quito to cotopaxi

Quito To Cotopaxi: Cotopaxi Day Tour and Excursion Guide

Taking a Cotopaxi day tour from Quito is one of the most popular day trips from Quito – the opportunity to see such a stunning high-altitude volcano is a special one!

But despite the drive from Quito to Cotopaxi being relatively quick, it can be challenging to figure out the best way to visit the volcano and Cotopaxi National Park.

While I think there is enough to enjoy here to make an overnight at Cotopaxi well worth it, a Cotopaxi day trip is one of the best day trips from Quito.

This is our ultimate Cotopaxi day trip guide, where we’re sharing how you can visit Cotopaxi from Quito, and the best Cotopaxi tours to get you there. Plus, don’t miss our top tips on how to visit Cotopaxi on a budget.

cotopaxi national park

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Quito to Cotopaxi

A visit to Cotopaxi National Park is a great day trip from Quito, and one of the best for most travelers. One of the most breathtaking volcanoes in South America, Cotopaxi should not be missed!

Traveling from Quito to Cotopaxi is easy, as the drive is generally under 2 hours. You’ll be close enough that you won’t overextend yourself with travel, and have the opportunity to enjoy one of Ecuador’s most stunning landmarks, and among the most impressive volcanoes in Ecuador.

If you have at least one night to spend overnight, even better. There is a lot to do in the park, and it can be a base for multiple excursions or activities.

Staying Overnight in Cotopaxi National Park?

Here are the best places to stay near Cotopaxi:

How Far is Cotopaxi from Quito?

Cotopaxi National Park is about 70 km (43.5 miles) from the center of Quito. Drive time can vary depending on the traffic, but is generally about 1.5 to 2 hours.

How Do I Get to Cotopaxi from Quito?

There are four primary ways to get to Cotopaxi from Quito:

While a viable option, taking public transportation to Cotopaxi can be challenging, and you’ll still need to obtain and pay for transportation from a local guide once arriving in the park.

For most visitors, booking a small group day trip, private day trip, or taking the Quito-Cotopaxi shuttle to The Secret Garden Cotopaxi for an overnight is the best option.

Quito to Cotopaxi Bus

If you’re looking to visit Cotopaxi by bus, you’ll start at the Quitumbe bus terminal in the south of Quito. Once at the terminal, you can select any bus headed south to Latacunga.

Tickets cost around $2 USD, and you should have no trouble finding buses headed here – they’re offered by a variety of bus companies and leave frequently.

You’ll pass the entrance to the park on the Pan-American Highway – you’ll need to tell the bus driver that you want to get off at Cotopaxi National Park, at the “Control Caspi” entrance. The bus driver will leave you at the entrance to the park along the highway.

Remember, you can’t truly explore this massive park on foot – you’ll need some form of transport, as it will take you nearly one hour just to walk from the highway to the official park entrance.

Local guides wait at the junction of the Pan-American Highway and the road to the entrance of the park, and you can usually negotiate a tour with them for around $20-30 for a few hours in the park.

However, you never quite know what you’re going to get, especially if it is your first time, and once you’re here you’re pretty much stuck paying what the local guides ask.

That’s why I generally recommend scheduling a guided day trip to Cotopaxi from Quito, or booking an overnight at The Secret Garden Cotopaxi.

cotopaxi day trip

The Secret Garden Cotopaxi

One of the best ways to visit Cotopaxi is by visiting The Secret Garden Cotopaxi. This special hotel located within the National Park feels like a total retreat, and offers so much value to visitors.

They offer free daily waterfall hikes in Cotopaxi National Park, delicious food (all included in the price of your stay), and organize low-cost, high-quality activities.

The Secret Garden also offers a daily shuttle between their hostel in Quito and Cotopaxi National Park, which is a fantastic option if you’re looking to visit – even if you don’t plan on staying here.

Quito Shuttle

The Secret Garden Cotopaxi offers a daily shuttle (a 12-person passenger van) from Quito to their hotel within Cotopaxi National Park. Taking the shuttle is a fantastic option for those who are looking to get from Quito to Cotopaxi National Park but want to avoid a public bus.

The shuttle departs at 10:00 AM every day from The Secret Garden Quito hostel in the Quito Historic Center.

