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Getting There

By Plane -- The closest airport with regular traffic is Quito's Aeropuerto Internacional Mariscal Sucre (tel. 02/2944-900).

By Bus & Taxi -- Frequent buses leave Quito's main bus terminal, Terminal Terrestre, heading south along the Pan-American Highway. Transportes Latacunga (tel. 03/2800-765), Cooperativa CIRO (tel. 03/2801-285), and Cooperativa Cotopaxi (tel. 03/2800-752) bus lines take turns running the route to Latacunga and Ambato, with a bus leaving roughly every 10 minutes from 5am to 11pm, and somewhat less frequent service throughout the rest of the evening and early morning.

There are two main entrances to the park, and a third, lesser-used entrance. By far, most visitors use the main, southern entrance, also known as El Chasqui. If you are going to the park by bus, be sure to ask the driver to drop you off at the El Chasqui entrance to Cotopaxi National Park. From here you can hire a taxi to take you to the park entrance and on to the museum or other spots inside the park for around $8 to $15 (£5.35-£10). Be sure to specify to the taxi driver exactly where you want to be dropped off, because the entrance gate (control sur) is several miles before any of the more popular attractions inside the park.

If you're going to the northern entrance (control norte), you can get off any of the above buses at the entrance to Machachi, or, better yet, take the Carlos Brito (tel. 02/2235-067) bus from Quito's main terminal into Machachi; here you can transfer to one of the twice-daily local buses to El Pedregal, although that will still leave you several kilometers to go to the park entrance. Your best bet is to hire a truck-taxi in Machachi to take you all the way into the park for around $20 to $30 (£13-£20).

By Car -- No matter which entrance you decide to use to access the park, begin by heading south out of Quito on the Pan-American Highway (E35). To enter the park through the northern entrance, exit at Machachi and drive through the town, following the signs for El Pedregal and Cotopaxi National Park. This 21km (13-mile) stretch of dirt road is sometimes very rugged, especially during rainy periods, and a high-clearance 4WD is necessary. This is the route to take if you are staying at Hacienda El Porvenir or Tambopaxi. Once inside the park, it's another 16km (10 miles) to the museum and parking area.

Although slightly farther from Quito, the southern park entrance is more popular and has better roads. To reach this entrance, continue on the Pan-American Highway past Machachi for another half-hour or so, until just before the village of Lasso. You will see the signs on your left-hand side indicating the turnoff for the southern entrance to Cotopaxi National Park. This entrance and route are best if you plan to visit, or base yourself out of, the park's museum and nearby campsites.

There is a third entrance to the park located about 16km (10 miles) south of Machachi, before the principal southern entrance. This entrance is often referred to as El Boliche and is the least used and least convenient for most travelers visiting the park.

A 4WD vehicle is recommended whichever route you take, although if you drive slowly and carefully, a normal sedan can usually use the southern entrance route.

Orientation

There are two main entrances to Cotopaxi National Park. Most visitors use the principal southern entrance, or control sur, also known as El Chasqui. This is the closest entrance to the small museum and visitor center.

Inside the park are a series of trails, dirt roads, and campsites. The road from the southern entrance forms a very rough semicircle around the foot of Volcán Cotopaxi. About 10km (6 miles) from the entrance gate, you'll come to the museum, as well as to a small restaurant, souvenir stand, and campsite. Beyond the museum to the north lies Laguna de Limpiopungo, a small, high-mountain lake with a pretty campsite beside it. Beyond Laguna de Limpiopungo, the road forks. The left-hand fork leads toward Tambopaxi and the northern entrance (control norte). This road actually forks again, with a secondary road leading into the much less frequently visited eastern area of the park. The main right-hand fork heads sharply south toward the cone of the volcano and the Refugio José Rivas, some 9km (5 1/2 miles) away.

Visitor Information

Whether you enter the park from the northern or southern entrance, you will be given a park map when you pay your entrance fee. Park rangers at each entrance gate can give basic information and recommendations, although their English may be limited or even nonexistent. Most travelers visit with a guide or as part of a guided tour, and unless you are a very experienced climber and hard-core camper, I recommend you do so as well.

There are no banks, shops, or other major services inside the park. The main ranger headquarters (tel. 09/9820-493 or 02/2812-768) is located by the small museum. The park admission is $10 (£6.65) per day, and camping costs another $2 (£1.35) per person per day. A bunk at the Refugio José Rivas costs $10 (£6.65) per night. This refuge is the most common jumping-off point for summit attempts.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.