There are many volcanoes in Ecuador. I would like to visit one of these, but which one to choose? I would prefer one that can be reached in a 2-3 day tour from a nearby major city. Do I need any special permit? Or is it necessary to do it in a guided tour? Are there any volcanes that I can visit on my own?
I went to Cotopaxi, several hours south of Quito:
Image source: Peter Hahndorf
It is not active and you can go all the to the top. I know people who did this themselves but it is recommended to do it with a tour.
Most people however just drive up to a parking lot and then walk about an hour to a mountain refuge. From there it is another 30 minutes to the glacier where you can spend some time and then descent again.
Going to the top requires equipment which is provided by the tour operator.
The photo above was taken from the Secret Garden hostel nearby which for me was a great base to go to Cotopaxi. You can also do this as a day trip from Quito.
If you want to do this all by yourself, you can take local buses and then walk the last 15 km or so, this may be tricky unless you find out exactly where to go.
Cotopaxi is in a national park and I think there was an entrance fee, but you don't need a permit.
A very different volcano is Quilotoa, a few hours south of Cotopaxi:
Image source: Peter Hahndorf
Here you can walk all around the rim of the volcano and also down to the crater lake. You should take a whole day for this but you can stay in a guest house in a small village on the rim itself. The hike can be a bit dangerous at times, be careful.
To get there take a bus to the town of Zumbagua, and then a taxi to Quilotoa for a dollar.
I'll give a late answer for those who may want an alternate or to visit the tallest mountain or volcano on earth and get closer to space than any terra firma on the planet. Ok so Cotopaxi is a great answer, no doubt! It is beautiful and close to Quito. Actually many people do not realize if you get up with the sunrise in Quito and get high enough you can often get a beautiful view of Cotopaxi before the clouds roll in. Imagine this, viewing an ice glacier while on the Equator! Just awesome. Just to correct Peter's answer though it IS active. Actually very active. It has spewed Ash and rumbled while I was their in 2015 and it is actually an explosive volcano. Anyay it is awesome but it has one major downfall. It is too close to the capital city and the mountain and the area are just too overcrowded for me.
My advice, head to Chimborazo. Now check out this awesome fact. It is the tallest mountain on earth if you measure from the center of the earth as opposed to MSL.
Now this is not some crazy claim. GPS now measures the x,y coordinate as an angular measure of unit from the center of the earth but for some reason elevation (z) has remained at the rather arbitrary and changing MSL. Geologists agree it is the highest mountain from the center of the earth. Indeed, as we have switched from surface datums to earth-centered datums it now makes far more sense to list Chimborazo as earth's highest mountain.
It is very quiet, and you will only see a few people. No tour groups, no tourists, and just you and the mountain.
This is a series of pictures I took on my last trip.
Go south from Quito on the Pan American Highway. ~ 4 hours by car and 5 by bus. Pass the town of Amabato and it is the huge snowy mountain on your right. As you drive into the park a truck may chase you down. Do not be afraid they want $$$$. It is the park entrance fee. They do not have a building as so few people come they just drive around.
Do be careful. In "Extreme Dreams" British explorer Ben Fogle said,
Stay around here and you may never see another non-Andean once off the main road. This place is very quiet. Yes it is a Volcano. I think that answer your list of questions.