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.
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.
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.
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