Hiking around Cuicocha Lagoon
The best one day hike in Ecuador
Travelers who enjoy outdoor adventure activities will love Ecuador. You have many choices here, from climbing up active volcanoes, mountain biking and hiking around crater lagoons. In my opinion, the best one day hike in Ecuador is the hike around Cuicocha Lagoon. It is perfect if you are someone who loves plenty of fresh air, spectacular mountain scenery on a trail that is not overly challenging.
Lake of the gods
An eruption some 3000 years ago formed an expansive 3km wide crater that is now Cuicocha Lagoon. The lagoon lies at an altitude of 3100m above sea level in the Cotacachi – Cayas National Park. In the center of the lagoon are two forested islands which are separated by a narrow channel. Many people think that Cuicocha means “Guinea Pig Lake” (or Lago del Cuy). This is due to the larger of the two islands presumably looking like a guinea pig (or “cuy”). However, the local indigenous people believe Cuicocha is sacred and means lake of the gods. During the Inti Raymi Sun Festival, the local shamans use the lagoon for purification and cleansing rituals.
A breathtaking trail around a volcanic lagoon
Hiking around Cuicocha Lagoon is simply breathtaking. The hike is 12km long on a well maintained trail. The path starts at the entrance to the park and rises swiftly along the edge of the crater to the halfway point (3450m) at the far end of the lake. Here you will find two thatched rest areas where you can tuck into your picnic lunch. Continue on the path and then descend through pine forests and small valleys to the hosteria at the start of the trail. You should take around 5 hours to walk around the entire lagoon. Although, this will depend on your pace and the number of times you stop for photographs. Virtually the whole way, you will be treated to enchanting views of the lagoon’s turquoise waters – so I reckon you will be stopping fairly often! As you walk around, keep an eye out for snow capped Cotacachi Volcano.
Take your time and photograph wild orchids
You will discover a large variety of plant species as you walk around Cuicocha Lagoon. This is largely due to volcanic ash deposits and the relatively warm climate making the area fertile. Here are many types of colorful flowers that are typical to the Andes such as wild orchids. I suggest hiring one of the local guides. They can point out all the flowers and vegetation around the lagoon and make the hike more interesting.
How to get to Cuicocha Lagoon?
Cuicocha Lagoon is just north of Otavalo. Getting there is fairly straightforward. It should take you around two hours from Quito, so long as the traffic is light! If you leave early in the morning you can eat breakfast at one of the cafes outside Otavalo. From there, drive through the towns of Otavalo and Quiroga to get to Cuicocha Lagoon.
What to bring?
Although not as cold as Quilotoa, I would still advise packing a light fleece and water proof jacket for the hike around Cuicocha Lagoon. Wear comfortable walking shoes. Bring a hat, sun glasses and sun protection cream.
Afterwards try the local coffee and delicacies in Cotacachi
Cuicocha Lagoon is located just above the town of Cotacachi. After hiking around Cuicocha Lagoon, reward yourself with the local Intag coffee and chocolate cake at one of the cafes. In the main street, Calle 10 de Agusto, you can also browse the numerous shops that sell leather goods of outstanding handmade quality.