Cuicocha: An Impressive Lake in the Ecuadorian Andes

Ecuador’s rich and varied landscape marvels everyone who has the opportunity to admire it. Running longitudinally from north to south like a geographical spine, the Andes mountain range makes the country of Ecuador home to some of the most bio-diverse environments and breathtaking views. One of the most amazing visitor sites in the northern highlands – not far from the famous town of Otavalo and its handicraft market – is Cuicocha, a beautiful crater lake located right beside Cotacachi mountain. This geological formation offers visitors the possibility of hiking along some amazing trails or to peruse the typical handicrafts that are sold over in the small market that’s located at the edge of the lake. Read on to learn more about Cuicocha and fall in love with the Ecuadorian Andes!

Its Origins

Cuicocha’s famous lake rests inside a 3 km (2 mi) wide caldera that resulted from a massive explosion that occurred approximately 3,100 years ago. The volcano has been dormant ever since, but the volcanic ash that scattered as a result of that old eruption turned the area into one known for its nutrient-rich soils. The whole area surrounding the town of Otavalo is covered in fertile soils resulting from the eruption of neighbouring volcanos such as Imbabura, Mojanda and Cayambe. You will be able to admire all these mountains and many more while driving north to Cuicocha.


Weather in the highlands is cooler than in the coastal region.Photo credit: Nathalie Moeller

Rainbows and Guinea Pigs

There are two possible meanings for the word Cuicocha, both of which come from the indigenous Kichwa language. Some think it means “Rainbow Lake” (Kuychikucha), however most people prefer the name “Lake of Guinea Pigs” (Kuykucha), because of the guinea pig-shape of the islands that are located in the middle of the lake. These islands, along with the steep walls of the rim, make for an impressive and postcard-worthy photograph.

What to do in Cuicocha

If you are feeling more fit and have had the chance to get used to the Andes altitude, you will love hiking around Cuicocha’s caldera, which is located at a 3,246 metres above sea level (10,650 ft). A well-marked trail that starts at the visitor centre will direct you through the rim in a walk that requires no technical knowledge. The hike can last from 5 to 7 hours, depending on how many times you can stop to take pictures of the place, which is something no one can ever seem to avoid given how beautiful the views are. You can also choose to go for a shorter hike to one of the other viewpoints that are located around the rim and simply go back the same way. You will find the view changes as you walk around the crater. Experts suggests doing the hike clockwise! Why? You walk the steeper parts at the beginning, and will be able to enjoy a more leisurely hike the rest of the way.

If you are planning on visiting Quito for a few days, take some time to visit the surrounding highlands and immerse yourself in a truly Andean culture by visiting its mountains and towns. While in Quito, be sure to stay at Casa Gangotena Quito’s best-located hotel in the downtown – area, offering you the chance to enjoy the best of what the capital city has to offer before exploring the alluring northern highlands region. Before going to Cuicocha, make sure your camera’s battery is fully charged! You’ll end up taking more photos than you expect!

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