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Laguna de Cuicocha | How to hike this beautiful volcanic Lake

Laguna de Cuicocha is a volcanic crater lake on the outskirts of Otavalo in northern Ecuador.  It’s an easy day hike using public transport so is an ideal hike for budget conscious backpackers.  It is situated at the base of the Cotacachi Volcano and is classed as active although it hasn’t shown any sign of activity for over three thousand years.  So you should be safe for a few hours hiking.

Seemingly it’s shaped like a Guinea pig and that’s were the name comes from.  We couldn’t see it ourselves but what ever shape it is it’s a stunningly beautiful place to spend a day hiking.  If you fancy giving it a go read our helpful guide, we hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

Laguna de Cuicocha
Laguna de Cuicocha

How to get there

If you’re staying in Quito you can do the lake as part of a day long tour that includes a visit to the Otavalo markets. To us however it makes much more sense to base yourself in Otavalo for a few days there’s plenty to do to keep you occupied and the hike can be done very cheaply using public transport.

From the main bus terminal in Otavalo take the bus to the small town of Cotacachi you won’t have any trouble finding the right bus as there are people shouting out the destinations next to the buses and any one of these will guide you to the correct bus. The bus costs less than a dollar.  You can ride the bus all the way to the bus terminal at Cotacachi and find a taxi there or better still get off in the main square.  You will see the line of yellow taxi’s from the bus.

The next stage of the journey up to the lake itself has to be done by taxi.  It costs six dollars each way. you can get the taxi to wait for you but this will be very expensive as they will charge you per hour.  It’s better to ask the driver to come back for you after the hike.  Make sure you give yourself plenty of time it took us five hours to do the twelve kilometres including all the vista gazing and picture taking.

Be very careful not to pay in advance at least not for the return journey.  It has been known for the taxi not to return.  If this happens you will have a long walk back into town. A better option would be to hitch a lift with another taxi if there are any about or get the restaurant to phone you one.

Where to stay

The most convenient place to stay to do the hike is Otavalo.  It’s a great place to spend a few days and it has plenty of accommodation options and lots of places to eat at very friendly prices.  We stayed at Hostel La Rosa Otavalo, It was quite close to the centre of town and well portioned for all the attractions.
Welcome to Otavalo
Welcome to Otavalo

Hiking Laguna de Cuicocha

Once you’re at the trail head it’s quite easy to navigate the well defined path around the Laguna. The walk is done in an anticlockwise direction by all hikers.  There’s a sign at the end of the trial saying not to go round in the other direction.  When we where there all the offices were closed and boarded up and the place looked deserted so there was no one there to enforce the rule.

The path starts behind the buildings you pass on your way down to the main carpark.  Then it’s just a case of keeping the lake on your lefthand side as you follow the well defined path up and around with the views getting ever better as you climb.  You will need to give yourself plenty of time as you will keep stopping to take in the scenery.

Laguna de Cuicocha
Start of the path

At various points around the hike there are view points and places to sit and rest or have your lunch if you’ve packed one.  We would recommend taking plenty of water and making sure you have sun protection, sun block and a hat.  We also packed a wind and waterproof top layer as you can get the odd shower.

Although this hike could probably be done in a good pair of trainers I would recommend hiking boots if you have them with you. Although it was dry when we were there I would think it could get a bit slippery in wet conditions.

The hike finishes on the opposite side of the road to the start then it’s a short walk back down to hopefully find your taxi driver waiting for you.  A word of caution our driver did not come back for us we ended up having to get a lift back with another group.  I would recommend that if your driver is not there by the agreed time.  Aim to get back any way you can as it’s along walk back into town and not what you need after a days hike.

Laguna de Cuicocha
Lynne on the trail

Our View

This is a great hike to start your acclimatisation for some of the higher peaks in the area or as a stand alone day hike from Otavalo.  It is less busy than some of the more well known hiking routes in Ecuador but is just as beautiful. In our view an unmissable quite easy day out that all the family could accomplish, but will also appeal to seasoned hikers.

Booking resources for your hike around Laguna de Cuicocha


You can compare cheap flights on the Expedia platform or here on the Aviasales website.  Both will give you a good idea of how much its going to cost you to get to your chosen destination.


We have always tended to use having said that if your on a tight budget another good site to try as a comparison is Hostelworld, If your looking to compare different sites you can do that on Hotellook, we tend to look on here first to make sure we are getting the best deal.

Tours & Tickets

You can book your visits as you go at the entrance to your chosen attraction or site.  Or you could use the following links to book in advance or just to find out what your choices are in the area. GetYourGuide and Tiqets are our go to choices you could try Viator to see how they compare.

For a full list check out our resources page. Don’t forget always shop around to find the best deal for you. What works for us should be good for you but it’s always reassuring to check.

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