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A Get Outside Guide: Hiking Laguna de Cuicocha | Ecuador

Trekking in Ecuador - Laguna de Cuicocha

Imagine still blue waters and vivid flora. Native plants climbing down steep ridges to the basin of a caldera. A highly alkaline lake with two uninhabited islands breaking the surface. Indigenous people say the larger of the two islands looks like a guinea pig. I’m not so sure about that, but the whole scene is pretty damn impressive anyway. Laguna de Cuicocha really could be on the cover of an Ecuador guidebook, but I’m pretty glad it’s not.

Laguna de Cuicocha is like a lesser-known version Laguna Quilotoa. The crater lake sits just outside of Otavalo. Otavalo is primarily known for the Otavalo Market, meaning that hardly anyone makes it outside of the town. But those who aren’t much for hat shopping are in for something pretty damn impressive at Laguna de Cuicocha. The crater lake has a jagged ridge and you can hike around the whole thing without ever running into another person.

Are you looking for one of the best under-the-radar experiences in Ecuador? Laguna de Cuicocha may not be huge, but it’s definitely worth the detour. Here’s everything you need to know about hiking Laguna de Cuicocha including suggested hiking routes, how to get there, and where to stay in Otavalo.

At a Glance

Cuicocha is the site of a caldera and crater lake in the Reserva Ecológica Cotacachi-Cayapas. Some 3,100 years ago, Cotacachi Volcano erupted and formed the enormous caldera at its foot. The Caldera de Cuicocha refers to the 3km wide and 3,246 meters caldera. Laguna de Cuicocha is the highly alkaline lake in the basin. When you hike Laguna de Cuicocha, you’ll be hiking 12-14km around the ridge of the caldera.

Entrance to the park is free but you have to sign in at the park gate.

.Trekking in Ecuador - Trail at Laguna de Cuicocha

LAGUNA DE CUICOCHA ROUTES

The Laguna de Cuicocha circuit is 14km and takes 4-5 hours to complete with photo stops. The trail follows the rim of the lake so the only real ways to hike it are clockwise or counterclockwise. Both ways are well marked and the trails easy to follow.

Clockwise (Recommended): For this option, you’ll get dropped off at the trailhead up the road from the Visitor’s Center (~2km). The first few miles will be steep hiking through grassy meadows, but you’ll eventually reach the rim of the lake. From there, it’s nothing but views and an easy incline as you circle the rim of the lake. You will finish the trek back at the Visitor’s Center and can make a short walk to the park entrance to wait for outbound taxis.

Counterclockwise: If you’re stubborn like me, the other route offers immediate views of the lake, but a seemingly endless ascent. Get dropped off at the Visitor’s Center and take the trailhead to the right. Once you’ve reached the far side of the lake, you’ll dip into the grassy meadow for a few more steep inclines and cow sightings. Eventually, you’ll come out on a road where you’ll walk down to the Visitor’s Center (~2km) and wait for outbound taxis. Hailing a car can take a while!

Trekking in Ecuador - Trail at Laguna de Cuicocha Trekking in Ecuador - Trail at Laguna de Cuicocha

Trekking in Ecuador - Trail at Laguna de Cuicocha
Trekking in Ecuador - Laguna de Cuicocha

Trekking in Ecuador - Laguna de CuicochaTrekking in Ecuador - Laguna de Cuicocha

HOW TO GET TO LAGUNA DE CUICOCHA

Laguna Cuicocha is 107km from Quito and 25km outside of Otavalo.  It’s a 40-minute drive from Otavalo to Cuicocha, but the cheapest route is to take the local bus about 30 minutes to Cotacachi ($.35) and hire a taxi Laguna de Cuicocha ($5-$6).

Finding transport back to Otavalo is A LOT harder. Supposedly it’s possible to catch a taxi, but we waited for two hours and still ended up hitching a ride with a school group traveling by private bus. Avoid getting stranded by scheduling a pickup with the taxi driver who drops you off.

Trekking in Ecuador - Laguna de Cuicocha

Looking for things to do in Otavalo besides the Otavalo Market? Check out our guide to trekking in Laguna de Cuicocha, Ecuador!

Traveling in Ecuador?

8 Comments

  • Reply
    Travel Advent Calendar - 25 Amazing Places You Need to Visit
    December 1, 2016 at 2:03 pm

    […] Thanks to Taylor and Daniel from Travel Outlandish. […]

  • Reply
    51 Unique + Fun Things to do in Ecuador - Travel Outlandish
    December 20, 2016 at 3:09 pm

    […] TeleferiQo to summit Rucu Pichincha (Quito) 27. Hike around the rim of the massive crater lake, Laguna de Cuicocha (Cotocachi) 28. Watch the whales migrate off the coast (Puerto Lopez) 29. Gear up for a two day […]

  • Reply
    cf
    August 8, 2017 at 9:48 pm

    Do you know if dogs are allowed on the trail? I think it’s part of a reserve, but I don’t know if you can bring dogs or not.

    • Reply
      Taylor Record
      August 9, 2017 at 9:34 am

      I’m not too sure about the rules, Chris, but you’ll see hardly anyone on the trail. So long as your dog gets past the entry point, it won’t be an issue at all!

    • Reply
      Ursula Stadelman
      November 6, 2018 at 9:45 pm

      Hi CF, dogs are not allowed on the trails of any Ecuador National Park or Reserve. I had to call to the local national park office in order to make sure about this, because I also love dogs to be with my husband and I in a trip we take.

      I you let me say we also found a very good tour operator in Quito named Gulliver Expeditions. They helped us wth tour guides in places is a mustto take a guide.

      Best regards from Germany

      Ursula Stadelman

  • Reply
    Michelle Stuart
    September 21, 2017 at 3:05 am

    Recommendations on where to stay to do this hike? We would likely take a taxi/bus to the Market from Quito for the day, stay a night nearby, make the trek and taxi back to Quito.

    • Reply
      Taylor Record
      September 23, 2017 at 9:35 am

      Hi Michelle! We stayed the night on a farmstay just outside of Otavalo called Loma Wasi and would highly recommend it (This is my affiliate link if you’d like to check the place out: http://tidd.ly/c33821fe) ! If you’re looking to stay in Quito and will be taking public transport, you can either stay near Terminal Terrestre de Carcelén (nothing special) or get a hotel in the historical center and grab a taxi in the morning. Depending on your budget, there are actually quite a lot of good value placed in Quito. Anything in particular you’re looking for?

      • Reply
        Michelle Stuart
        September 27, 2017 at 9:13 pm

        Thank you Taylor. We have found a great family run hostal in the old part of Quito so we’re set there. We’ll plan our further adventures after a week there and thanks for the recommendation in the Otavalo area. We’ll be in Ecuador for 2 1/2 months and our list includes Otavalo, Mindo, Banos (with short trip to the Amazon), a two day trip to hike part of the Quilotoa Loop, working our way down the coastal towns to Guayaquil for a ten day trip to the Galapagos island hopping, then ending in the Cuenca area. We depart Southern California on October 1.

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