This crater is located at the foot of Volcano Cotacachi. It has a diameter of roughly 3 kms, and is 300m deep on its higher part.
It used to be a proper volcano and was very active in the last 15 000 years and had its last big eruption around 3000 years ago with lava streams covering the area of present-day Cotocachi town and Quiroga. Ashes covered nearby regions 20 cm deep and farther ones up to 5 cm.
From then on, however, the volcano entered a dormant stage and water filled its huge caldera to the present level of 200m water depth.
This place is part of the Reserva Ecologica Cotacachi - Cayapas, whichs extends from Cotacachi volcano to the tropical lowlands on the Rio Cayapas in Esmeraldas. It offers a beautiful view over the Cuicocha lake, and the surrounding mountains : Cotacachi, Imbabura, and Cayambe.
It is also a great area for hiking and getting acclimatised before going onto bigger mountains.
(complemental information provided by rayray)
From Quito, take a bus to Otavalo (2h north). Several every hour, at the "Terminal Terrestre" -> 2$ per person
Then in Otavalo, catch a bus to Cotacachi, and get down at Quiroga (20 min) -> 0,25$ per person
Finally in Quiroga, take a cab to Laguna Cuicocha (10 min) -> 3$ per cab
To return there can be taxis waiting by the lake.
Otherwise ask the local hostal to call you one.
If you want peace, it's definitely better to come during the week, as the locals tend to go there to enjoy the landscape and the boat tour on the lake, on weekends.
As explained above, Cuicocha Crater is part of a "Reserva", it is therefore a protected area.
No camping or fire allowed around the crater.
There is $1 fee when you enter the park.
In the past, a few robberies were reported.
It's been a quiet area since then. But, do enquire among locals to check whether the level of safesty is still satisfying.
- You can easily walk around the Crater : 20 kms and 5 hours will be required.
The trail starts by the information centre, and is very convenient to find as it follows the crater rim.
On some parts you will hike on the edge of the crater, it is therefore important to be careful. Otherwise it could turn into a 300m fall !
All along the path you can enjoy a splendid view around.
And excellent way to acclimatise gently for the big Ecuadorian mountains.
- Another possibility, for the lazy ones :
Do the boat tour around the lake, it gives a nice perspective of the crater.
You will see some sulfur bubbles by the islands in the middle of the lake, as the crater is not completely asleep.
2 nice places can be recommended by the crater :
- El Mirador, on top of the rim : 10$ per person without any meals
- Hotel Cuicocha, by the lake : 25$ per person with breakfast and dinner