• JUser: :_load: Unable to load user with ID: 44

You are here:4.1.3 Cotopaxi National Park

4.1.3 Cotopaxi National Park

The 32,255 hectare state run, Cotopaxi National Park has some of the most beautiful scenery in Ecuador.  The landscape is dominated by the near perfectly cone shaped Cotopaxi Volcano.

Cotopaxi in Quichua language means “Smooth Neck of the Moon”.  The Volcano has an almost symmetrical cone that is clearly visible on the skyline from Quito which is located some 60 km away.  The national park is located in the Provinces of Cotopaxi, Napo and Pichicha.  The elevation of the birding areas ranges between 3600 to 4300 meters.



Páramo Grassland.



Cotopaxi National Park

From Quito you can have an easy birding day trip to Cotopaxi National Park. The Park is located two hours away from Quito and the site can be accessed year around with any kind of vehicle, but one with high clearance is recommended.

There is plenty bus transportation from Quito to Latacunga and to many other cities further south along the Pan-American Highway.  These buses can be taken on the Quitumbe Bus Terminal in the south side of Quito.  Should you take the bus towards Latacunga,or beyond, you can hire a pickup truck or a 4 wheel drive at the beginning of the side road heading to the park once leaving the Pan-American Highway.  Ask the bus driver to stop at the entrance road to the park.  Entrance to the park is open from 8:00 AM to 3:00 PM visitors are asked to leave the park no later than 5:00 PM.  The entrance fee is US $ 10 per person for foreigners, US $ 2 for Ecuadorian residents and US $ 1 for Ecuadorian children under 12 years old.



Cotopaxi National Park

There are two ways to leave from Quito heading to the south.

The first one will be by taking the “Autopista Oriental”, or Autopista Simón Bolívar which runs along the eastern side of the city for the entire length of the city.  The Simón Bolivar Highway gives you access to an extension heading to Tambillo, which in turns into the Pan-American Highway.  From this point there are only 3.0 km to Tambillo which is the first small town south of Quito.

Alternatively you can also leave Quito taking the Pedro Vicente Maldonado Ave. to the south.  Eventually this avenue merges and becomes the Pan-American Highway.  Drive to Tambillo which is the first small town south of Quito.

(Clic here to download Map. Cotopaxi National Park).

Tambillo will be point of reference 0.0 km at the railway crossing.  Continue driving south for 7.0 km.  At this point you will find a turnoff on the road.   The right hand turnoff goes to the lowlands of the west toward Santo Domingo de los Tsachilas.   Continue south along the Pan-American Highway for another 4.6 km, or 11.6 km from Tambillo.  Here you will pass the small town of Machachi.   Drive another 5.2 km, or 16.8 km from Tambillo.  Here you will find a toll booth on the highway.  Drive past this toll booth 20 km, or 26.8 km from Tambillo.

At this point there is a dirt road leaving to your left.  Reset your odometer to 0.0 km for future references.  This well signed road accesses the National Park.  Take the dirt road leaving the Pan-American Highway and drive for 0.7 km.  At this point, you will see that the road goes in two directions.   Take the right and road and continue for 0.3 km, or 1.0 km from the highway.  At this point there is another fork.  Take the left hand road and continue for 0.3 km, or 1.3 km from the highway.   At this point there is a yet another fork, the right hand road heads to San Agustin rock quarry.  Take the road on the left and continue on for 2.3 km, or 3.6 km from the highway. Here you will find another road.  Take the left and road and drive for 2.2 km.  At this point you arrive at the Cotopaxi National Park entrance, located 5.9 km from the highway.  Reset you odometer to 0.0 km one more time.

Drive inside the park for 10.2 km.  Here you will find the interpretive center with information regarding wildlife existing in the park.  Drive for another 3.5 km, or 13.7 km from the park entrance.  Here there is a fork in the road.  Stay straight ahead, but this road on the left will be visited after your birding at Limpiopungo Lake.   Continue ahead on your right for another 0.7 km and park here.  You will see a hill on your right ride.  Walk toward the hill and look here for Spot-billed Ground-Tyrant.

