Cotopaxi, Ecuador

Cotopaxi is an active stratovolcano in the Andes, about 50 km south of Quito. It is the second highest summit in Ecuador, reaching a height of 5,897 m. It is one of the world's highest volcanoes.It is undoubtedly one of the sights to see in Ecuador

Cotopaxi has erupted many times, resulting in the creation of numerous valleys formed by lahars (mudflows) around the volcano. The Geophysics Institute of Quito's National Polytechnic School placed Cotopaxi under active watch on 25 June 2015 after observing activity. Cotopaxi's most recent eruption started on 15 August 2015. As things panned out, we rolled up on 13 Oct 2015, with no idea about the exact state of the eruption, as information on it had been impossible to come by. I had chosen the Hotel Mortinos because it had good rating on Tripadvisor, and because it was only one kilometre from the National Park containing Cotapaxi. On arrival the proximity to the volcano was working against us, rather than for us.

With 87 known eruptions, Cotopaxi is an active volcano. The first recorded eruption of Cotopaxi was in 1534. Cotopaxi's most violent eruptions in historical times occurred in the years 1742, 1744, 1768, and 1877. The 1744 and 1768 events destroyed the colonial town of Latacunga. In the 26 June 1877 eruption, pyroclastic flows descended all sides of the mountain melting the entire ice cap, with lahars traveling more than 100 km into the Pacific Ocean and western Amazon basin draining the valley. The city of Latacunga was again leveled completely due to the mudslide deposits. There was a major eruption from 1903 through 1904, and minor activity persisted until at least 1940. There was increased thermal/seismic, non-eruptive activity in 1975 and 2002. In the increased activity of 2002, fumarolic activity and sulfuric emissions increased and ice around the inside and on the southeastern side of the cone started to melt. However, no actual eruption was observed.

In 2015, a steam eruption marked a new phase of volcanic activity. The volcano "remains in a very abnormal situation. In August, 2,100 earthquakes were recorded and emission rates of sulphur dioxide reached approximately 20,000 tonnes per day". The government estimates some 300,000 people are at risk from the volcano in the provinces of Cotopaxi, Tungurahua, Napo and Pichincha.

It was about an hour's drive from the Pan American Highway to get to Mortinos Hotel. The road was cobbled all the way, but had been cut up by heavy timber lorries trundling down it with full loads of wood. Our underpowered car was not a 4*4, so going was both slow and difficult.

Eventually we found the hotel, and checked in - we were obviously the only guests. The receptionist told us how to walk the short distance across the fields - about 500 metres - to get to the National Park entrance gate. He omitted to tell us that the Park was closed and indeed had been for the previous 2 months. We only found this out when we got to the park gates, and asked the rangers if we could enter the National Park. You could neither drive nor walk through the park. By the time we got back to the hotel, the owner, Pablo, was there, and seemed not the least put out about us not being able to go into the Park. In the end we decided to stay - being unable to face driving back down the road which we had arrived on

The whole of the next day it poured with rain, and apart from a short trip along the surrounding roads, we were confined to the hotel

Click on any thumbnail photo to get a larger picture

Hacienda los Mortiños Hotel

Having said the above about the failings of the hotel to warn us about the closure of the Park, I should say that this is a wonderful hotel, recently built to a very high standard by the owner, who is there himself to host you. Comfortable modern rooms look out to the surrounding volcanoes. The hotel is packed with interesting artifacts. And there are several log fires heating the building. The National Park gate is under a kilometre from the hotel.

Our bedroom had wonderful views, and the owner, Pablo, showed us the new rooms that were just about finished in August when the volcano started erupting.

In the hotel, you do not really have any choice other than to eat there. But the food was good and plentiful. There was no price mentioned, and we were probably overcharged.

Our final problem on checkout was that the owner refused to accept a credit card as payment. Now, given we had used one as a deposit, this was news to me. We were given a spurious story about problems of connecting via satellite, which turned out indeed to be spurious. I only had exactly enough cash, and would have had no guarantee that I could get money in the local town (an hour's drive away). After much argy bargy, he agreed to take half by card, phoned his bank and cleared this amount - so it could be done. I was left with a bitter taste in my mouth, as I had spent half an hour arguing about needing to pay by c/c to get to this point. He was chancing his arm to avoid c/c charges and/or improve his cash flow - either way, I though this refusal was bad business practice- as we left unhappy

I think I could have forgiven the problems with the park being closed, and indeed had done so, when the unfortunate scenario with the demand for cash payment on checkout happened. Such a pity because it was really a very nice hotel

I assume the lack of customers, since the eruption, was the reason that he did not warn arriving guests of the Park's closure - he needed the money. And he refused a credit card because he needed the cash flow.

Some days later we were talking to an Ecuadorian guide who knew the hotel, and he told us that it was completely illegal for Pablo to be taking overnight guests, the government only permittng daytime meals to be served, because of the danger from Cotopaxi. Anyway, all was well that ended well, Cotopaxi did not erupt further during our two night stay. And we could continue down the Pan American to Banos. There was certainly a smell of sulphur in the air, and many warning signs for what to do if there was an eruption.

And finally, on returning home, I checked to see if there was any other news in the press on Cotopaxi, but nothing has been reported. So I assume Hacienda los Mortiños remains in the same suspended animation as it was n August.

28 Nov 2015. Official Park website reports "El Instituto Geofísico de la Escuela Politécnica Nacional informa que, en las últimas 24 horas, el volcán Cotopaxi mantiene su actividad interna moderada y superficial baja. La alerta amarilla continúa. Este jueves, en la noche, las condiciones climáticas permitieron observar emanaciones de vapor de agua poco energéticas que se dirigían al occidente y que no superaron los 500 metros sobre el nivel del cráter. Hoy en la mañana se presentó una nueva emisión, sin contenido de ceniza, que alcanzó los 1000 metros."

On to Baños

Ecuador Holiday