Hike Cuicocha Crater Lake

Hikes · Ecuador
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12.6 km
497 m
480 m

Hike Ecuador's most diverse ecological preserve on this loop around Cuicocha Lake, while enjoying stunning views of both the Andes and the Avenue of the Volcanoes.

Ecuador's highlands are renowned for volcanoes, traditional Otavalo highlands culture and ecological diversity. About a three-hour drive from Quito, this loop of Cuicocha Lake within Ecuador’s Cotacachi Cayapas Ecological Preserve is a great introduction to the highlands, offering beautiful views of the famed Avenue of the Volcanoes, the town of Otavalo and the valley settled centuries ago by the native Otavalo people. As you make your way counter-clockwise along the rim trail, you'll have views of Otavalo, perched at the base of Imbabura Volcano and Cotacachi Volcano immediately above you to the north. Along the way, walk along an open rim trail, through dense, jungle-like foliage with birds chirping and past farmland with llamas grazing. Keep your eye out for hawks, hummingbirds, orchids and lupins. And enjoy an everchanging view of the crater lake - 600 feet in depth at its deepest point - and its two islands, Teodoro Wolf and Yerovi.


Author’s recommendation

There are plenty of great spots to take breaks or eat your packed lunch, including a couple of gazebo-like shelters. If needed, a restaurant can be found near the end of the hike for a late lunch or extra snacks. Restaurant hours may vary on the weekends or holidays, so plan accordingly. 

Highest point
3475 m
Lowest point
3068 m
Best time of year

Safety information

The weather in the Highlands changes rapidly, so please remember to pack extra layers and raingear. In addition, this loop hike starts at 10,000 feet, so pack plenty of water, snacks and lunch to maintain proper hydration and nutrition and to set yourself up for success during the rest of your time in Ecuador. Please note that you can turn around and head back to the start at any point, making this hike as challenging or laid-back as you'd like. 

Tips, hints and links

Points of Interest

Cotacachi Cayapas Ecological Preserve

Cotocachi Cayapas Ecological Preserve is a part of Ecuador's preserve system. It includes diverse biological zones including rainforests, subtropical and Andean and ranges from about 1,000 feet to over 14,000 feet in elevation. Because of its protected status, the preserve is home to a range of indigenous flora and fauna. Cuicocha Lake is in the Andean Zone and hosts plants and animals that have adapted to the high altitude.

Cuicocha Lake

Cuicocha is a two-mile wide caldera formed by an eruption over 3100 years ago. The lake has two lava dome islands, Teodoro Wolf and Yerovi and the lake itself draws its name from the shape of the larger of the two islands: Cuichocha means "lake of guinea pigs" in the local Quechua language.   

Food & Drink

There are few stops today for lunch, however, included is a packed lunch provided by Casa Mojanda. The Cotacachi Cayapas visitors center also offers lunch, along with a restaurant located at the end of the hike, although its hours may vary on the weekends or holidays. 


Cotacachi Cayapas Visitors Center (3068 m)
0.292994, -78.354351
17N 794496 32419


Cotacachi Cayapas Visitors Center

Turn-by-turn directions

Start in the parking lot of the visitors center and proceed up the steps to the right, on to the patio overlooking the lake. BEAR RIGHT following signs for "Ruta Sagrado Cuicocha Cotacachi."

0.20 miles - Continue STRAIGHT ON following the sign for the start of the "Sendero Orquideas.”

0.70 miles - Viewpoint.

1.30 miles - Arrive at a viewpoint with two wooden benches as you work your way around the eastern side of the lake.

1.40 miles - Skirt around the right side of the saddle, leaving views of the lake for a brief distance.

1.70 miles - Arrive on the northwestern side of the knoll, with views of the lake opening up below you once again.

2.40 miles - Arrive at the El Arrayan viewpoint.

2.50 miles - BEAR LEFT to continue following the narrow trail instead of the road.

2.60 miles - Arrive at the highpoint of the loop.

2.70 miles - Arrive at a shelter with views of the lake to the south. This is a good spot for lunch or a snack. Continue STRAIGHT ON past the shelter.

3.0 miles - Pass a second viewpoint and shelter on your left. You'll begin descending with views of Cotacachi Volcano to your right.
4.70 miles - Continue STRAIGHT ON past a sign for "Los Vicundos Ravine."

6.50 miles - Continue STRAIGHT ON, ignoring the path to the right.

6.60 miles - TURN LEFT to continue to follow the path.

7.50 miles - Continue STRAIGHT ON, following the path as it passes to the right, above and behind the marina.

7.80 miles - Cross the road and arrive back at the Cotacachi Cayapas Visitors Center.

Arrival by train, car, foot or bike

Book recommendations for this region:

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Please bring comfortable hiking clothes, sturdy hiking shoes, a backpack, water, your packed lunch, raingear and layers. You may wish to use walking poles to help on the ascents and descents and to provide balance on uneven or rocky terrain. During January to May, the rainy season, these months can be prone to afternoon thunderstorms and showers, so waterproof clothing is essential in the case of heavy showers. Sunscreen and a sunhat are highly recommended, especially at this high altitude. 



Responsible for this content
Macs Adventure 
outdooractive.com User
Claire Peters
Updated: June 28, 2018

Travel Guide: Hikes in Ecuador

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