Cotacachi and Otavalo – Don’t just go for the shopping!

Otavalo35 Many travelers sail through Otavalo, only making time to see the Saturday market which of course is a must see. The surrounding area also has numerous other activities and things to do. Both Otavalo and Cotacachi sit in the spectacular Iburra Valley with views of volcanoes in almost every direction you look.

Cotacachi seems to be slightly off the tourist radar; it’s famous for manufacturing leather goods: you can pick up a beautiful handmade leather handbag for $25 for example. In Otavalo of course, the market is the big draw and it does live up to the hype: you can buy everything from pure Alpaca Blankets to genuine Panama Hats. However, as the title implies, don’t just visit this area solely for the shopping opportunities, as you will be missing out! We decided to linger a few extra days which actually turned into 10, after discovering some interesting treks, and falling in love with the Andean scenery.

Our first adventure was to Laguna Cuicocha, a crater lake situated 15km outside Cotacachi at an altitude of 3060m, located just below the dormant Volcan Cotacachi. We started out early, first catching a bus from Cotacachi to Quiroga and then a “camioneta” to the starting point of the trek.  There was a big visitor’s centre but surprisingly it hadn’t opened yet, even though it was 8.30 on a Sunday morning, so we didn’t pay the entrance fee of a $1 per person. Laguna Cuicocha43

The day was spectacular clear, blue skies with only the occasional clouds; we were fortunate as these weather conditions are uncommon in December. Only 15 minutes into the 10km trek and after a steep climb, we were rewarded with 360-degree views from the intimidating Mount Cotacachi to a bird’s eye view of both Cotcachi and Otavalo towns.

We continued on the well-marked path with the altitude becoming more apparent as we walked uphill for approximately 2 hours. The sun was beating down on us, but surprisingly the temperature was pleasant due to a cool strong wind that blew and was also making unusual patterns on the surface of the lake.  The trail led us to the very edge of the crater giving us a great view of the lake with its two islands: Isla Wolf and Isla Yerovi sitting graciously in the middle, only a narrow canal splitting them. According to legend the Incas once used them as a prison, nowadays the two islands are off limits due to biological studies.
Supposedly there is still some thermal activity beneath the Laguna and if you take the boat trip to the islands you are sometimes able to see bubbles on the surface of the water.

Laguna Cuicocha40

The views of the lake and the surrounding area only improved as we continued. After reaching the first of the viewpoints, we were almost blown away by the number of volcanic peaks we could see in every direction: we counted five, three of which were snow capped.  Marco and I were trying to guess their names, when we got back the guidebook confirmed that they were: Volcan Imbabura, Cayambe, Cotacachi, Fuya Fuya and even Cotopaxi.

There were no other people on the path so we felt privileged to have it to ourselves; a place this stunning in Europe would have been heaving on a Sunday!

High grass, dry flora and fauna had surrounded the path up until this point; then we dipped down into almost tropical scenery as the path strayed from the crater ledge to get around a precarious cliff top. Unexpectedly we climbed up again to the last part of the trail into an alpine forest.

Laguna Cuicocha8The path ends abruptly at a metal fence protecting a private property; we were disappointed as we thought the trail would lead along the western edge of the crater. We later realised as we took the dusty road back to the starting point that all the properties on the western side of the Laguna were privately owned. At least the hour an half walk along the road gave spectacular views of the surrounding hills though. During the walk back we both agreed that this area deserved much more of our time and we would linger for few more days and see what other adventures we could have.

More Photos Laguna Cuicocha? Click here

More Photos from Otavalo – Click here

1 thought on “Cotacachi and Otavalo – Don’t just go for the shopping!”

  1. We were JUST talking about his place yesterday, considering if we should stop or not – now I know for sure: We should!

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