For other uses, see Cotopaxi (disambiguation).

Cotopaxi seen from the high plain (3.700 + m.) of Cotopaxi National Park
Highest point
Elevation 5,897 m (19,347 ft)
Prominence 2,403 m (7,884 ft)[1]
Listing Ultra
Coordinates 0°40′50″S 78°26′16″W / 0.68056°S 78.43778°W / -0.68056; -78.43778Coordinates: 0°40′50″S 78°26′16″W / 0.68056°S 78.43778°W / -0.68056; -78.43778
Location Pichincha / Cotopaxi, Ecuador
Parent range Andes
Mountain type Stratovolcano, Historical
Volcanic arc/belt North Volcanic Zone
Last eruption August 2015 to January 2016.[2]
First ascent 1872-11-28 by Wilhelm Reiss and Ángel Escobar
Easiest route North side: Glacier/Snow Climb (Grade PD-)

Cotopaxi is an active stratovolcano in the Andes Mountains, located in the Latacunga canton of Cotopaxi Province, about 50 km (31 mi) south of Quito, and 33 km (21 mi) northeast of the city of Latacunga, Ecuador, in South America.[3] It is the second highest summit in Ecuador, reaching a height of 5,897 m (19,347 ft). It is one of the world's highest volcanoes.[4][5]

Since 1738, Cotopaxi has erupted more than 50 times, resulting in the creation of numerous valleys formed by lahars (mudflows) around the volcano. The last eruption lasted from August 2015 to January 2016.[6]



On a clear day, Cotopaxi is clearly visible on the skyline from Quito[7] and is part of the chain of volcanoes around the Pacific plate known as the Pacific Ring of Fire. It has an almost symmetrical cone that rises from a highland plain of about 3,800 metres (12,500 ft), with a width at its base of about 23 kilometres (14 mi).[8] It has one of the few equatorial glaciers in the world, which starts at the height of 5,000 metres (16,400 ft). At its summit, Cotopaxi has an 800 X 550 m wide crater which is 250 m deep. The crater consists of two concentric crater rims, the outer one being partly free of snow and irregular in shape. The crater interior is covered with ice cornices and rather flat. The highest point is on the outer rim of the crater on the north side.



Many sources claim that Cotopaxi means "Neck of the Moon" in an indigenous language, but this is unproven. The mountain was honored as a "Sacred Mountain" by local Andean people, even prior to the Inca invasion in the 15th century. It was worshiped as “rain sender”, that served as the guarantor of the land's fertility, and at the same time its summit was revered as a place where gods lived.

Historic Eruptions

With 87 known eruptions, Cotopaxi is one of Ecuador's most active volcanoes.[2] The first recorded eruption of Cotopaxi was in 1534.

Cotopaxi's most violent eruptions in historical times occurred in the years 1742, 1744, 1768, and 1877. The 1744 and 1768 events destroyed the colonial town of Latacunga. In the 26 June 1877 eruption, pyroclastic flows descended all sides of the mountain melting the entire ice cap, with lahars traveling more than 100 km into the Pacific Ocean and western Amazon basin draining the valley.[2] The city of Latacunga was again leveled completely due to the mudslide deposits.

There was a major eruption from 1903 to 1904, and minor activity persisted until at least 1940 and possibly 1942.[2] (Note that direct observations of minor eruptions can be difficult because of bad weather, hence the uncertainty about the 1942 "eruption.") The same source also reported increased thermal/seismic, non-eruptive activity in 1975 and 2002. In the increased activity of 2002, fumarolic activity and sulfuric emissions increased and ice around the inside and on the southeastern side of the cone started to melt. However, no actual eruption was observed.[2]

In 2015, a steam eruption marked a new phase of volcanic activity.[9] The volcano "remains in a very abnormal situation. In August, 2,100 earthquakes were recorded and emission rates of sulfur dioxide reach approximately 20,000 tonnes per day". The government estimates some 300,000 people are at risk from the volcano in the provinces of Cotopaxi, Tungurahua, Napo and Pichincha.[10]


The first European who tried to climb the mountain was Alexander von Humboldt in 1802, however, he only reached a height of about 4500 m. In 1858 Moritz Wagner investigated the mountain, but he could not reach the summit either. On November 28, 1872, German geologist Wilhelm Reiss and his Colombian partner Angel Escobar finally reached the summit of Cotopaxi.[11] In 1873 it was again summited by Moritz Alphons Stübel, then in 1880 by Edward Whymper. Painters Rudolf Reschreiter (de) and Hans Meyer reached the summit in 1903 and many of Reschreiter's paintings feature a view of Cotopaxi.[12]

In the late 20th century, summiting Cotopaxi became a major tourist draw. The José F. Ribas Refuge (Refugio José Félix Ribas) was built in 1971 at an elevation of 4800 m and enlarged in 2005. A tragedy occurred here on Easter Sunday 1996 when an avalanche partially buried the Refuge and dozens of tourists. The glacier above the Refuge was probably weakened by an earthquake that had shaken the entire Province of Cotopaxi for several days prior to the avalanche. In the warm midday sun a huge portion of the ice wall broke loose. Being Easter there were many day visitors on the mountain who were buried in the ice and snow. Those trapped in the Refuge broke windows on the downhill side to climb to safety, but 13 people died on the slope above. The Refuge itself is located in a valley and consequently vulnerable to future avalanches.[13]


