Best Day Hike From Otavalo: Cuicocha Lagoon
Still crystal blue waters and native Andean flowers dispersed among long wild grass. Two uninhabited islands that seemingly take the shape of guinea pigs, peeking through the water in the center of the lagoon. This is Laguna Cuicocha.
A town in northern Ecuador is well-known for having the largest artisanal market in South America, attracting both locals and tourists. Many locals in Otavalo are indigenous, and this town is a popular first pit-stop among those crossing the border from Colombia. A short 30-minute drive from Otavalo lies Laguna Cuicocha. Laguna Cuicocha means “Lake of the Guinea Pig” in Ecuador’s indigenous language, Kichwa, named accordingly because of the shape of the islands in the middle of the lagoon. Situated among the Andes mountains at 10,650 ft (3,246 m), Laguna Cuicocha is a good acclimatization hike before you begin hiking Ecuador’s volcanoes. Everyone must register at the park gate, and the entrance is free. The circuit around the lake is close to 9 miles (14 km) long and can be walked in 4 – 5 hours. You won’t be able to take your eyes off the glistening blue color of the lake, and given a clear day, you probably will walk it on the longer side if you’re stopping to take photos. There is also the option to take a boat ride around the lake.
Laguna Cuicocha, located in the Cotacachi-Cayapas Ecological Reserve, was formed by a volcanic eruption around 3,1000 years ago. While it is a fantastic hiking spot, the lagoon means so much more to the indigenous community. The lake is considered sacred, and during the Inti Raymi Sun Festival during the season of the summer solstice, locals participate in purifying bathing rituals in the lake, thanking Mother Earth for the harvest and for everything the earth bestows on her guests.
The hike can be classified as easy to moderate. Walking anti-clockwise (with the lake to your left), the first half of the hike is mostly an ascent, and this part is somewhat difficult. After the ascent, however, the rest of the hike is a relaxed and comfortable walk. We advise that you start in the morning as the afternoon sun is strong. In addition, the weather changes quickly and the afternoon could bring showers. It is advisable to bring a light rain jacket and of course plenty of sunscreens. See our packing list below.
What to Bring to Laguna Cuicocha
- Water – we recommend at least 2 liters
- Hiking shoes or good gym shoes
- Lightweight rain jacket
- Layers – it can go from hot to chilly quickly
- Snacks and perhaps a packed lunch as you will probably return in the late afternoon
- A camera or a phone with a good camera – may be the most important item on the list to capture remarkable views!
Many have heard of Ecuador’s famous Quilotoa Lagoon, whereas Cuicocha Lagoon, which is equally as stunning, has remained more unknown. We’re almost happy for its obscurity as it has yet to receive large crowds. Both the lake and the hike itself are beautiful; with a walk around the crater lake, you can see the encircling countryside from various perspectives. Come on Saturday for the artisanal market and explore the surrounding region’s exquisite outdoors. A trip to Otavalo and Laguna Cuicocha can be done on a day trip, or consider staying the night in Otavalo to discover more of what this charming town has to offer, such as Peguche waterfall, San Pablo lake, and the leather craft village of nearby Cotacachi.
If you want a tour of Laguna Cuicocha, contact our experts at Gulliver to find out how you can incorporate this lagoon into your next vacation! At Gulliver, we customize all tours to exceptionally fit your needs and requests.
This article is the first in a Best Day Hike series. For the next month, we will continue publishing our favorite day hikes throughout the country!0