Off the Grid South America

A Get Outside Guide: Hiking Laguna de Cuicocha | Ecuador

Trekking in Ecuador - Laguna de Cuicocha

With still blue waters and vivid flora, Laguna de Cuicocha really should be on the cover of Ecuador guide books. But, like with many amazing places, we’re glad that it is still a secret. We wanted to experience Otavalo in a different way, so rather than just heading north for a quick pass through the Otavalo Market, we ventured a bit further afield for a farmstay and a trek around Laguna de Cuicocha.

Laguna de Cuicocha is a 3 km (2 mile) wide crater lake that sits at the foot of the Cotocachi Volcano. Some 3,100 years ago, the volcano erupted and formed the enormous caldera. Today, the highest point of the caldera climbs up to 3,246 meters (10,650 ft). Down the sides are native plants, and in the caldera’s basin, you’ll find a highly alkaline lake with two uninhabited islands breaking the surface. Suffice it to say, the whole thing is pretty damn impressive. 

It is possible to check out Laguna de Cuicocha from a viewpoint, but we’d say trekking is the best way to experience it. Are you looking for one of the best treks in Ecuador? Here’s everything you need to know about trekking Laguna de Cuicocha.

where is Laguna de Cuicocha?

Laguna Cuicocha is 25km (15.5 miles) from Otavalo in Northern Ecuador. While Otavalo is best known for its colorful Saturday market, it should definitely get more credit for stunning surrounds. To get to Laguna Cuicocha, you’ll take the bus from Otavalo to Cotocachi ($.35) and hire a taxi to Laguna Cuicocha ($5-6 one-way). It is possible to hail a taxi on its way out to get back to Cotocachi, but it is probably easiest to schedule a pickup 4-5 hours later.

Trekking in Ecuador - Trail at Laguna de Cuicocha

hiking around Laguna de Cuicocha

The trail is a 4-5 hour loop around the entire rim of Laguna de Cuicocha. You can trek clockwise or counterclockwise. 

Clockwise (Recommended): For this option, you’ll get dropped off at the trailhead up the road from the visitors center (~2km). The first few miles will be steep trekking through grassy meadows, but you’ll eventually reach the rim of the lake. From there, it’s nothing but views, and easy incline as you circle the rim of the lake. You will finish the trek 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 us, you can also get dropped off at the visitor’s center. The trailhead to the right offers immediate views of the lake, but a seemingly endless ascent. 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.

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

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

worth it?

You betcha! The trails are practically empty, and you’ll get an off-the-grid experience trekking in Ecuador. Laguna de Cuicocha is also one of the most beautiful lakes we’ve ever seen. The surrounding volcanos, low hanging fog, and unusual plants growing around the sides make Laguna de Cuicocha quite otherwordly.

Trekking in Ecuador - Laguna de Cuicocha

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

Have you ever found an awesome trek just outside of the city? Share it with us in the comments below!

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  • Reply
    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: ! 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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