The volcano has an inner crater inside the outer crater. Colors show elevations.[14]


Climbing Cotopaxi to the summit is quite popular with up to 100 climbers attempting it on weekends.[15] Today, mountain guide companies offer regular guided climbs of the mountain and — as of 11 December 2012 — no mountain peaks in Ecuador over 5,000 m high may be climbed without a licensed guide. Climbers grade the conventional route alpine PD (Peu Difficile) or WS (Wenig Schwierig) — or PD/WS+ (indicating "Mildly Difficult PLUS"). Use of crampons and ice axes are mandatory as snow and ice slopes of up to 50 degrees are encountered and climbers should be on belay and use aluminum ladders to cross one or two of the crevasses. A 4WD track goes up from the national park entrance to a carpark at 4600 m altitude on north side, just below the José F. Ribas Refuge. This stone mountain hut — owned and operated by Grupo Ascensionismo del Colegio San Gabriel — is situated 200 m higher at 4800 m (a 40-80 minute uphill hike). Here climbers can spend the night and begin their summit bid in the early morning without any intermediate camps. (Typically no more than about half of those attempting to summit Cotopaxi make it to the top after a daunting — though non-technical — six-hour scramble.) Summiting normally starts around 12:30 am to reach the summit at latest 7:30 am and then return to the hut before the snow melts and glacier crevasses move/evolve. As of July 28, 2014, the Ribas Refuge is under construction. Tour operators shuttle their clients up to the top of the 4WD track once in the afternoon for a glacier skills class, and then again to start the climb around midnight, spending the intervening hours eating dinner and resting at a hostel lower down by the lakes. Adventure tourism operators in Quito also offer mountain biking tours from the Refuge downhill along the dirt track.

Recent activity

In April 2015, the volcano began to show signs of unrest, and came back to life. There was a large increase in earthquakes (including harmonic tremors) and SO2 emissions. IGPEN reported slight deformation of the edifice, suggesting an intrusion of magma under the volcano. As of 25 July, the unrest continued, and the most recent significant eruption was an ash and steam eruption that occurred on August 14 and 15, 2015.[16][17][18][9][19]

Future Cotopaxi eruptions pose a high risk to the local population, their settlements and fields. The main danger of a huge eruption of Cotopaxi would be the flow of ice from its glacier. If there were to be a very large explosion, it would destroy most of the settlements within the valley in the suburban area of Quito (pop. more than 2,000,000).[20] Another city which would be in great danger is Latacunga, which is located in the south valley and was destroyed in the 18th century by volcanic activity.

In art

Cotopaxi by Frederic Edwin Church, 1862.

See also

Wikivoyage has a travel guide for Cotopaxi.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to:


  1. "Ecuador ultra-prominent peaks". Retrieved 2011-08-12.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 "Cotopaxi". Global Volcanism Program. Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved 2013-11-07.
  3. "Distance from Quito to Cotopaxi".
  4. "Cotopaxi". Encyclopedia Britannica.
  7. Biggar, John (1996). The High Andes: a guide for climbers. Scotland: Andes Press. ISBN 1-871890-38-1.
  8. "NASA Earth Explorer page". Retrieved 2012-05-23.
  9. 1 2
  10. "Diario la Hora, 7 de Agosto del 2015". Se registran lahares de poco alcance en el volcán Cotopaxi. Diario La Hora. Retrieved 2015-09-08.
  11. Greenspan, Eliot (2011). "Frommer's Ecuador and the Galápagos Islands". USA: Wiley. p. 155. ISBN 978-0-470-94951-1.
  12. de:Rudolf Reschreiter
  13. "Cotopaxi Refuge, Hut & Campground Information". SummitPost. Created/Edited: Nov 5, 2009 / Feb 12, 2014. Retrieved 14 June 2014. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  14. "NASA - The Cotopaxi Volcano". Retrieved 2009-10-10.
  15. Biggar, John (1999). The Andes: a guide for climbers (2nd ed.). Scotland: BigR Publishing (Andes). ISBN 0-9536087-0-0.
  16. "A Restless Volcano Puts Ecuador on Edge Once More". WIRED. 17 June 2015.
  17. National Polytechnic School Geophysics Institute is constantly monitoring Cotopaxi
  18. "Ecuador declares state of emergency over volcano".
  20. Samaniego, P; Mothers, P; Hall, ML; Yepes, H; Castro, M; Aguilar, J (2004). LAHARZ hazard maps of the northern drainage of Cotopazi volcano, Ecuador. Pucon, Chile: IAVCEI General Assembly.
  21. Hope, Jayne. "Pintores de Tigua: Indigenous Artists of Ecuador". Retrieved 2012-05-23.
Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article Cotopaxi.

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