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2 days

Skill Level:

Max Guide Ratio:

Recommended Season:
All year

Prior Trip Suggestions:
Otavalo Artisan Market,
Fuya Fuya,

Follow Up Programs:

Trip Highlights:
Sweeping, majestic Views of Imbabura and the snow-capped peaks of Cayambe and Cotopaxi.

Hike around the mile wide sparkling blue caldera-filled Cuicocha Lake.


Cotacachi is located 40 miles (65 km) northeast of Quito, and is the eleventh highest peak in Ecuador (16,220 ft/ 4,944 m). It is part of the Cotacachi-Cayapas Ecological Reserve located in the northern Andes, northwest of the market town of Otavalo. Cotacachi is a majestic volcano that has been sculpted and eroded by centuries of glacial action resulting in almost vertical slopes. From the summit, you will have breathtaking views of the snow-capped peaks of Cayambe, Cotopaxi and the Imbabura cratered peak.

At the southern base of the mountain is the beautiful Lake Cuicocha. 2,000 years ago the volcano erupted violently, forcing magma out so rapidly that the land collapsed inward into the evacuated magma chamber. This resulted in a deep depression which filled with water, creating the lake. The lake is 1.9 miles (3 km) in diameter and over 650 ft (200 m) deep.

Cuicocha is the Quichua word for guinea pig, and this name comes from the resemblance of one of its islands to the shape of a guinea pig. The two islands in the middle of the lake were formed from the activity of three resurgent volcanic domes, which is now dormant. While hiking around the lake, we will have the opportunity to see the unique Andean flora, such as native orchids, highland birds and animals. With some luck, you will see the majestic Andean condor soaring overhead

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trip itinerary

Day 1:
We leave Quito in the morning and drive to the Cotacachi Reserve near Lake Cuicocha. Here we will take a five hour hike around the lake and enjoy our lunch. Then we will go to our basecamp, have dinner and settle in for the night.

Day 2:
We have an early breakfast and begin our hike up Cotacachi in the beautiful light of the sunrise. It will take approximately four hours to reach the popular summit outlook approximately 14,500 ft (4,420 m). This will be followed by a three hour hike down the peak to return trip to the trailhead. After our descent we will drive back to Quito.

Every effort will be made to adhere to the itinerary, but unforeseen circumstances may require last minute changes. Weather conditions, road conditions, vehicle breakdowns and the health of climbers can all contribute to schedule alterations. Please be prepared to be flexible when necessary.

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