So, after a two-month break in Quito, it was time to get back on the road! We don’t hide it from you, this little break was very much needed. After this well deserved rest, we were just super excited when, last Sunday, we took our backpacks and headed towards Latacunga to complete the Quilotoa Loop!
Our batteries are recharged for the rest of our journey in South America! Our morale is high, and the tanning mark of the trekkers (socks and T-shirt) have almost disappeared, in other words, the ideal time to get back in the saddle!
At the same time, I don’t think we could have dreamt of a better “restarting” of our trip than these few days of trekking to the Quilotoa lagoon!
Day 1: Quilotoa Lagoon
The beginning of the trip was hard for the long-sleeper that I am. 5:40 sharp we left our apartment in the direction of the bus station in order to catch one of the first buses to Latacunga. A small town located just under 2 hours from the capital.
There we dropped off our big bags in a guesthosue and went to take a bus to Quilotoa with our stuff for a few days.
But for once we were not alone on the roads. This trek we decided to do with Coleen, a South African who emigrated to Australia and Germany before working for 6 years in Oman, and who now teaches English in Quito….. pfiou, we might as well tell you an exciting lady whose good humour and overflowing energy will have led us during these 5 days!
Getting to Quilotoa
Aafter a few scam dodges at the bus station, we finally arrived in Quilotoa around 1pm! Once we found our cosy (and chilly) little guesthouse for the evening, we swallowed a little soup. Then we put on our trekking boots and went to see the Quilotoa lagoon up close!
To go down to the lagoon, nothing could be easier; there is only one way! 35 minutes of descent into the sand and small gravel later, we were in the heart of a volcano; exhilarating!
But then we had to go back up, and that was already more complicated!
At 3800m, the 300m of altitude difference to climb up in the sand was not easy. But in view of what awaited us in the days to come, we could not decently take a mule to get back up. We were too proud for that!
During the ascent we were constantly motivated by the idea of enjoying a beer at the top with a view of the sunset. Yeah, well, forget about it!
It was without counting on the ice cold wind that started blowing at the end of the day and made the temperature drop drastically.
In other words: we finished the hike gathered around the stove with a good hot tea! And after a good little meal it was straight to bed!
Latacunga: There are several hostal where you can leave your bags ($1 per day and per bag). We opted for the hostal Tiana (we stayed there 3 nights after the trek, really good!).
Bus from Latacunga to Quilotoa: The schedules are not very clear. But there is a direct bus that leaves around 10am. The trip costs $2,5.
Alternative: Take a bus to Zumbahua (very regular service, $1.5). Then take a van to Quilotoa. ($10 per van, to be shared among passengers.)
Accomodation: Quilotoa has plenty of choice! We had slept at Chukirawa just in front of the crater. A decent hotel but nothing more. 15$ per person including dinner and breakfast. Update 2019: It looks like the hotel got renovated. Rooms look nicer now, but the price increases slightly (50$ for a double room includind breakfast and dinner for 2 people)
Admission fee: Admission to the Quilotoa site costs $2. No office, no ticket control. Just a little lady with her tickets who won’t miss you when you get off the bus!
Day 2: Hiking from Quilotoa to Chugchilan
7:00 sharp Benoit told me to wake up…. It is with difficulty that I get out of the 8 sleeping bags and into the freezing breakfast room!
Well yes, there is no heating in Ecuador, so at night it is with 4kg of down on you that you try to overcome the cold (the thermometer was close to 0 degrees, and promised, without heating it feels chilly!)!
On the day’s programme, a 12km walk, with breathtaking views! The walk started by walking along the crater of the volcano for about 2 kilometers, and at the very least we can say that we were not disappointed!
The hike is really easy on this first part, and the landscapes incredible; it is therefore without the slightest worry that we reached the village of Guyama in a little less than 2 hours. A short break to regain some strength, and we started the most sportive part of this walk: the descent into the Rio Toachi canyon!
A vertiginous descent
The path is well marked, but on the other hand it goes down without much detours as well… just to warn you….
To give you an idea here is the “wall” we came down….
After this, our guide book told us to cross a small bridge, then follow the path to go back up… Hmmm…. The problem is that we indeed found the bridge, but there was no path!
In front of us: an almost vertical wall made of ultra-friable rock which was approximatively 20 meters high!
In other words, we spent a hell of a time at the bottom of the canyon hestitation with other hikers we met on the way. After searching, without success, for another way out, we threw ourselves into a ridiculous climb!
To give you a picture of the situation we were 5:
- Benoit, the ultra-sportsman who loves climbing
- Fabienne who is afraid of heights
- Coleen the 62-year-old lady
- A Brazilian marathon runner in her fifties with 15kg on her back
- And a young Englishman with an unknown name.
While we were thinking about the best way to climb without killing us, the young Englishman ran away (English style) and without us noticing he had reached the top. He yelled at us from the top:
“No other way out, guys, you have to hang on to the trees and root to climb! Be careful, the ground is unstable! Good Luck!”
It all went well in the end…
Grrrrrr….. I still see his all smiling face and laughing at the situation! Well in the end, poor Benoit was left to himself with his 3 damsels in distress…. But all is well that ends well, me in front with Benoit behind to “hold me in case of a fall” (how ridiculous is that?), and the hiking poles in hand to hoist the other two travellers to the top!
What a story! We later learned that normally there is indeed a path to go back up, but that a few days before our passage there was a landslide and that is why we found ourselves facing this wall!
The rest of the hike was just pure joy! 1 hour and a half of climb to reach the village of Chugchilan and “finally” enjoy a well-deserved beer!
Hike Quilotoa-Chugchilan: 13km, 1000m of negative altitude difference and 500m of positive altitude difference.
