I got to hike the second highest volcano in the world on my 25th birthday with amazing friends–this day is going to be a hard one to top!
Megan, Kristina, and I hopped in Paul’s car around 6am so we could get an early start to Cotopaxi, a national park just outside of Quito. Paul and Santiago, Kristina’s classmates, navigated the roads while the three of us tried to sleep a little more in the backseat. We had to get to the volcano early in the day because if you arrive too late, the fog covers up the entire thing and you miss the beautiful view. The five of us planned to leave even earlier than 6am but struggled to wake up on time. Hikers intending to climb to the summit usually spend the night at the base camp and start their trek at midnight or 1am in order to avoid the thick fog.
An hour of driving brought us to a small town called Machachi. We stopped there just as the breakfast stands were opening up, and we ordered a few bowls of encebollado mixto con concha y camaron, a seafood stew filled with large chunks fish, shrimp and shellfish. A bowl was only $3.00 USD! The stew is served with ketchup and mustard (weird, right?) and it also comes with a side of popcorn that you’re suppose to throw into your soup. The popcorn addition was amazing, but I was reluctant to mix in the ketchup and mustard. We also enjoyed music from a live band that played while we ate which was sweet treat in the morning.
Once we arrived at the entrance of the national park, the security guard almost didn’t let us through because Megan and I were tourists–apparently, you need a guide if you’re not a local. Paul and Santiago motioned for us to go wait in the car, and when they came back we were told that we were fine to drive through. Not sure what they said, but I’m so glad they let us in!
The dirt road leading to Volcán Cotopaxi was beautiful. We constantly stopped to take pictures, and you can see below that the fog was already starting to cover parts of the volcano so we were definitely racing the clock.
After driving up a few windy roads to a parking lot where other cars and tour busses that carried mountain bikes stopped at (I think people can bike back down the volcano!), the fog had cleared a bit and we were ready to go.
It was freezing (the volcano’s summit is at 19,342 feet), and the parking lot sits at such a high elevation so we could feel the temp drop immediately after stepping out of the car. The view was worth it though, and then we began our hike up to the base camp!
The path was made of loose dirt/gravel so it felt like you were climbing up a sandy beach. With the strenuous (and slippery!) road and thin air, we took a few breaks along the way…but eventually we made it to the base camp (which is at just under 16,000 feet in elevation)!
The view from the base camp was breathtaking and truly surreal. We also walked up the glacier path a bit and saw some camp sites set up, ready to hike to the summit of the volcano.
It was lightly snowing when ventured back down to the car, and when we looked back, the volcano was almost entirely covered by the fog so we had barely made it on time to catch the killer views. On the drive back to the main roads, Santiago noticed that the brakes were not working properly (luckily, we were driving very slowly at the time) but it was a little startling. When adding additional brake fluid didn’t work, we thought we were going to be stuck in Cotopaxi all day. After about an hour of just hanging out, the breaks were working again! Turns out that the brake fluid had been frozen from the cold and needed some time to warm up. Lesson learned! :)
After arriving back in Quito, Paul and Santiago took us to their friend’s restaurant for an early dinner where we were given the VIP treatment. We only ordered a few plates of mote con chicharron (pictured below) but so many more dishes came out. It was amazing!
We shared a huge bowl of soup, and I even got a special birthday plate of carne colorada!
Santiago also had one of the servers sneak out and buy me a birthday candle…a question mark birthday candle, that is :) It was really sweet! I’m guessing that either the server was unsure of how old I was turning or that the question mark was the only candle at the store. Regardless, the dish was ridiculously delicious–I’d be ok eating this instead of cake on every birthday going forward.
After stuffing ourselves until we couldn’t eat anymore, we headed back to Kristina’s and just hung out for the rest of the night. The next day, we all stopped by the local craft market before Megan and I headed to the airport to catch our flight back to California. It was a bittersweet departure, but I’m SO thankful that we got to visit Kristina and meet all of her wonderful friends on this trip. What an amazing adventure!
South America was incredible, and I’m so grateful that I was able to experience this trip with my best friend.
Hasta pronto, SOUTH AMERICA!!! I guarantee that I’ll be back. <3
[This is the final post of the South America series. Click here to see the entire recap of my trip.]