For anybody seeking peace and quiet during a weekend or a holiday, away from the maddening rhythm of daily life, Lake Cuicocha, also known as the Lake of the Gods, is an excellent option. It´s located inside the Cotacachi-Cayapas Nature Reserve, some 7 miles from the town of Cotacachi, in Imbabura province.
The lake is ten thousand feet abose sea level. This majestic expanse of crystal clear greenish blue water is the result of an eruption of the Cotacachi volcano some three thousand years ago. Two small islands, called Yerovi and Teodoro Wolf, float in the middle of the lake, separated by a canal, the “fantasy canal.”
Lake Cuicocha is a spiritual location. Every June, during the Inti Raymi indigenous festival, religious rituals and purification baths are performed as thanksgiving to Mother Earth for the blessings of the harvest.
The Cotacachi-Cayapas Nature Reserve is open to the public from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Entrance is free, but visitors must register at the guard gate, where a variety of crafts are exhibited, as well as woolens such as scarves, caps, gloves and ponchos. Camping is not allowed.
The Cuicocha Lodge offers comfortable cabins with splendid views of the lake. It’s the ideal location to rest and enjoy the tranquil surroundings. The daily rate per person is US$55, which includes breakfast, dinner and a boat tour around the small islands. Another option is a vip boat tour for US$25 for up to four persons.
For those just passing by, there is a short twenty minute tour. Rates are US$3.50 for adults, US$2.50 for seniors and US$2 for children. This includes tasting the well known “cinnamon water” in the Cuicocha Muelle (dock) bar. Tasty snacks when hunger strikes are fresh corn on the cob or viento (wind) turnovers, at a price of US$2 and US$0.50, respectively.
For a hearty meal, the answer lies in Cuicocha Lodge and its variety of dishes, starting with the traditional fares such as locro (potato and cheese soup), chicken broth, churrasco (barbecued steak) and Cotacachi´s famous “red meat”. In addition, usual dishes like trout with chochos (an Andean grain-like seed), shrimp, cuy (domestic guinea pig) with sauteed potatoes, rice and salad.
It´s a good idea to allow enough time to walk around the lake, usually a four to five hour hike, indeed the best way to admire the fantastic scenery and get a feel for the local vegetation. The paths are well kept and good for trekking. A guide is not necessary as the entire area is well marked. Nevertheless, guides are available at the reception.
The best way to end this trip is to go into Cotacachi and walk along its cobblestone streets. The town is full of stores offering the usual souvenirs plus an incredible variety of leather goods, such as jackets, handbags, boots, belts and wallets. This area is renowned for its excellent craftsmanship.
Close to Cotacachi is La Mirage Garden Hotel and Spa. It´s a true lodging paradise. This locale dazzles visitors with its sophisticated cuisine, artful décor and exotic gardens that resemble an exhibition of orchids, roses and other local flowers. Colorful royal peacocks display their plumage as they run around the garden.
Finally, a stop at the Cultural Museum in Cotacachi´s colonial downtown is an opportunity to learn about the history and identity of this town. It´s open daily from 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and from 2 to 6 p.m. Entrance is free.