Lagunas de Mojanda and Fuya Fuya
Half an hour south of Otavalo by car, a cobbled, winding road leads up to three stunningly beautiful lakes in the shadow of dark jagged mountains.
Laguna Grande (also known as Caricocha), Laguna Negra (Huarmicocha), and Laguna Chiquita (Yanacocha) sit amid páramo at 3,700 meters elevation, some 1,200 meters above Otavalo. The peak of Fuya Fuya (4,263 meters) to the west is the highest point in the region and is a popular four-hour climb as acclimation practice for higher peaks.
The first lake is by far the biggest, at two kilometers wide, and there is a hiking trail around it. A dirt road extends part of the way around the lake, and trails lead east and south to the other smaller lakes.
A taxi from Otavalo costs $10 one-way. Take a taxi driver’s phone number or arrange a pickup time because this is a remote area. Be aware that there have been occasional robberies, so it’s best to come here in a group or take a guided tour.
The American- and Ecuadorian-run Casa Mojanda hotel (tel. 6/299-1010 or 9/973-1737, www.casamojanda.com, dorm $61 pp, $110 s, $183 d, breakfast and dinner included) is an ecologically and socially minded place with excellent views, five kilometers south of Otavalo at an elevation of 2,980 meters. On the road to the Lagunas de Mojanda, the hotel clings to the edge of a valley facing Cotacachi and the Cerro Cushnirumi, one of the few undisturbed tracts of Andean cloud forest in Ecuador.
All the buildings were constructed using the tapial (rammed-earth) process in a simple, tasteful style with whitewashed walls, wood, terraces, and hammocks. Casa Mojanda prides itself on good environmental practice and has won ecotourism awards.
The airy main building houses the dining and living rooms, and there is a separate library building. There are eight guest cottages and two 10-bed dormitories. Outside is a small amphitheater that faces the valley, an outdoor hot tub with a great view, and an organic garden that supplies the restaurant.
Nearby there are hiking trails, and you can go cycling, horseback riding, or kayaking. The owners also oversee the nonprofit Mojanda Foundation, working for environmental protection and the social welfare of surrounding communities.
Farther up the road from Casa Mojanda to the Lagunas de Mojanda is the budget hostería La Luna (Vía a Lagos de Mojanda, tel. 9/315-6082, www.lalunaecuador.com, dorm $7 pp, $16–19 s, $24–32 d) with private guest rooms and campsites ($3.50 pp). The main building has a small restaurant and bar, and there is live Andean music on Saturdays. To get here, take the first left past the Casa Mojanda and head downhill a few hundred yards, then over the bridge. A taxi from Otavalo costs $4.
© Ben Westwood and Avalon Travel from Moon Ecuador & the Galápagos Islands, 5th Edition