Ecuador – a natural selection of some of the richest diversity in South America. Only a continent could give you more.
Located two hours outside Quito, is Cotopaxi National Park. To reach this natural wonder, the drive is more than spectacular. Weaving through the ‘Avenue of the Volcanos,’ you wish you had more than one pair of eyes. Left, right, behind you, suddenly looming in front of you are some of the most striking volcanic peaks towering above. Some snow-capped, some entangled in the dizzying heights of the swirling clouds.
Cotopaxi National Park is high in altitude as well as being an abundant wildlife reserve surrounding the highest active volcano in the world, Cotopaxi.
This arid landscape offers one of Ecuador’s best mountain biking experiences. Dirt and gravel roads, challenging mountains and open vast flat plains. On your trusty two wheels, cross through a unique paramo ecosystem whilst being surrounded by impressive volcanic scenery.
Bound by the volcanos of Ilinizas, Sincholagua, Ruminahui and Pasocha, some snow- capped, some not, some jagged with exploded crater rims, some a perfect peak, you will feel like you are on another planet. Sparse and eerie lunar landscapes contrasted with crystal clear glacial lakes, golden bending grasses and sandy terrain. Towering over all is the mighty Cotopaxi Volcano.
If it is clear, you will be able to see its glacial peak glistening in the sun, but at 5897m, more often than not its peak is encircled in a loft of cloud.
For your mountain biking experience, there are many options depending on your capabilities and comfort levels. We drove up to highest accessible part of the mountain at 4500m. The scenery changes dramatically along the windy road as we passed the tree line and moved into moonlike lunar landscapes. Dark charcoal soil with seemingly no vegetation and rusty red looking powdery rocks greet us at this point as steam seeps out from small cracks.
A dizziness washed over me as I swayed through this car park, one of the many effects of the altitude.
We had the option to start our bike ride from here (4500m) which would give us the opportunity to descend the steep face of this sheer volcano and wind down the twisted road continuing on into the valley below. Due to my dizziness, I felt it would be best for all involved to start a little lower where I wouldn’t fall off the side of the volcano.
As we began to descend Cotopaxi (from a lower altitude), the view beneath us was breathtaking. We crossed through typical highland wildlife and vegetation changing from baron to more fertile lands, some lush and green, others golden and grassy.
We visited Limpiopungo Glacier Lagoon, a crystal clear small lake with a mirror like reflection of the snow dusted volcanoes overlooking its azure waters, this image only interrupted by the ripples of Andean waterfowl frolicking in the icy waters.
We zig-zagged and weaved down grassy knolls, alongside small waterways fed by the melting glaciers where small deer and stray fluffy horses sipped from the edge.
There was not another soul to be seen in these areas as we cycled on. Away from the main roads of the National Park, the only sound is the crunch of our tyres over the gritty soil and the click and grind of our chains as we change gears.
The ride lasted around 2.5hrs before we reached some Pucara Inca ruins. Here we were given a peak into the western hemispheres most powerful ancient civilisation.
Although not much in comparison to the grand scale of the Inca ruins of Machu Picchu, these ruins pre date the Inca times, which made them all the more fascinating.
We continued on through sandy terrain, dodging volcanic rocks and boulders spurted from the angry mouth of Cotopaxi in years gone by, before enjoying a picnic of local delights on the crest of a grassy knoll, overlooking the kingdom we had conquered below on our two wheels before returning to the colonial and artistic city of Quito.
They say a picture says a thousand words, but I can assure you, this experience will leave you speechless. Another one for the bucket list!
Looking for more Active experiences on your travels? Check out our Active small group tours!
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This category of tours involves light trekking, walking, cycling, rafting or kayaking for a few hours each day with a small amount of inclines and declines. You will require a reasonable level of fitness and good health to participate. It is important to note that due to the nature of some of our trips, they may take place in remote areas (with basic facilities) and can involve long travelling days on various modes of transport.
Suggested preparation : At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake aerobic exercise (this may include jogging, cycling or fast walking) for 30 minutes, three times a week. It is also advised to walk on variable terrain and in variable weather conditions. For a cycling adventure, road cycling twice a week is recommended and for adventures which involve paddling and kayaking, it is important to gain confidence and rhythm rather than speed prior to departure.
This category of tours involve trekking, kayaking and cycling for period of 6 to 8 hours a day at a fairly consistent pace. Ideal for people looking to slightly increase the heart rate. For our moderately rated tours, you must have a good level of fitness and also be in good health. It is also important to be prepared for variable weather conditions. Altitude may also come into play. This category of tours may involve visiting remote areas where facilities can be quite basic. Accommodation may also involve camping, homestays or basic accommodation where facilities may not be considered of western standards. To enjoy this style of travel, it is suggested for travellers to have a reasonable level of fitness and health, a positive attitude, as well as a fairly active lifestyle. An open mind is also required.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake 45mins – 1 hour of aerobic exercise, three to four times a week. Some potential exercises that could be beneficial include hill walking with a backpack on over variable terrain and weather conditions, as well as running and cycling dependent on the activity you plan on undertaking.
This category of tours involves trekking, kayaking, cycling or other adventure activities in remote areas for up to 8 to 10 hours a day. It is important to note that with the remoteness of some regions comes a variety of other challenges such as variable weather conditions, accommodation as well as facilities. You must have an excellent level of fitness and good health to be able to partake in this category of tour. You must have confidence in your own ability and be in good physical condition. Includes extended periods of endurance.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 to 4 months of strenuous exercise, four times a week. When preparing for treks it would be beneficial to participate in hill walks with a weighted day pack (approximately 5-8 kg) once a week for aerobic fitness and strengthening of leg muscles. It is also important to do this on variable terrain to prepare for challenging adventures. When preparing for cycling adventures, regular bike riding (at least 4 to 5 times a week for 1-4 hours is essential). It is also important to cycle on uneven surfaces or even participate in other aerobic exercises such as running or swimming to build up strength and stamina. Altitude may also be a factor in these tours.
This category of tour often involves extreme trekking, cycling or other extreme adventure activities. It is important to expect remote and poorly defined tracks and to be prepared for variable weather conditions for 10 to 12 hours per day (may sometimes be more depending on weather and altitude). These adventures are suitable for travellers who have prior experience in strenuous travel and activities, are extremely fit and have excellent health. It is also important to note that some of the terrain on these adventures will involve trekking in snow, at high attitude levels and may require technical equipment.
Suggested preparation: It is important to note that physical fitness should be an ongoing activity, commencing around 5-6 months prior to departure, or even before if you have no prior fitness. Exercise should focus on building maximum endurance and stamina. Four to five hard sessions of 40-60 mins per week should be completed and can include exercises such as going to the gym, running, swimming or cycling to focus on building aerobic stamina. It could also be beneficial to prepare by hiking on rough terrain, in extreme weather conditions or partake in altitude training.