Mojanda Lakes, Ecuador

Lake Locations:

Ecuador -

Also known as:  Lagunas de Mojanda, Caricocha, Yanacocha, Huarmicocha

A secret just being discovered by visitors to the northern Andes is the Mojanda Lakes. Only a few miles north of the equator, the lakes were formed by the collapse of twin volcanoes. Mojanda volcano and Fuya-Fuya volcano both exploded between 200,000 and 165,000 years ago, allowing water to collect within the resulting calderas and forming three separate lakes. At approximately 12,250 feet in elevation, the air temperature is quite chilly at times and the area often surrounded in fog, so tourists didn’t visit the lakes often until recently. These Andes Highlands were long inhabited by the local Quichua tribe, the altitude limiting the numbers of outsiders who saw the picturesque crater lakes. Named Caricocha (considered the ‘male’ lake and largest of the three), Huarmicocha (the female lake) and Yanacocha (the black lake), the lakes are only a few hundred feet apart, but getting from one to another still takes some physical exertion on individual trails. The largest lake is known to reach a depth of about 330 feet, but there are few statistics known about the other two.

The Mojanda Lakes are surrounded by high Andes grasslands and shrubs and is now used for some cattle grazing. Towering over the lakes, the peaks of Fuya-Fuya and Yanahurco mountains offer a number of trails for the physically-fit. There are no villages along the shore and the nearest town of any size is Otavalo, a little over 10 miles to the north. Visitors can hike from Otavalo along a cobbled road, but even the gentle incline to Mojanda is a struggle at this altitude for the un-acclimated visitor. Those wishing to visit Mojanda Lakes often take a taxi from Otavalo and save their energy for trekking near the lakes. The lakes have been held in protected status since 2000, but visitors are allowed to camp for one night in the area. There are no designated campsites or services, and a good high-altitude tent is strongly advised. The only fish in the lakes are introduced rainbow trout, but some tour operators can arrange fishing trips to the lakes. Mountain bike treks can be arranged from Tabacundo to the south but require strong riders for the six-hour uphill climb. Biking from Otavalo is far shorter, but those unsure of their abilities in the thin atmosphere should work with a recognized tour operator for safety. The government of Ecuador advises visitors to these isolated places to travel in groups of four or six people; although the native people are friendly and welcoming, the occasional robbery does occur.

The trail to the Fuya-Fuya Peak begins at the shore of Caricocha Lake and leads hikers on a trek of 1.2 miles that rises in altitude 1804 feet. Trail markers keep hikers on the trail until they reach the summit at 14,045 feet. In order to travel from one lake to another, it is necessary to take separate paths from the trailhead due to the terrain, even though the lakes are close together. The area contains some of the last remnants of high-altitude forests, most having been cut. The remaining trees are protected. Although trees are few, a number of wildflowers thrive along the trails, and the endangered Andes Condor can sometimes be seen soaring near the peaks. Cloudbursts are a nearly daily occurrence during the hiking season, and failure to carry rain gear often results in cold, wet and unhappy hikers. The rains usually are of short duration but can ruin an otherwise peaceful and scenic day-hike for the unprepared.

The unique ecology of the Andes Highlands surrounding Mojanda Lakes has recently come under study by several groups of environmentalists. One nearby lodge dedicates much of the profit from its rentals and tours to educating visitors, helping the nearby village obtain school books and supplies, and assisting in providing health and dental care to the indigenous population. Casa Mojanda offers gourmet meals featuring local produce, cottages crafted from natural materials by native craftsmen, interpretive discussion of the surrounding countryside, and horseback rides to the Mojanda Lakes-a far easier prospect than hiking for many visitors. Many of their visitors pledge funds to the various projects underway in the nearby village. A number of interesting tour opportunities exist in the area including Saturday shopping trips to the traditional marketplace at Otavalo. With 4000 years of history in the area, the local Quichua are known worldwide for traditional textiles, leatherwork and handicrafts. Some of these crafted items have found a firm place on the growing world market.

An extremely important archeological site near Mojanda Lakes, the pyramids at Cochasqui are located near the village of Cayambe just off the Pan-American Highway. Built by the pre-Incan Caranqui, the series of 15 truncated pyramids and multiple funeral mounds were constructed between 950 AD and 1550 AD as a residential, ceremonial and astronomical center. Trench alignments mark the solstices here at the equator. The Cochasqui complex aligns with a series of other archaeological sites and natural elements, called Inti-Yan (the sun paths), alluding to the sun’s movement during the March and September equinoxes. At night, visitors can camp out in a designated area and see the stars of both the north and south hemispheres simultaneously. The Caranqui apparently purposely buried the complex in advance of the approaching Inca. Recent excavations have begun to uncover the base pyramids, although the buildings that once graced their apexes are long gone. Local shamans still arrive to perform harvest-blessing ceremonies for the locals on designated astronomical alignment days. This important center of sun-worship was designated a protected site in 1977; research is on-going. A small museum on-site explains the lay-out and assumed function of the various parts of the complex, with displays of pottery and household artifacts. A botanical garden and a llama reserve are also located on the grounds. Situated at the foot of Mojanda Mountain, the complex is only 45 minutes north of Quito and easily reached from both the capital city and Otavalo.

The area surrounding Mojanda Lakes is full of volcano and ecological reserves, including Pululahua Geobotanical Reserve, Cayambe Coca Ecological Reserve and a number of others. Visitors to Mojanda Lakes can easily make a full holiday of visiting cultural, ecological and geological sites in the area. Working with organized tour operators can facilitate getting to some of the more remote sites. A variety of lodgings can be found, from modern hotels and motels in Quito to smaller and often unique resort haciendas located around the area. Otavalo holds a youth hostel, hotels and private lodging possibilities. Some camping is available, although usually primitive. Real estate opportunities may exist in the cities, but private properties are somewhat rare in much of the area around Mojanda Lakes. Casa Mojanda is in the process of building and selling a small number of cottages for sale within their compound. For the near future at least, Mojanda Lakes will likely stay remote, somewhat hard to access, and entirely special to the few visitors who can reach it. Will you be one of the special few?

Things to do at Mojanda Lakes

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Camping
  • Hiking
  • Biking
  • Horseback Riding
  • Museum
  • Shopping

Fish species found at Mojanda Lakes

  • Rainbow Trout
  • Trout

Mojanda Lakes Photo Gallery

Mojanda Lakes Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Not Dammed

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 12,250 feet

Maximum Depth: 330 feet

Trophic State: Oligotrophic

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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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