Duration of the hike: between 4 and 6 hours
Map and information for the hike: you can download the instructions provided by the Cloud Forest. These are the best instructions we have found on the net… and don’t count on the Quilotoa hostals to inform you. Apart from trying to sell you the services of a guide (useless in our opinion) they will not be willing to help you.
Logement: Cloud Forest Hostal. 15$per person per night including a great dinner and an amazing breakfast! Really a great hotel with hot water, a great boss, his wife is a real cordon bleu and a great playroom!
Day 3: Rest and view of the coast
This day was an important day! Benoit was celebrating his 30th birthday, AND Switzerland was playing against Argentina in the 8th finals of the World Cup…
On the Ecuadorian schedule, the match was scheduled to start at 11am, so you might as well explain that it was incompatible with a day of hiking….
So we decided to get up early to go for a short walk around Chugchilan and be able to come back in time to support the Swiss in front of our TV.
The day’s walk will have led us to the top of the hill overlooking Chugchilan.
What is special about this place?
By climbing 1h30 you can have a view of the coast! In other words, we could have seen the sea, but it was not to mention that the clouds had also decided to invite themselves to the party! Grrr…
Well I will give you the mood swings to Benoit in front of the game, his almost 3 heart attacks due to near misses, poles and others, as well as our defeat, certainly honorable, 1-0 against Argentina in nearly 120 minutes of intense stress!
The rest of the day we spent it enjoying our great little hotel, talking with other travellers and planning the next day’s walk.
In the evening, the Cloud Forest boss gave us the lovely surprise of bringing a birthday cake for dessert, so we might as well tell you that we were all moved and happy too!
Day 4: Chugchilan to Isinlivi hike
A little disappointed with Switzerland’s defeat (logical defeat of course) against Argentina the day before, we set off again for our third day of hiking. This time the walk took us from Chugchilan to Isinlivi. This section is known among travellers for offering many opportunities to get lost on the road, ow, it promised!
But strangely enough, although we are usually good enough to get lost in hiking, this time everything went well (within 2-3 detours).
Well, it was not the case for 3 German women we met on the way who were doing the hike in the other direction…. We will have learned later that they finished the hike with a headlamp before climbing into a local farmer’s van…;)
A breathtaking hike
Honestly, this hike will probably remain one of our most beautiful walks! The trail passes through the bottom of the canyon, crossing many small villages, a forest of eucalyptus before going up through the fields to the village of Isinlivi.
We let you admire the scenery:
After about 5 hours of walking we finally reached the village of Isinlivi and our small hotel for the night, the Llulu Lama!
So frankly, don’t miss this hike or this mountain lodge! The Llulu Lama is simply one of the prettiest little guesthouse we saw during this world tour!
We spent the end of the day enjoying the view, the llamas, a nice cold beer and the warmth of the stove at the end of the evening!
Hiking Chugchilan-Isinlivi: 13km, 500m of negative altitude difference, 400m of positive altitude difference (if you don’t do any detours… we probably climbed 1-2 “hills” too much).
Duration of the hike: between 4 and 6 hours
Accomodation: Llulu Lama, $18 per person in dormitory, breakfast and dinner included. An idyllic place with divine cuisine, in short the must for hikers!
Check availability here
Day 5: The traditional market of Saquilisi
Every Thursday the small town of Saquilisi hosts a traditional craft market in the region. According to our guidebook, it was a “must”. So we decided to go there!
The problem is that Isinlivi is not really the nerve centre of Ecuadorian public transport. It’s easy to see, to reach Latacunga there are 2 buses a day. One leaves at 1:15 in the morning (yes!) and the other at 4:30 in the morning! Don’t ask us why we have these crazy schedules, but that’s the way it is!
When the milkman is a taxi driver
But there are alternatives! The milkman passes every day between 8:30 a.m. and 9 a.m., and for the modest sum of $1.5, he allows travellers passing through to jump on the back of his truck to join either Sigchos or Toacaso.
this schedule sounded already much more appealing to us, so at 8:15 we set off for the milk collection point.
But here we are, on the way we met an employee of a painting company who was going to… Saquilisi! Anyway, $2.50 later we were sitting in the back of his truck!
The advantage of the painter over the milkman?
He went directly to Saquilisi without stopping to drop off the milk or making any detours! What we didn’t know when we went up was that the painter wasn’t going to take the “classic” route, no no, he opted for a shortcut!
Not the road we thought it would be
It is in fact the old pass road, a small trip that took us to more than 4000m altitude! How can I explain this? We were pretty cold in the back of the truck, we were shaken like plum trees because of the poor road conditions, but it’s probably one of the most spectacular roads we’ve ever taken!
After a 2-hour drive, we arrived at the Saquilisi market. In fact in Saquilisi there are 2 markets on Thursdays: the artinasal market where in the end we find all the same stuff as in the rest of South America (ponchos, blankets, hats, woolen sweaters, etc.) as well as a fruit and vegetable market where the locals come to buy their supplies for the week.
While the first one is the ideal place to find some souvenirs. The second one is really lively and authentic. A great way to finish these few days in the Quilotoa area.
The Quilotoa loop: An unforgettable experience on a trip to Ecuador
These 5 days will have marked the new beginning of our second part of the trip, and I think we can say that this trek will already have set the bar very high for the rest of the trip in South America!
What we really thought was great were the distances between the different villages!
Between 12km and 14km per day is just ideal if you want to be able to take your time, take pictures, and especially not be too tired to start again the next day!
And, the icing on the cake of this trek was undoubtedly the accommodation and food! We didn’t expect much before we left, but I think the Llulu Lama and the Cloud Forest easily make it into the top 10 of the best small hotels we’ve ever been to.
We were talking to you about the incredible diversity of landscapes in Ecuador. Well, this will be confirmed in the next article, because our next appointment is with the Amazon! See you soon!
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