Otavalo Area

  • Laguna de Cuicocha - © Flickr user - Antonio Bustamante
  • Pinan Hike - © Flickr user - Yohan Moucheboeuf
  • Imbabura from the Panamerican Highway - © Flickr User - Robert Nunn
  • Laguna de Mojanda  - © Flickr User - Natalia Cartolini
  • View to the Laguna de Mojanda  - © Flickr user- Jean-Francois Renaud
  • Imbabura Crater - © Flickr User - Robert Nunn
  • Laguna de Cuicocha - © Flickr user - Antonio Bustamante
  • Lagunas de Mojanda  - © Flickr User - m e a n d r e a
  • Imbabura at sunset - © Flickr User - Jean-Francois Renaud
  • Laguna de Cuicocha - © Flickr user - Antonio Bustamante

Key information: Otavalo Area

  • This pleasing town, with its important and fascinating market, is a fine place to base yourself for several day's exploration, and for walking in particular.
  • There is a plethora of great walks around Otavalo, from short explorations to multi-dayers. Mellow to thoroughly demanding, but always beautiful and interesting.

Walkopedia rating

(Top 100)
  • Walkopedia rating89
  • Beauty34
  • Natural interest17
  • Human interest5
  • Charisma33
  • Negative points0
  • Total rating89

Vital Statistics

  • Length: Your choice
  • Maximum Altitude: High, but your choice
  • Level of Difficulty: Variable

This walk description page is at an early stage of development, and will be expanded over time. Your comments on this walk, your experiences and tips, and your photos are very welcome.

Pinan Hike - © Flickr user - Yohan Moucheboeuf


This pleasing town, with its important and fascinating market, is a fine place to base yourself for several day's exploration, and for walking in particular. (Otavalo is popular with tourists but don't be put off.)

There is a plethora of great walks around Otavalo, from short explorations to multi-dayers. Mellow to thoroughly demanding, but always beautiful and interesting.

Cerro Imbabura: This exceptionally dramatic heavily eroded stump of ancient volcano makes for a superb but long, strenuous and quite difficult day walk (you don't have to climb the whole way!). Also consider the delightful and interesting 2 day circuit.

Pinan Lakes/ Yana-urco de Pinan: These lovely lakes sit on high paramo in the western Cordillera, below the superb Yana-urcu de Pinan volcano. This is a remote and beautiful area, which is worth taking time to explore and enjoy. You can circuit or climb Yana-urcu de Pinan.

Cuicocha Lake: A four hour trek around this deep blue crater lake on the southern slopes of Mount Cotatachi. A pair of youthful islands in its centre. An amazing area, surrounded by volcanoes: Cayambe, Imbabura and Cotatachi. Exciting wildlife. The views from high above are exceptional, even by the standards of this exceptional area.

Cerro Cotatachi: Make the challenging 2 day climb of this superb eroded former volcano.

Lagunas de Mojanda to the south. Three lakes set high in the paramo grassland under Cerro Fuya Fuya, a dramatic, broken former volcano south of Otavalo. Superb views of the surrounding mountains. Plenty of pick-your-own-trails from the lakes. Or trek across wild paramo to Esperanza or to Cochasqui, an archaeological site.

Loma Cubilice: Any recommendations?

Roads and tracks: Octavalo is one of those areas where heading off on backroads and farm tracks will be hugely rewarding.

This page is at an early stage of development. Please help us by making suggestions and sending photos! Thank you!

Other accounts: share your experiences

Your comments on this walk, your experiences and suggestions, and your photos are very welcome. Where appropriate, you will be credited for your contribution.


See also expedition planning, including our universal expedition checklist. Walkopedia encourages responsible travel.

Books and Maps

Suggest books and maps

Books on this walk

Ecuador Climbing and Hiking Guide – Viva/ Rob Rachowiecki and Mark Thurber. THE walking book. But evidently out of print and vilely expensive second hand on Amazon, as of end 2015. Available as an e–book. There is a Bradt predecessor from 2004, which is, obviously, out of date in places but much cheaper!

Trekking in Ecuador – Robert Kunstaetter – 2001. Good on day walks.

Find the books and maps listed above, and many more:

Other books

Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands– Lonely Planet/Regis St Lois.

LIVE Travel Guide to Quito, Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands.

Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador Footprint Handbook by Robert Kunstaetter and Daisy Kunstaetter

Ecuador and Galapagos, Viva Travel Guides by Lorraine Caputo and Chris Klassen

The Rough Guide to Ecuador & the Galápagos Islands by Melissa Graham and Harry Ades

Ecuador – Insight Guides

Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands, Moon Handbooks. We have to say we were underwhelmed in 2015.

Travels Among the Great Andes of the Equator – the great C19 mountaineer Edward Whymper’s classic account.

Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands - Travellers’ Wildlife Guides – gorgeous, good illustrations.

Find the books and maps listed above, and many more:


Maps aren’t great, but there are topographical maps available and worth getting.

GPS can therefore be worth having.

Stanfords: A good online specialist source of worldwide maps (it is also good for guidebooks). Also try Maps Worldwide and www.trektools.com.

http://travel.nationalgeographic.com/travel/ - worth checking their travel maps.

Best times to walk/weather

Best times to walk

Lying across the equator, Ecuador does not have seasons as those from temperate climates would understand them. The weather is amazingly different between areas of the Ecuadorean Andes. Late June to early September, and December and early January are generally the best times for the Otavalo area, although the latter are colder and wetter. February to May are cooler and the wettest months.


