Cuicocha: A Backpacker’s Guide to Ecuador

Cuicocha: A Backpacker’s Guide to Ecuador

About a half hour drive from Otavalo sits the beautiful Cuicocha crater lake at the base of the Cotacachi volcano. A volcanic eruption over 3,000 years ago formed several lava domes which are now islands in the center of the laguna. In the native Kichwa tongue, Cuicocha means “lake of guinea pigs”, named for the apparent shape of its largest island.

You can simply go to the visitor’s center to see the crater lake, or you can do a 15 km hike that goes all the way around the laguna. We figured that we needed to start getting used to longer treks, so we decided to make this our first real hike in South America.

How to get to Cuicocha Crater Lake

From Otavalo you can take a bus to the town of Cotacachi. From there, we took another bus to Quiroga, and then caught a collectivo (shared taxi) to laguna Cuicocha.

The hike starts at the grey information building close to the entrance to the national reserve. There is a sign that points to a several hundred meter hike, follow that and the trail will then continue to the 15 km path around the lake.

Hiking Cuicocha Crater Lake
Imbabura as seen from Cuicocha

Hiking Cuicocha

The first half of the trail was the hardest, as you climb uphill the majority of the time, but the last half is much easier and more enjoyable. We stopped to have lunch about midway at a lookout point, although the views were actually better when we got closer to the end. At one point, almost all of the clouds had cleared and we could see the entire Cotacachi volcano in the background.

Hiking Cuicocha crater lake
Cuicocha Crater Lake

The whole thing took us about 5 hours (including lunch and considering the fact that this was our first legitimate hike), but most people could probably do it in less time.

Worth it? This is a great hike to do if you, like us, aren’t very fit and are trying to get some practice in. On the other hand, if you are an experienced backpacker it should be a breeze and the view is definitely worthwhile.

What to bring: Sunscreen, lunch, bug spray (there is a more forested part of the trail), hiking shoes, water, camera.

– Iris & Roi

Let us know in the comments about your Cuicocha hike or if you have any questions 🙂

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