring currently used in the annual chagra competitions—a rodeo of sorts where local cowboys pit their skills against each other.

If horseback riding doesn’t get your adrenaline pumping enough, try one of the Hacienda’s private mountain biking tracks for a heart-pounding mix of singletrack and muddy farm roads.  Many of the Hacienda’s employees are avid mountain bikers who spend countless hours perfecting their trails for the ultimate ride and are more than happy to show you the ropes.

For excursions into the park to hike or mountain bike, head up to the Jose F. Rivas Refugio, a climbing hut perched on Cotopaxi’s northern slope 15,744 feet above sea level.  The refuge usually provides base camp for prospective mountaineers but, in the absence of climbing, it is still a great spot to start a downhill bike ride or to check out the retreating Cotopaxi glacier.

At the end of the day, kick back and enjoy top-notch food at the Hacienda’s restaurant and warm your toes by the lodge’s fireplace.  Hospitality at the Hacienda is fantastic and you’ll quickly find yourself wanting to stay forever.

UPDATE: as of August 2017, Cotopaxi is open again to climbing.

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