After a peaceful night warmed by your wood-burner in the cosy lodge you’ll enter the park through its more remote northern gateway. Cotopaxi’s (very) occasionally active peak towers above its rumpled skirts of highland moor, blanketed with a tundra-like vegetation of altitude-resistant shrubs and flowers.
The park is inhabited by over 90 species of bird from pocket-sized hummingbirds to giant condors and a variety of hardy mammals including deer, rabbits, Andean foxes and puma, which shelter from view in the lacy veils of frequent swirly mists. You have the opportunity to walk the trail surrounding the stunningly reflective Lake Limpiopungo, ringed by bird-filled reed beds. Alternatively, drive up the steep rocky road on the volcano’s flanks to the snow line at 4,800m for mesmerising views over the wilderness of the park below (caution is required here – the air is very rarefied at this altitude).
You may choose to have lunch at Tambopaxi Lodge before driving west to Quilotoa, an extinct volcano whose crater harbours a shimmering blue-green lagoon. En route you may call in at one of the many regional indigenous markets: Saquisili, Pujili or Zumbahua; choose your village according to your day of travel. The normally sleepy towns are transformed with stalls piled high with fruit, household and artisan goods – it’s not just for tourists – truly an authentic experience. Another stop can be made at the artists’ town Tigua, where the landscapes are particularly exquisite. Patchwork quilts of amber and emerald fields worked by farmers wearing bright red ponchos are dotted with thatched adobe cottages.
Approaching Quilotoa you’ll take a purple lupin-fringed road up to a viewpoint over the lake at Shalala. Continue to spend another cosy night at a welcoming, family-run countryside lodge in the hamlet of Chugchillan.