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Cotopaxi is one of South America’s most famous volcanoes and one of its most active ones. With its 5911 m it also ranks among the world’s highest active volcanoes (26th highest). The majestic, snow covered symmetrical stratovolcano is located on the Eastern Cordillera of the Ecuadorian Andes, 60 km south of Quito and 35 km northeast of Latacunga. Cotopaxi’s steep cone has nested summit craters, the outer of which measures 550 x 800 m in diameter. Cotopaxi erupted more than 50 times since 1738. The most violent historical eruptions of Cotopaxi volcano were in 1744, 1768, 1877, and 1904. its eruptions often produced pyroclastic flows and destructive mud flows (lahars). Some lahars have travelled more than 100 km and reached the Pacific to the west and the Amazon Basin to the east. At the moment, it has been dormant for over 70 years, which is an unusual long interval in its recent history.

Cotopaxi has often produced lahars during eruptions melting the snow on the upper flanks. The lahars have eroded deep valleys in all directions from the summit of the andesitic volcano. These valleys alternative with large andesitic lava flows that extend as far as the base of the volcano. The modern stratovolcano was built above the scar left by a major debris avalanche which destroyed an older edifice about 5000 years ago. A rare high altitude hummingbird (Oreotrochilus chimborazo) has been discovered to live on the slopes of Cotopaxi between 13,000 and 15,000 ft where it nests on protected cliffs.

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