Reserva Ecológica Cotacachi-Cayapas

Northern Highlands

This 204,420-hectare reserve is by far the largest protected area of Ecuador’s western Andean habitats. Altitude ranges from about 200m above sea level around San Miguel to 4939m at the summit of Cotacachi. Habitats change quickly from lowland, tropical, wet forest to premontane and montane cloud forest to páramo, with many intermediate habitat types. This rapid change of habitat produces the so-called ‘edge effect’ that gives rise to an incredible diversity of flora and fauna.

Like most Ecuadorian national parks, this one is free. There's a well-done visitor's center at the reserve entrance showcasing the park's inhabitants, human and other, and it has a killer view (go figure).

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby Northern Highlands attractions

1. Laguna de Cuicocha

2.37 MILES

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…

2. Museo de las Culturas

7.11 MILES

Located in the neoclassical former municipal palace, several small galleries present the ethnohistory of the region, from 8500 BC through colonial and…

3. Daily Market

8.94 MILES

Next to the Animal Market, this large, covered complex just west of the Panamericana houses the vendors who previously plied their trade in a messy…

4. Crafts Market


Plaza de Ponchos, the nucleus of the crafts market, is filled every day with vendors selling woolen goods, such as rugs, tapestries, blankets, ponchos,…

5. Cementerio

9.54 MILES

Each Monday and Thursday morning, groups of Otavaleños summit the Calle de las Almas (Street of Souls) to this hillside cemetery, sharing meals, songs,…

6. Cascada de Taxopamba

9.69 MILES

Just past Casa Mojanda on the road up to Lagunas de Mojanda is the well-signposted trailhead for Cascada de Taxopamba. It's about a half-hour walk to…

8. El Lechero

9.93 MILES

While this tree outside Otavalo is famous for its magical healing powers, it's much more reliable as a great picnic spot, romantic or otherwise, and for…