Three lakes emerge as two volcanoes die

Enjoying the unspoilt beauty of the Mojanda lake region

Ecuador travelogue: Chapter 18 | Read other chaptersSee photo gallery

↑ Mojanda lake (and two sun dogs) on a sunny morning.

The story of many lakes

Mojanda was thought to be an inactive composite volcano in the northern Andes that had been built up by numerous layers of hardened lava. A summit caldera, produced by an explosion so large that the top of the volcano collapsed thereby marking the end of Mojanda activity approximately 200,000 years ago, is presently occupied by three crater lakes: Caricocha (the largest), Yanacocha, and Huarmicocha. Collectively, these are known as the Mojanda lakes (Lagunas de Mojanda / मोहंदा तलाव)

↑ The majestic black mountain “Cerro Negro” flanking one end of the lake

Mojanda was actually a complex of two volcanoes which were active simultaneously, the volcanic vents of which were only 3 km apart. One of the volcanos, Fuya Fuya, partially collapsed around 165,000 years ago, creating a large caldera lake. A new volcanic cone and other lava domes subsequently extruded inside the caldera.

What’s so special about this place?

Mojanda lakes are located about 17km south of Otavalo in Ecuadorean Andes and have been accorded a protected status since 2000. The three Mojanda lakes, one larger than the other two, are located few hundred meters from each other. The entire area is quite mountainous and visiting the lake and hiking the mountains surrounding it make for an excellent day trip from Otavalo. This is exactly what I did.

↑ Dirt road spiraling around the lake. I don’t know where this leads to.

Arriving from Otavalo with two other travellers in a shared taxi, we were delighted to find the entire area to ourselves. There was no sign of civilization for as long as your eyes could see, isn’t that already great? After hiking to the summit of Fuya Fuya mountain located adjacent to the lake, we sat down to eat.

A group of indigenous people arrived and setup a ceremony on the shores of the lake. Folks sat in a circle, with one person, presumably the holy man, standing at the centre chanting prayers. At the end of the assembly, he passed around a earthen pot placed in a decorated basket and his followers offered their respects to it one at a time. Within thirty minutes, the gathering was dissolved and people left. It was interesting to watch this ceremony although I have no clue what it was about.

↑ Pristine blue waters of the Mojanda lake.

The Otavalo region has great places to hike and get lost in the nature. The Mojanda area is certainly distinct, being above the tree line and having lakes see and mountains to climb. Besides the Mojanda lakes, the Guinea Pig lake and the Quilotoa lake are other examples of caldera lakes in Ecuador. Fascinating!