Laguna de Cuicocha

Northern Highlands

Head 18km west from Cotacachi and you’ll come upon this eerily still, dark lagoon cradled in a collapsed volcanic crater at 3100m. Some 3km wide and 200m deep, the lagoon features two mounded islands that shot up in later eruptions. The islands look like the backs of two guinea pigs, hence the name: ‘cuicocha’ means ‘guinea pig lake’ in Kichwa. A short path leads up from the parking area near the entrance to several viewpoints.

It's definitely worth doing the around-the-lake hike. Referred to as Sendero Las Orquideas – it begins just past the final viewpoint – it follows the ridgeline high above the lake shore. Hummingbirds feed on bright flowers, and the occasional condor circles over the glassy expanse. The 14km circuit can take anywhere from 3½ to five hours depending on your fitness level. If the clouds clear, you’ll see Volcán Cotacachi.

Boats for hire make short trips around the islands. The Hosteria offers a 25-minute trip for $3.50.

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