Very changeable. Even if you are there in the “dry” season, come prepared for both hot sun and rain.

It often gets cloudy in the afternoons, so usually best to start early.

For detailed weather information, have a look at: www.worldweather.org or www.bbc.co.uk/weather/world/country-guides.

Getting there/transport/permits/fees

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Most people fly in to Quito or Guayaquil. You can fly internally in Ecuador. Skyscanner is an excellent (relatively new) site for finding the flights you need; otherwise try Lastminute.com, or look at what’s available on TripAdvisor.

There are plentiful buses in Ecuador, and it is viable to get to most places this way, but they can be crowded. Lots of buses between Quito and Otavalo.

Car hire is reasonably easy, but driving isn’t straighforward, not least because of the lack of roadsigns. Local taxi services generally exist in the towns, can (eg) take to or pick you up from a roadhead, or transport luggage.

Those on organised expeditions will be transported from/to arranged points.

You can usually arrange a guide and pack animal for longer treks.


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See Walk Summary above.

Possible problems, health, other warnings

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· Altitude: can affect some; potentially fatal. Acclimatize appropriately, come prepared to cope, be ready to evacuate people in extreme cases.

· Mountain weather: snow, rain, severe cold and wind are possible at any time of year and the weather can change rapidly. Come prepared.

· Heat and strong sun. Carry enough water and protect yourself.

· Heights: can be dangerous; not for those who have difficulties with heights.

· Dangerous animals, including snakes in lower areas, stinging/biting insects and plants. Take all appropriate precautions.

· Canyon dangers: canyons can be lethal, particularly as a result of flash floods. Assess and prepare for all risks on those walks involving canyons. In particular, check the weather carefully and don’t go after rain or if it is possible.

· This is remote country: [you will have to carry all your food and other supplies on longer walks and help will be hard to get if things go wrong.

· Bulls: can be encountered – keep your distance if you see them.

· Health risks: you may not get prompt medical help of a standard available elsewhere if you become ill. Potential problems can include malaria. Come prepared, including getting all appropriate inoculations/medications in good time.

· Beware of dogs: carry a stick/ throw stones if they threaten, keep well clear if possibly rabid.

· Be sensitive about photographing people: don’t without permission. Ask permission if in doubt about whether they would mind.

See also the websites in our useful links page for more detailed, and up-to-date, information.

Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and problems can arise on any walk. Many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks and possible problems. This website cannot, and does not purport to, identify all actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to a walk or a country. Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information.

Make sure you have appropriate insurance.

Guided or independent?

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You can do these walks independently, but you will need to be self-sufficient, so come fully prepared.


Many people form or join organised/supported expeditionswhen doing multi-day walks. Given the remoteness of the country and difficulty of getting supplies, many will prefer to do it this way, and travelling here with a knowledgeable guide has real advantages. Choosing a suitable guide or company is of course vital, and the guidebooks contain good advice in this regard.

If hiring a guide locally, meet him/her and get comfortable before committing. Make sure all requirements are understood and agreed – including how you will eat and the importance of avoiding illness, as well as overnighting and, of course, remuneration!

Check TripAdvisor for some reviews of this walk and walk organisers which may prove helpful.

PLEASE HELP Walkopediaby recommending any reputable tour organizers that you know of – local or otherwise. [leave in unless enough sites in our list]


The guidebooks have a selection of possible accommodation. There are relevant accommodation websites.

Camping is the only realistic option once on trail.

See what the commentary on TripAdvisor is on possible places to stay – although do take their reviews with a pinch of salt, as they can be “interested”.

A good range of hotels can be found on the unimaginatively named but effective Hotels.com.

If you’re on a budget, Hostelbookers usually has a good selection of cheaper-end accommodation; or perhaps try for some bargain luxury on Lastminute.com.

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Other information and tips

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Useful websites and information

There are many websites with relevant information. Here are some that we think are useful or have been recommended to us.

· South American Explorers (www.saexplores.org) in Quito is a fabulous non profit group with a clubhouse in Quito with a wealth of information (including on current status of safety/volcanic issues).

· Wikipedia

· The Best of Ecuador.com

· Ecuadorial

· Ecuador-Travel

· Have a look at TripAdvisor – there are tens of millions of reviews, so you may get good, current views on this area.

· Wikiexplora is a useful site if you can read Spanish. The automated translation means it’s not ideal for non-Spanish speakers, but it does have some good trail maps.

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Other things to do in the area

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Other walks

Ecuador has a huge variety of great walks. There is likely to be a good walk within range wherever you may be, in the mountains at least.

Other activities

Mountain biking, climbing, [some white water rafting], birdwatching.

Culture, history (Inca, other pre-Spanish, colonial) and people watching.

Coastal/sea fun and chilling.

The fascinating Otavalo market. We are not a shopping website. But, there are beautiful and interesting things to be found, and anything bought from local people must be of some help to this poor area. So, wallets out! (And don’t try to extract the very last cent when bargaining…)

Laguna de Mojanda  - © Flickr User - Natalia Cartolini

share your experiences

Add your experiences, suggestions and photos. We would be delighted to receive your writing and ideas (which will be attributed appropriately where published).

Anyone planning an expedition to this place should see further important information about this walk.

View to the Laguna de Mojanda  - © Flickr user- Jean-Francois Renaud...

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