Must See Destinations Near Cotacachi
One of the reasons my husband and I chose Cotacachi for our second home, is that there is so much to see and do in the area. The setting of Cotacachi is amazing. The city lies in a fertile valley between two dormant volcanic peaks that tower over the city: to the east is Imbaburaat more than 15,000 ft and to the west Cotacachi at more than 16,000 ft—absolutely spectacular.
For those interested in hiking, bird watching, and the flora and fauna of the region, there is the enormous Cotacachi-Cayapas Ecological Reserve, with an entrance (free admission) located just a 15-kilometer taxi ride west of the city. This reserve extends from the mountains of the Sierra to the western edge of the coastal rain forest in the Esmeraldas region. It contains 752,235 acres of land and a mix of many biological zones, so it is possible to view many different kinds of flora and fauna depending on the altitude.
One of the more interesting areas included in the reserve is the Cuicocha Lake. This lake was formed when the caldera of the now dormant Cuicocha volcano filled with water. The islands in the middle of the lake are the remnants of lava domes from its former days of volcanic activity more than 3000 years ago. The lake is crystal clear and more than 600 feet deep. You can take a 4 to 5-hour hike around the rim of the caldera, which offers spectacular views, enhanced by the local flora composed of miniature orchids and other Andean flowers, and the possibility of spotting local animals such as fox, llamas, Andean ducks and even the majestic Condor or the Spectacled Bear. After hiking, you have the optional opportunity to take a short cruise around the islands in the lake.
Otavalo, just a short bus ride away from Cotacachi, is a center for traditional weaving and the site of the largest weekly market in Ecuador spreading out for more than 36 blocks around the Plaza de Ponchos. At dawn on any Saturday, you can see indigenous people arriving at the market place from many nearby villages and towns to sell their products. One may also visit the workshops of these local weavers working on back-strap and Spanish treadle looms. One local artist is Jose Cotacachi. Visit his workshop and showroom in the town of Peguche (a $2 taxi ride from Otavalo) for a demonstration of natural dyes and weaving and a display of his tapestries that are for sale. Also in Peguche visit the Peguche Park. Stroll through the towering Eucalyptus forest and enjoy the cascading waterfall in this charming park. Not far from Peguchi and Otavalo is the Condor Park (Parque de Condor) where rescued birds of prey have been rehabilitated and remain on display. Flight demonstrations are given at different times on most days.
The Thermal Baths of Chichimburo are another must to experience. They are volcanic in origin, and are some of the most healing waters in Ecuador. The chemical composition is high in iron, copper, iodine and other minerals. The springs can be reached by bus, car or taxi from Cotacachi either by way of Ibarra, a slightly longer route, or through Atuntaqui. Either way, the route takes you through the village of Urcuqui. Our favorite location is Arco Iris where you can sample pools of different temperatures from steaming hot to comfortably warm. In between, take a plunge into the polar pool to really get your circulation going. Usually a cab will charge about $30 -$40 for the round trip from Cotacachi to Chachimbiro and a 2-3 hour stay at the hot springs. From Cotacachi, a van now takes groups every Thursday morning departing the Solid Rock Restaurant on Leather Street near the market at 8 a.m. sharp.
While you're in the area, try an overnight stay at Hostelería Pantaví for the ultimate relaxing spa and getaway experience. Just follow this link for pictures and more information. The owner is an artist and has decorated every square inch of this spectacular environment with his paintings and sculpture. The gardens are a delight, and the restaurant offers delicious meals for a reasonable price.