Cotopaxi offers a kind of beautiful power that keeps locals and tourists alike always erring on the edge of caution and questioning ‘is that ash … or clouds?’

My parents told me we were crazy to go anywhere near Cotopaxi, as recent rumours about an anticipated eruption had instilled fear in locals, travellers, and the general public. We weren’t fussed. We couldn’t wait to sleep at the foot of the giant.

When my girlfriend and I got to the camp site we were greeted by my friend ‘Chilli’; ‘Que talllllllll’ he asked, in his distinctive tone.  All three of us had big grins on our faces, already amazed at the enormity of the volcano. We put our stuff down and looked around for a few seconds, taking in the scenery, then looked back at one another. ‘Y la tienda pues?’ Chilli asked. We’d forgotten our tent…

Cramming three people into a two man tent proved challenging, but was as blessing in disguise – we were the only ones who woke up in the morning without complaining about the cold temperatures.

The next day we set out to explore the surrounding area and take some photos. The site we camped in was at the foot of a big wall of the volcano known as YANASACHA so we were interested to see it from a few different vantage points. The landscape tells a story of its own about the history and power of this site. Large boulders of rock melted and eroded from years of eruptions make up majority of the landscape. It’s these very boulders that make an avid hiker like myself anxious to strap his boots on and accept the challenge of ascent. The trails aren’t well laid out, nor stable. One wrong footing and a loose boulder could unearth right beneath you, sending you and who knows what else tumbling down the mountain.

Cotopaxi hasn’t seen an eruption since 1877 but the history of the volcano is what has people talking. Since the 1500’s it has experienced 5 eruption cycles of 2-3 years each. Each cycle produced about 13 explosions, majority of which have left surrounding areas in devastation. Such devastations have resulted largely because of the unique contrast of Cotopaxi’s glacial peak and molten hot lava flow; a combination which results in overwhelming quantities of mud and ice cascading down the walls of the volcano.

The Cotopaxi is the second highest summit in Ecuador, the first one is the Chimborazo that's reaching a height of 6,268.2 m (20,565 ft), and the third summit in Ecuador is called Cayambe, which is reaching a height of 5790 meters (18996 ft)

To put the enormity of the potential of this volcano in context all you need to do is look at is the facts. The last eruption sent lava flows at such a rapid rate that it took a mere 30 minutes to reach the nearest city of Latacunga which is 62KM away, one hour to get to the capital city of Quito, 75 KM southeast, and within 18 hours had reached as far west as Provincia de Esmeraldas on the coast of Ecuador. Facts aside, my friends and I were in awe and inspired to be here, surrounded by the sizable beauty of Cotopaxi.

The night time offered just as much scenery as our full day of exploration. As any camper will attest, sleeping under a star filled clear night is such a humble reminder of how very small and insignificant we are in comparison to nature. Who needs lights when your whole sky is illuminated by billions upon billions of fiery masses of rock, light-years away? It’s an experience that never gets old, no matter how many times I camp in the wilderness, I am always blown away by the beauty of a night filled starry sky. A hot tea, a shot of whisky, and a satisfied sleep awaited after an amazing day.

We picked up lots of stories and history during our weekend camping at Cotopaxi. As it turns out, the threat of eruption has done more than just heighten alerts in locals and officials in the area. Tourism has massively suffered in recent months, as most travellers come to see or hike Cotopaxi. But for the adventure seekers, the brazen nature admirers, this is no reason to shy away. Camping at the base of this giant, inspiring – yet terrifying – natural beauty is an experience that is unparalleled. To know that you are completely at the mercy of nature is exhilarating for some – yet understandably feared by many.


Fernando Ferri