Whilst in Latacunga we decided to do a couple of one day tours, including climbing Cotopaxi up to the glaciers. It is possible to climb to the top in 2 days but we thought the glaciers would be high enough for our first attempt. After speaking to a couple of agencies we realised that they pretty much offered the same standard packages for the same price, so we booked ourself in with Marcelo Araque Expediciones agency, as they seemed the friendliest.
The tour cost us $35 each and included transport, a bilingual guide, any gear we wanted such as gloves etc and lunch. We were picked up at 8am from our hotel in a 4×4 and collected a couple of more people along the way.
After about an hour we reached the park entrance, got our tickets and after a quick pit stop we headed up towards the parking, located 10 kms inside the national park and at an altitude of 4600m.
Unfortunately for us the usually quiet park was full of cars and people, mostly Ecuadorians as it was a national feast day. This hindered the route to the car park as not all cars were able to make the steep gravel roads, which meant we couldn’t pass and as such we had to park a little before the designated area.
The first thing that hits you when you exit the vehicle is the wind. Not the fact that it is windy, but more the icy temperature of it, plus it is filled with the dust from the roads. Mix this with the altitude and you start to find it hard to breathe.
The climb itself is split into 2 parts, the first takes you to the refuge where you take a break and the second part is to the actual glaciers themselves. The refuge is located at 4800m and the glacier is at around 5000m. If you have not been at these altitudes before, like us, it can be a real struggle to walk.
We found we had to stop frequently just to get our breaths back and slow down the heart rate. The climb itself was not particularly hard, but as the guide explained, the altitude can play havoc with your heart and lungs and so we took the climb slowly.
The views on the way up were amazing as the clouds were clearing, however, on the way down we got lucky enough to have clear blue skies for a few minutes and were able to see Cotopaxi in its full glory.
When we finally reached the refuge we were feeling quite tired and were grateful for the rest and especially the hot drinks. One thing to note is that if you are new to these altitudes then coca sweets/tea can really help. We took some in the morning and topped up again at the refuge and found that aside from the breathing, we did not have any other side effects such as headaches or dizziness.
After our rest we were ready for the final climb to the glaciers, strangely the second part was not as hard to do as the first and we soon found ourselves face-to-face with the glaciers and the freezing cold winds!
At the glacier I noticed that some people were climbing into a sort of glacier cave and wondered over for a look, to my surprise the Ecuadorian guys soon had me hoisted up onto the high platform and I was able to feel like I was inside the actual glacier! However, it soon dawned on me that I would need to get back down the 2m drop. This did not prove to be a problem for the guys who held me at one end and caught me at the other, but it left me feeling rather undignified sliding down the glacier, backside first into the arms of a stranger!
When we were sufficiently frozen we headed back down to the refuge for a short break before heading back to the car. The descend was fairly easy-going but as the ground is more like sand, you can find yourself sliding rather than walking down.
Once at the car we headed over to the lake for a quick view before going for a late, but hot, lunch at a nearby park restaurant. Feeling tired but content we headed back to Latacunga and were dropped off back at the hotel around 5pm.
All-in-all a very good day and money well spent!