Top 10 Interesting Facts about Cotopaxi (Volcano)

Just south of the second-highest capital city in the world, you can find one of the most highest active volcanoes on the planet.

The distinctive shape of this fascinating mountain in South America can be seen from various parts of Quito, the capital city of Ecuador.

In this article, you’ll discover some of the most interesting facts about Cotopaxi, arguably one of the most amazing mountains in the world.

1. It’s located in between 2 cities in the heart of Ecuador

Cotopaxi is an active stratovolcano, a type of volcano also known as a composite volcano. These volcanoes feature a distinctive cone that is built from multiple layers of solid lava.

It’s the most prominent feature in the Cotopaxi Province in the central part of Ecuador, a relatively small country in the northwestern part of South America.

Latacunga is the capital city of this province and has a population of just over 200,000 people. It’s located just southwest of this majestic volcano. The capital city of Ecuador is Quito which is located just north of the mountain.

Because Quito is just 50 kilometers (31 miles) to the north and Latacunga is just 31 kilometers (19 miles) to the southwest, the mountain can be seen from various parts of both cities.

Quito and Cotopaxi
The mountain as seen from Quito / Wiki Commons

2. It’s part of a chain of multiple volcanoes in this area

The mountain is part of the Andes Range, the most prominent mountain range in South America that runs all across the western part of the continent.

It’s also part of a chain of volcanoes around the huge Pacific Plate. This extensive chain of volcanoes is known as the Pacific Ring of Fire.

The volcanoes in the Andes are referred to as the Andean Belt and this specific region as the North Volcanic Zone which runs through Colombia and Ecuador.

Cotopaxi location
The summit of the mountain / David C.S. / Wiki Commons

3. It’s the second-highest mountain in the country

Cotopaxi has a height of 5,897 meters (19,347 feet) above sea level, a height that makes it the second-highest mountain in Ecuador and one of the highest active volcanoes in the world.

The highest mountain in the country is an inactive stratovolcano called Chimborazo which is located a bit further southwest of Lacatunga.

This mountain is the centerpiece of the amazing “Reserva de Produccion Faunistica Chimborazo” and stands 6,263.47 meters (20,549.4 feet) above sea level.

Because Ecuador is located near the Equator, the summit of Chimborazo is the furthest place from the Earth’s center. That’s quite amazing since it’s only the 39th-highest mountain in the Andes.

Chimborazo highest mountain in Ecuador
Chimborazo is the highest mountain in Ecuador / David Torres Costales / Wiki Commons

4. Cotopaxi features a distinctive cone that is nearly symmetrical

The main characteristic of stratovolcanoes is that they feature multiple layers of hardened lava that are built up over extended periods of time.

Cotopaxi is a perfect example of this because it features a nearly symmetrical cone. In that sense, it reminds us of Mount Fuji near Tokyo, Japan, arguably one of the best-recognized mountains in the world.

The base of the mountain is about 23 kilometers (14 miles) in diameter and it rises from a plain that is located at an elevation of 3,800 meters (12,470 feet) above sea level.

Cotopaxi facts
Detail of the volcano’s amazing shape / Ángel M. Felicísimo / Wiki Commons

5. The equatorial mountain has a pretty unique feature near its summit

One of the most interesting facts about Cotopaxi is that it features an amazing glacier near its summit. This is one of the only of its kind near the Equator.

The glacier flows down from a height of 5,000 meters (16,400 feet) above sea level, which is still quite a distance from the summit at 5,897 meters (19,347 feet).

Cotopaxi glacier detail
Detail of the mountain’s glacier / Albert Backer / Wiki Commons

6. The volcano has an enormous crater that features 2 rims

Equally amazing is the fact that Cotopaxi features an enormous crater that consists of two concentric crater rims.

This crater has a diameter of 800 × 550 meters (2,620 × 1,800 feet) and is about 250 meters (820 feet) deep. That’s a lot bigger than it initially appears to be.

The outer rim of the crater is partially snow-free and also features the highest point of the mountain which is situated on the northern side.

Cotopaxi crater
Detail of the volcano’s crater / Clay Junell / Wiki Commons

7. It has been sacred to the local people for many centuries

Quechua is a language spoken by the local Quechua people and they mention that the name of the mountain is derived from two different words.

“Coto” means “neck” and “Paxi” means “Moon.” This is a reference to the crescent-shaped crater of the volcano.

The local people who have lived here for many centuries, including before the Incan invasion of the 15th century, considered the mountain to be sacred.

They worshipped the mountain so it would bring rain to fertilize their lands.

Cotopaxi sacred mountain
The sacred mountain / Rinaldo Wurglitsch / Wiki Commons

8. The active volcano has erupted well over 80 times already

The eruptive history of the volcano is quite extensive and starts in the 8th Millenium B.C. Since then, it has erupted 87 times.

It remains a very dangerous volcano because the recent eruption dates back to between August 2015 and January 2016.

The mudflows as a result of these eruptions have carved the valleys around the mountain and have transformed the landscape into what it is today.

Cotopaxi by Frederic Edwin Church, 1862.
Cotopaxi Erupting, a painting by Frederic Edwin Church, 1862. / Wiki Commons

9. The first European to reach the summit did so in the 1870s

The first attempt to reach the summit of Cotopaxi dates back to the year 1802. A German polymath named Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) tried to climb the mountain that year.

He didn’t get higher than an elevation of about 4,500 meters (14,760 feet) above sea level. This is just below where the modern-day camp, called the José F. Ribas Refuge, is located today at a height of 4,864 meters (15,960 feet).

It would take until November 28, 1872, before the first European reached the summit. German geologist Wilhelm Reiss along with his Colombian partner Angel Escobar conquered the mountain that year.

Cotopaxi start climb
The starting point for climbers / Ljuba Brank / Wiki Commons

10. It’s a popular mountain to climb but it requires some experience

The mountain has become a popular tourist attraction for climbers and guided climbs are even offered. About 100 people try to reach the summit every weekend on average.

Although it’s far from being the most difficult mountain in the world to climb, it does require some experience. Ice slopes at 50 degrees are not uncommon.

It takes about 6 hours of scrambling the icy slopes of Cotopaxi to reach the summit, and about half of the climbers who attempt it make it to the top.

Climbing Cotopaxi
Climbers attempting to conquer the mountain / Clay Junell / Wiki Commons