By the time we came to Cotopaxi we had already been in Ecuador for nearly a week, spending our time in and around Quito. The city lies at 2,800 metres, which can be high enough to cause shortness of breath and making climbing its many hills a challenge (altitude sickness is generally thought to be possible anywhere above 2,400 metres). But we had both found that we didn’t really notice the altitude here as much as we’d expected, and I was hopeful that Cotopaxi would not be a problem either.
But the higher altitude here did trouble me a bit, making the slight headache I had woken up with that morning into a pounding one, and somewhat spoiling what would have been a super day. Even the local remedy of coca tea, which we bought at a little café and gift-shop inside the park ($1.50 per cup) made no difference, unfortunately. There’s not much you can do to counter it though, so best to be prepared to have to suffer a little to get these magnificent views! And if you’re planning to hike here, do allow extra time to acclimatise and maybe not plan to do too much the first day. On our second day in this area, when we went nearly as high, I had no problems other than a slight breathlessness when climbing even a short flight of steps.
You also need to be aware of the signs of more serious altitude sickness such as fever, coughing, permanent shortness of breath (even when resting) and even loss of consciousness. Altitude sickness of this magnitude can lead to potentially fatal complications and the only cure is to descend, so if you should experience any of these symptoms don’t try to struggle through – just get down that mountain. No view is worth dying for!
Next tip: the national flower of Ecuador
The one downside of visiting Cotopaxi is that it's virtually impossible to predict the weather conditions as the volcano itself creates its own weather. Guaranteeing ideal conditions for trekking, climbing or photography is out of the question, so perhaps the only way to hedge against this is to spend a few days here camping and exploring. For me, that wasn't an option, so I feel fortunate to have been able to see the majestic mountain on a fairly clear day.
Llamas are much easier to get close to than vicuñas. In fact, they will approach you if you get too close and this can be a bit daunting seeing that they can reach heights of six feet and weigh over 400 pounds! One male was particularly interested in my wife. I guess he was jealous of me taking photos of his. ;)
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