**** IMPORTANT UPDATE: GREAT NEWS!!!!!.....As October 04 2017, access and visit to the refuge and climbing to the summit is allowed ****
The Jose F. Rivas
refuge is the most popular and frequented refuge in Ecuador. It is located on the northern flanks of Volcán Cotopaxi
at 4,800 m (15,744 ft). Its orange square shaped roof can be seen in a clear day from the Limpiopungo Basin at the base of the volcano.
Climbers can reach the northern glacier line from the refuge in about one and a half hours and the summit (5,897 m / 19,347 ft) in about 6 hours. Views of the northern Andean highlands, valleys and mountains as Antisana, Cayambe, Illinizas, Rumiñahui, Pasochoa, Corazón, Sincholagua and even Pichinchas in the distance are stunning from its front yard as well as of the glacier and the summit from the back yard.
Cotopaxi refuge with the summit in the background.
It could get very crowded specially on weekends and holidays by hikers and day visitors. The glacier can be reached from the refuge by following the path on the red scree slope at the right side in about 40 minutes.
Getting to the refuge
The refuge can be easily reached by the Cotopaxi National Park south or north entrances. After passing the Park Ranger's office and reaching the Limpiopungo Basin (30 min. approx.) take the southbound rode up to the parking lot (4,600 m / 15,088 ft), 8,5 Km.
It takes about 40 minutes to 1 hour to get to the refuge from the parking lot by foot. There are two trails to be followed up to the refuge and clearly visible from the parking lot. The most straightforward starts at the gully located a few meters beyond the parking lot. It's a sandy and steep loose trail but it's the most recommendable specially if you are trying to get to the refuge under bad weather conditions, wind and thunderstorms.
The other one is a switchback path that follows up a ridge located to the left side of the parking lot. The hike up to the refuge by this trail is very comfortable and relaxed, but it should be done only in windless days.
Getting to Cotopaxi National Park
From terminal de buses Quitumbe located at the South of Quito, take any of the southbound buses to Latacunga (USD. 1,75 – 1:30 hours). Ask the driver to drop you off at Cotopaxi's South Entrance in the Panamerican Highway. It's located 20 minutes after passing the town of Machachi and 30 minutes before Latacunga.
Entrances to the National Park are open from 7 am to 3 pm but visitors can get out until 6:30 pm.
There are no entrance fee for National Parks in Ecuador.
The Jose F. Rivas refuge has the following facilities:
2 kitchens (including kitchenware, pots, pans, mixing bowls, cutting boards, knives, spoons and gadgets)
2 large living rooms
Electricity (from 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm)
Basic food supplies
Bar (hot chocolate, coffee, tea, soup, drinks, snacks)
Outdoor toilets (bucket-flushed)
Lockers (bring a padlock to store your gear)
Bunkbeds and mattresses (bring your sleeping bag)
First Aid Kit
Souvenir store (stickers, t shirts, magazines, books, batteries, matches)
The refuge has a capacity for 86 people. It doesn't have heater facilities.
The refuge was built in 1971 and extended in 2005. It is owned and operated by Grupo Ascensionismo del Colegio San Gabriel.
Some modifications were made in the refuge's back yard in order to avoid future tragedies like the one that occurred in 1996 on Easter Sunday, when there was a tragic avalanche that partially buried the refuge and dozens of tourists. The glacier above the refuge was probably weakened by an earthquake that shook the province of Cotopaxi several days prior to the avalanche.
Refuge back yard.
In the warm midday sun a huge portion of the ice wall broke loose. Since it was Easter there were many day visitors in the mountain who were buried in the ice and snow. Although many were saved and those trapped in the refuge broke windows on the downhill side to climb to safety, thirteen people died on the slope above the refuge. The refuge itself is located in a valley and consequently vulnerable to avalanches.
Foreigners: USD. 32,00.
Ecuadorians and residents: USD. 32,00.
Transportation to the refuge can be arranged at the National Park south entrance, where there is a very well organized transportation company with pick up trucks. Their rates are USD. 35,00 each way (1 and a half-hour-ride). Sometimes you can bargain the price.
Transportation from Quito can be arranged in travel agencies for USD. 80,00 per day.
Rustic stove-heated mountain lodge located at the Limpiopungo Basin, 25 Km from the south entrance. It has a restaurant, hot showers, comfortable fluffy rooms and camping areas.
(USD. 23,00 including breakfast)
Albergue de Alta Montaña Paja Blanca
Mountain A-frame cabins located 9 km beyond the south entrance. It has hot showers, fireplaces and comfortable bunk beds (bring your sleeping bag). It doesn't have electricity at night. It also has a restaurant with reasonable prices.
(USD. 12,50 including breakfast)
Camping spot located just 90 m / 300 ft to the right of the refuge. It offers stunning views of the Limpiopungo Basin as well as the northern mountains. (Note: If you choose to set up a tent in the campground, you are not entitled to use any of the refuge's facilities, including toiletes)
- AS MARCH 2015: Camping is not allowed near the refuge. There have been reported a few complains about tents and camping stuff being destroyed by the refuge's guardians. These cases are still under investigation.