Hiking Around Laguna Cuicocha - Ecuador’s Guinea Pig Lake

Hiking Around Laguna Cuicocha – Ecuador’s Guinea Pig Lake

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If you’re looking for a little fresh air or adventure while you are visiting Otavalo, Ecuador, then look no further than Laguna Cuicocha.

This little day hike is probably one of Ecuador’s best kept secrets, since almost no one seems to do the hike around. We only saw two or three other couples hiking the day we were there.

Hiking Around Laguna Cuicocha - Ecuador’s Guinea Pig Lake

About Laguna Cuicocha

Laguna Cuicocha — which translates as the guinea pig lake — sits about an hour’s drive northwest of Otavalo, and is a large caldera lake nearly two miles across.

Hiking Around Laguna Cuicocha - Ecuador’s Guinea Pig Lake

Long ago the volcano erupted, leaving the caldera to fill up with water. The place really reminded me of Oregon’s Crater Lake, just on a smaller scale.

Hiking Around Laguna Cuicocha - Ecuador’s Guinea Pig Lake

But the blues are blue, and the hike is well worth it. If you’re looking for one of Ecuador’s best hikes, then look no further than Laguna Cuicocha.

Hiking Around Laguna Cuicocha - Ecuador’s Guinea Pig Lake

At the center of the lake sits two small islands. One of the stories about why it is called the guinea pig lake is because one of the lakes resembles the shape of a guinea pig or because there were/are actual guinea pigs living on the islands.

Hiking Around Laguna Cuicocha - Ecuador’s Guinea Pig Lake

Whatever the story though, beyond the cool name the lake is actually amazingly beautiful.

The view of the surrounding area (including the Cayambe Volcano) are incredible!

Hiking Around Laguna Cuicocha - Ecuador’s Guinea Pig Lake

Hiking Around Laguna Cuicocha

In total the hike is about 14 kilometers, includes 550 meters of ascent with a starting elevation of 3,071m, topping out at 3,512m (according to the GPS track).

Hiking Around Laguna Cuicocha - Ecuador’s Guinea Pig Lake

The hike takes about 5 hours to complete the full circle and is an excellent first acclimatization hike if you are thinking about climbing Ecuador’s volcanoes.

Hiking Around Laguna Cuicocha - Ecuador’s Guinea Pig Lake

It makes for a perfect day excursion as you hike along its banks and complete the circular hike.

Hiking Around Laguna Cuicocha - Ecuador’s Guinea Pig Lake

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There are guided trips to the lake, but that is absolutely unnecessary. It would be almost impossible to get lost, since you are just hiking around the lake, and the trails are all very well defined.

Hiking Around Laguna Cuicocha - Ecuador’s Guinea Pig Lake

Which Way to Hike?

Since it’s a big ol’ circle you’ll have to decide whether you want to hike clockwise or counter-clockwise.

Hiking Around Laguna Cuicocha - Ecuador’s Guinea Pig Lake

Some old trip reports mention hiking along a road for a section near the visitor’s center, but that information is out of date, there is now a trail that completes the loop in its entirety by skirting alongside private property in a fenced-in path.

Hiking Around Laguna Cuicocha - Ecuador’s Guinea Pig Lake

Clockwise: Here you will set out along the visitor’s center, walking through some forests and grassy meadows before you drop into a valley filled with vegetation. You’ll climb somewhat gradually out of the valley to the highest point before you drop down to the visitor’s center.

Hiking Around Laguna Cuicocha - Ecuador’s Guinea Pig Lake

Counter-clockwise: Here you will head off to some of the best views early, and will climb somewhat steeply up and relentlessly up to the highest point. You’ll cross the viewing platforms with the best views of the islands, and then cross into the vegetation filled valley before wrapping around to the visitor’s center.

Hiking Around Laguna Cuicocha - Ecuador’s Guinea Pig Lake

Either way is fine, really. But you can expect a steeper ascent if you go counterclockwise, which is the way we hiked and what I would recommend, rather than the steep descent that is harder on your knees.

Hiking Around Laguna Cuicocha - Ecuador’s Guinea Pig Lake

What to bring: you’ll need your typical dayhiking gear, snacks, and water. There are a few streams that you will cross, but I’d just recommend carrying everything you’d need for the day. Be sure to bring plenty of sunscreen, the sun is especially brutal along the equator, and at altitude.

Hiking Around Laguna Cuicocha - Ecuador’s Guinea Pig Lake

Once you return to the visitor’s center, you can hope on a boat tour if you are feeling inspired, and get to take a closer peak at those islands you’ve seen from every angle.

Hiking Around Laguna Cuicocha - Ecuador’s Guinea Pig Lake

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If you’re looking for a little fresh air or adventure while you are visiting Otavalo, Ecuador, then look no further than Laguna Cuicocha. This little day hike is probably one of Ecuador’s best kept secrets...

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Hiking Around Laguna Cuicocha - Ecuador’s Guinea Pig Lake

Ryan

Author, Writer, and Head Honcho at Desk to Dirtbag
Ryan is an author, adventurer, perpetual wanderer, and self-proclaimed dirtbag (but that might not mean what you think). Originally from Seattle, he headed to Washington D.C. where he spent five years working for Congress before heeding the call of the wild. He set out living in his pickup truck to road trip across the American West. Since then he backpacked through Colombia, drove across all of Central America, and also wrote a best selling book: Big Travel, Small Budget. He just finished driving his old truck across all of South America -- support the adventures by visiting the D2D Shop. Follow the adventures on social media or read more about me.

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