Posted by: Jena Davison | July 23, 2012

Capturing the Beauty of Cotopaxi National Park

I’ve been meaning to tell you all about a secret hideaway in Ecuador, one of my favorite places amid all the beautiful, interesting spots in this country.

View of Cotopaxi from the Secret Garden

It is a place where you can wake up to the view of the towering, perfectly coned and snow-capped Cotopaxi volcano, or sit and admire it from the comfort of a hammock. It is a place where you can let your adrenaline soar as you climb one of the world’s highest active volcanoes, or soothe your sore muscles in a steamy, candlelit hot tub with a glass of wine. It is a place where you can share a home-cooked meal at a communal table over conversation, or curl up with a cozy book on couches surrounding a blazing fireplace.

Deep into Cotopaxi National Park and perched on a hill looking out to miles of rolling countryside, this special place is called The Secret Garden Cotopaxi.

The Secret Garden Cotopaxi

The Secret Garden Cotopaxi with Illinizas in the Background

Cotopaxi National Park is a special place in and of itself, though–a place I find myself coming back to–and wanting to come back to–again and again. The park encompasses 79,704 acres, with the focal point being Cotopaxi volcano, which mountain climbers from all over the world come to summit. Reaching 19,347 feet, climbing it is no easy feat, but even those who don’t have the time or physical strength to make it to the top can hike up to the refuge at an altitude of 15,781 feet and, depending on weather, further up to the glacier.

Hiking Up To The Refuge

If you want to summit it, you will need to hire a guide, sleep in the refuge and start climbing around midnight to arrive to the top by sunrise. It is a pretty difficult climb, and costs around $200-300 per person, with the risk of having to turn around due to inclement weather or a weak member of the group. The tour operator will provide transportation, meals and  equipment. Many people who do this choose to spend a few days in the area, acclimating to the altitude and climbing easier mountains nearby first.

However, there is no need to climb the volcano to appreciate it. The views of Cotopaxi from parts of the park are spectacular as well, whether enjoyed from a hotel hammock, on horseback or through the window of a car. Many visitors choose to sign up for multi-hour horseback riding or mountain biking excursions through the park.

View of Cotopaxi from Secret Garden Cabana Window

It is easy to make Cotopaxi a day trip from Quito or Latacunga. However, those looking for real relaxation should try to spend a night or two here. There are several lodging options in or near Cotopaxi National Park, ranging from camping to upscale haciendas.

The Secret Garden Cotopaxi is a great deal in comparison to all the other choices, with dorm beds, private cabanas and a private tent cabin. The nightly rate ($32.50-79.50) includes three meals a day, a hike to some nearby waterfalls, free filtered water and coffee, and free use of the on-site Jacuzzi and mountain bikes. The owners have a small farm and garden on the premise. Nighttime is illuminated by candles and fireplaces, as electricity is limited to conserve energy. Take it as a cue to cut off from all technology for the night and connect with the other travelers or your romantic partner instead.

On The Hike To The Waterfalls

Chilling in Secret Garden Cotopaxi’s Hammocks

One of the biggest perks is that Secret Garden Cotopaxi has a sister hostel in Quito and runs shuttles between the two hostels a few times a week for small fee each way. Try to get on one of these. Otherwise, it is possible–but not as cheap or easy–to get there. If you don’t have a car, you will need to take a local bus from Quito to Machachi and  hire a white licensed pick-up truck to drive you from Machachi to the hostel. The Secret Garden can organize the truck for you, and can help you coordinate with other travelers to cut down on cost, since you pay per truck, not per person. An alternative option is to take a train from Quito. No matter how you get there, be prepared to never want to leave.

All photos were taken by Jena Davison in Cotopaxi National Park, Ecuador.  © All Rights Reserved 2012.


  1. What a little piece of heaven! I’ve been thinking of visiting Ecuador next year, and this gives me one more reason to go!

    • It truly is a little slice of heaven. Be sure to visit Cotopaxi National Park if you decide to come to Ecuador after all, you won’t regret it!

  2. Love these photos! Thinking of you and hope you’re doing great, Molly

    • Thanks Molly, you are so sweet! I’ve been doing well and traveling a lot for work, which has been an awesome experience. I see that you have re-designed your site, it looks great! Wishing you good luck as it changes and grows. I’ll write you soon to catch up, are you still in the States or back in S. America?

  3. Hi Jena! We are staying in Otavalo – would this be an easy day trip worth just driving out to see? We are renting a car in Quito and driving it to Otavalo.


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