Returning back to the road continue on for 1.2 km, or 15.6 km from the park entrance.  At this point there is a turnoff road.   The road leaving to your left goes to the Limpiopungo Lake.   I suggest visiting the lake on your way out of the park.  Continue along the road on your right for another 1.2 km, or 16.8 km from the Park entrance.  Here there are three roads.  The left hand road goes to “Control Norte”.   The road in the middle goes deeper in the park, and the right hand road goes to the slopes of Cotopaxi Volcano.  Take the road toward the Cotopaxi Volcano, which may be signed, “Refugio Jose Rivas”.  Drive up this road for 2.0 km, or 18.8 km from the Park entrance.  Here in the bunch grass habitat look for Streak-backed Canastero. Continue driving up the mountain and look for the Chuquiraga jussieui,  or Chuquiragua bushes along the road side,  especially those located 1.6 km ahead, or 20.4 km from the park entrance.  Also check these bushes at a point further 0.7 km, or 21.1 km from the park entrance. The orange flowered bushes are the best place to look for the Ecuadorian Hillstar.   You should allow enough time to wait for the bird to visit the bushes.

Drive on for 1.2 km more, or 23.3 km from the park entrance, until where the habitat is dominated by the cushion type vegetation.  Walk along the area and look for the Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe.  The end of the road will be 3.1 km ahead or 26.4 km from the park entrance.  At this point there is a parking place and the start of the trail heading into the Refugio José Rivas.

Return to the fork heading to Limpiopungo Lake, at 13.7 km from the Park entrance, and head toward the lake.  Drive for 1.3 km, and at this point you will be near the lake.  Here you can park your vehicle and hike the trail running between the lake and the base of the hill. The scrubby habitat on the slope to your right is a good place to look for Streak-backed Canastero, Tufted Tit-Tyrant, Grass Wren and Plumbeous Sierra-Finch. Farther along this trail you will find more Chuquiragua bushes to look for the hillstar.  The grassy habitat on the slope along the far side of the lake is a good place to look for Andean Snipe.  The reeds along the lake shore are a good place to look for the Ecuadorian Rail and the Noble Snipe.

The Andean Lapwing and the Carunculated Caracara are fairly common along the plain surrounding the lake while Andean Coot and Andean Gull are common on the lake. This is also a good place for Andean Teal, Yellow-billed Pintail and Andean Ruddy-Duck.

At times the rare Andean Condor can be seen soaring over the park and you should keep scanning the sky looking for it.

Birds to look for

Cotopaxi National Park

Dry   Mountain Scrub (DMS), Grasslands (G), Lake (L), Reeds (Ree).

Common: Andean Teal (L), Yellow-billed Pintail (L), Andean Ruddy-Duck (L), Carunculated Caracara, Andean Coot (L), Andean Lapwing (G), Andean Gull  (G,L), Bar-winged Cinclodes (G), Grass Wren (DMS, G), Plumbeous Sierra-Finch (DMS,G).

Uncommon: Ecuadorian   Rail(Ree), Noble Snipe(Ree), Ecuadorian Hillstar (DMS), Stout-billed   Cinclodes (G), Andean Tit-Spineatil (DMS), Streak-backed Canastero (DMS,G),   Tawny Antpitta (G), Tufted Tit-Tyrant (DMS), Páramo   Ground-Tyrant (G), Spot-billed Ground-Tyrant(G), Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant (WMS), Páramo Pipit (G).

Rare: Andean Condor, Andean   Snipe(G), Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe (G), Black-chested   Buzzard Eagle, Black-winged Ground-Dove (DMS).

Copyright © 2010 by Lelis Navarrete

All rights reserved. This web book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the author and Jocotoco Foundation except for the use of brief quotations in a book review and to print the information for traveling in Ecuador purposes.

You may not mirror, modify or otherwise alter any files in this website for rebroadcast, print or distribute in anyway the information contained therein with commercial purposes , without written permission from the author. Except as expressly provided above.

Meet the Author

Lelis Navarrete – Birding tour leader. Lelis has 19 years of experience as a birding guide and naturalist in the field. He has led groups of birders throughout most of Latin America, guiding frequently in countries like his native country of Ecuador and in the Galapagos Islands, Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, Brazil and Panama. A Biology B.Sc. graduate from Universidad Católica in Quito, Lelis has supported Jocotoco Foundation since its founding in 1998 and was an active Board Member until 2010 supporting Ecuadorian bird and wildlife conservation. Lelis divides his time between his two great passions in life: birding and spending time with his wife Solange and son Fabian with whom he lives in Quito.


Jocotoco Foundation

  • Lizardo García E9-104 y Andrés Xaura,
  • Quito - Ecuador
  • Tel: +593 2 250-5212
  • This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.