Day one of our trip started out very energetically – is that even a word? A short 12 km drive out of Cotacachi took us to a large crater lake formed on the side of Cotacachi Volcano. Cuicocha Laguna is the equivalent of a provincial park in Canada. Well maintained facilities with a 14 km trail that follows the rim of the crater.
The hike starts from a small interpretive centre located on the lowest edge of the crater. From there, a path starts up the side of the crater on a narrow ridge. The climb is steep and there are a couple of interesting stops on the way including an ancient solar calendar, a lunar calendar, and an offering site (maybe sacrificial virgins???).
The views are spectacular – the crater on one side, and the Cotacachi/Ibarra area on the other.
After about three hours of hiking uphill, we managed to reach the top of the opposite rim that we started from. The elevation was around 11,000 ft. It was a tough climb, but we made it! The views from here were awesome.
After a short rest and a snack with some water we headed down the other side. The trail was steep and headed down into a canyon where there was a dry creek bed, presumably the creek that drains into the lake when there is heavy rain or snow up on the top of Cotacachi.
After another hour or so of hiking along the ridges and valleys leading down into the crater, we ended up on a windy ridge where there were lots of old pine trees, several of which were cut down, but the stumps were nicely carved by chainsaw into some beautifu sculptures. We were at the end of the park and the trail backed onto farmer fields and a few very nice homes. We learned later that this was the best place to start the hike, going around the trail in the opposite direction. Much less climbing….