It costs $10 USD per person from Quito to The Secret Garden Cotopaxi, or $5 USD from Machachi (near the entrance to the park) onward to The Secret Garden Cotopaxi at around 11:00 AM.

You can take the shuttle even if you don’t plan on staying at The Secret Garden! You can get off the shuttle at Machachi – near one of the entrances to Cotopaxi National Park – and arrange with a local guide or cab to explore the park on your own, if you’d like.

The benefit of taking the shuttle over taking public transportation is that you won’t have to take a cab or bus to Quito’s southern bus terminal Quitumbe, and you’ll travel much more comfortably.

It is a great, low-cost transportation option if you don’t want to book a small group tour (though this is still the best way to visit Cotopaxi in one day).

Stay at The Secret Garden Cotopaxi

If your itinerary allows, I highly recommend spending one night at The Secret Garden Cotopaxi and arranging an excursion in the park through the hotel!

Your experience in Cotopaxi National Park will be so much richer than it would be in just a day trip and Cotopaxi tour, and this hotel is truly something special.

Taking the shuttle from Quito to arrive, and the return shuttle the next day, makes transportation here inexpensive and easy for an unforgettable overnight and experience in Cotopaxi.

What To Pack for Ecuador

Check out our Ultimate Ecuador Packing List to help you pack for your trip – we’re sharing exactly what to bring to Ecuador and what we never travel without.

cotopaxi national park tour

Cotopaxi Day Tour from Quito

Taking a day trip from Quito to Cotopaxi is one of the most popular day trips from Quito. With Cotopaxi’s proximity to Quito and the incredible natural beauty of the landscape here, it’s an easy choice as a day trip for most travelers.

Read More: Ultimate Guide to the Best Day Trips from Quito

Ruling out traveling by public transportation – you’ll need to hire local transport and a guide to enter the park, anyways! – and if your itinerary doesn’t allow for an overnight at The Secret Garden Cotopaxi, choosing a guided excursion from Quito is absolutely the best way to visit Cotopaxi National Park.

Most small group and private tours to Cotopaxi National Park involve a similar itinerary covering the best of the park.

You can expect a pickup from your hotel or at a meeting point in Quito, private transport to the park, hiking through sections of the park and (sometimes) up to the Jose Rivas Refuge near the volcano’s glacier line, and lunch and snacks along the way.

Small Group Excursion from Quito

Choosing a small group Cotopaxi day trip from Quito is the best option for most travelers looking to visit Cotopaxi in one day. You’ll have the opportunity to see the best of Cotopaxi National Park and spend the most time here.

The specific excursion that I love to recommend – this Cotopaxi Full-Day Small Group Tour from Quito – includes hiking in the park near the beautiful Laguna de Limpiopungo (Lake Limpiopungo) and the opportunity to hike to the refuge near the glacier line.

A Cotopaxi full-day small group tour from Quito can fit in the budget of almost every traveler. For a full day of private transport, an experienced guide, and food and activities included, this Cotopaxi excursion is really a steal.

Private Excursion from Quito

If you’re looking for flexibility and a personalized tour, booking a private Cotopaxi tour from Quito is definitely for you. You can talk with the guide about interests and concerns and make sure your day is exactly what you have planned.

This is one of the best options for a private tour from Quito, with great reviews and with an excellent tour company: Cotopaxi Full-Day Private Tour from Quito.

It can be a really nice option to take a private excursion from Quito – especially one involving hiking! If you’re concerned about how the altitude might impact you and make hiking more difficult, a private Cotopaxi tour is great because you can go totally at your own pace.

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cotopaxi glacier

Cotopaxi Tours

The most popular Cotopaxi tours are the small group Quito to Cotopaxi excursions and the private Quito to Cotopaxi excursions that include exploring and hiking the park with a guide.

These are the specific small group and private tours that are so popular, and the best ways to have a great day trip from Cotopaxi from Quito:

In addition to these standard Cotopaxi day tours and Cotopaxi day trips from Quito, there are a few popular, more specialized tours to consider as well. Don’t count out these incredible and unique Quito to Cotopaxi excursions as some of the best ways to have an incredible experience at Cotopaxi National Park.

Cotopaxi Mountain Biking Excursion

The perfect excursion for adventure lovers, mountain biking down the side of Cotopaxi is a favorite activity worth trying! Check out the Cotopaxi Hiking and Mountain Biking excursion, an incredibly popular activity for visitors to Cotopaxi National Park if you’re interested!

