Find the detour to Malchingui to your right on Ruta Escondida, a few kilometers after Parque Jerusalem’s sign. Malchinguí has become a staple for mountain bikers wishing to explore the area. It’s an old-timers’ town that has been recently prettied up (dirt roads are now cement, the square features impressively green gardens). From here to Tabacundo and La Esperanza you will find spectacular mountain landscapes and sweet-scented eucalyptus forests. Of course, you must be already used to the altitude, but that said, it is interesting even for intermediate bikers, with detours to the fascinating Cochasquí archaeological complex, or a quick visit of Tocachi, with its bizarre monument to the “coca leaf chewer” and village gardens offering organic produce.
Mojanda and its high Andean lakes
To the north of the Ruta Escondida and to the east of the valley of Otavalo and Lago San Pablo, rises the hidden plateau of Mount Fuya Fuya and the sublime trio of Mojanda lakes, spread across the rolling tundra-like páramo zone. From the Ruta Escondida side, a winding dirt road crosses dry pastures and high Andean temperate zone forest before breaking out onto sweeping open grassland and the still waters of Laguna Grande, or Caricocha, the largest of the three lakes. However depleted you may feel, the brisk, clean and noticeably thin mountain air seems surprisingly invigorating as you gaze onto the wrinkled slopes of the neighboring hills, home to wild rabbits, the sacred puma and the emblematic Andean Condor. This area can also be reached from a turn-off in the town of Tabacundo (further to the north on the Pan-American Highway) and links up with a road that exits the Otavalo ring-road, marked for the Mojanda Lakes (perhaps the easiest way of entering).