Cotopaxi and Quilotoa Tour

Looking to combine a visit to two of Ecuador’s most beautiful destinations into one whirlwind, unforgettable day? Check out this extremely popular Cotopaxi and Quilotoa Tour.

You’ll get to experience the best of these beautiful sites with a knowledgeable guide and comfortable transportation – this is the best way to do it!

Cotopaxi Summit Climb

If you’re daring enough, you might just want to try reaching the summit of Cotopaxi. It is a challenging climb (requiring winter gear, crampons, and ice picks!) but doable for the physically fit (even if you’re not a master climber).

Check out Cotopaxi summit climbing excursions and book in advance for the opportunity to climb this peak.

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Where to Stay in Cotopaxi National Park

There are relatively few options for lodging within and around Cotopaxi National Park. Many visitors choose to do day tours from Quito or even Latacunga, so there aren’t many places to stay nearby. However, those who choose to stay at least one night in the park are in for a real treat.

Here are the best places to stay near Cotopaxi:

If you read most of the article above, you’ll know that I think spending at least one night at The Secret Garden Cotopaxi, if you can, is by far the best way to enjoy the park.

Not only is it an affordable option, but this hotel is truly stunning, with incredible front-seat views of the volcano, a variety of room options for every budget, great food, and friendly staff.

Don’t skip the free daily waterfall hike, and make the most of the unlimited coffee / tea and fresh banana bread. Plus, end your evening in the hot tub with a view of the stars.

Looking for other accommodation options in Cotopaxi National Park? Consider staying at Hacienda El Porvenir. Here you can expect similarly stunning views to those at The Secret Garden.

Rooms are slightly nicer and you’ll have more privacy than you would at The Secret Garden, considering there are no dorm room options.

Best Hotels & Hostels in Quito

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Cotopaxi on a Budget

If you’re looking to visit Cotopaxi on a budget, you have a few options worth considering, either for a Cotopaxi day trip or an overnight in Cotopaxi National Park. Here are the best options for taking a trip to Cotopaxi on a budget:

Taking public transportation to Cotopaxi is clearly the most inexpensive way to travel. Including public transportation to get to the bus station in Quito, and the bus to get to Cotopaxi you’ll spend $5 USD or less – that is less than $10 round trip.

However, you’ll have to negotiate with the location tour providers at the entrance to the national park once you arrive in order to get inside and tour the park. While you can generally negotiate a tour of the park for $20-30, you don’t really have any way to predict what the tour will entail.

This is why I highly recommend just booking an inexpensive Cotopaxi day tour from Quito. Group excursions can be extremely affordable in Ecuador. You’ll know what you’re getting, and have more time to enjoy the park at your leisure.

You’ll probably only save about $15 USD over the course of the day by going on your own, which for most travelers just isn’t worth it.

Don’t count out staying overnight at The Secret Garden Cotopaxi as an option, even if you’re traveling on a budget.

The Secret Garden has affordable dorm rooms, and prices include the cost of all meals. Plus, the excursions they organize in the park are much cheaper than if you were to take an excursion from Quito – and they even offer a free (fantastic!) daily waterfall hike for guests.

If you can fit it in your itinerary, they also offer an incredible 3 day, 2 night deal for just $95 USD in total. This includes transport to and from Quito, all meals, and an excursion to hike Pasochoa – an incredible hike and a favorite day trip from Quito.

You can add on other activities, like biking or hiking to the glacier line of Cotopaxi, as you want.

Even if you can’t do the 3 day, 2 night package, taking the morning shuttle from Quito for only $10 to the hotel, plus the cost of one overnight and any excursions is a great deal.

carley rojas avila

Carley Rojas Avila is a bilingual New York-based travel writer, editor, content marketer, and the founder of the digital travel publications Explorers Away and Home to Havana. Carley is an expert on all things Latin America, the Caribbean, and Cuba, having lived and worked in four different countries in the region. Her writing has appeared on the Associated Press wires and in Travel + Leisure, Yahoo, MSN, Euronews, The Weather Channel, and more. When she's not writing about her travels, find her front row at a Bad Bunny concert, befriending street cats, and taste-testing every pizza in Havana.