The Quilotoa Loop
Trip Start Sep 20, 2010
162Trip End Dec 18, 2011
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Today wasn't actually a hike but we’ve given it its own entry because it was an interesting day nonetheless and I don’t like breaking our tried and tested method of documenting our hikes!
Having packed the essentials and putting the rest into storage at the hostel in Latacunga we headed to the bus station to catch a ride into the Quilotoa region (aka Cotapaxi region). Our first stop of the 5 days we will be doing the loop was Tigua, a small town a little off the normal route. When the bus stopped we were a little amused at the panic on the faces of the other tourists doing the regular route who were worried they may have missed their stop! I know, we’re mean. However as we walked down the dirt track we’d been dumped on, following the very old looking sign to 'Posada de Tigua’ we began to think we should have stayed on the bus
Eventually though we arrived at a gorgeous farmhouse that wouldn’t be out of place in the Cotswolds, and met the family who happily showed us to where we could spend the night. The rest of the day we pretty much chilled out….we had lunch, all of which was fresh produce from the farm…we sat and read…we wandered around the farm…
In the afternoon we met an Austrian couple, Ava and Peter, who were also staying the night, and the four of us had a go at milking a cow! A first for us all. We thought we were quite good at it until we saw the family emptying the udder at high speed! After that we each had a go at riding a llama – a little touristy/gimmicky and uncomfortable, but at least now if anyone asks I can say ‘yes I’ve ridden a llama’!
Dinner was fantastic, again tasty produce from the farm, and except for the 3 irritating Americans who had arrived late, it was a really nice evening. Ava and Peter had been in Ecuador for 5 weeks so we got some ideas from them as to what we might do over the next week on our way to Columbia, and we talked to them non-stop because we were excited to have (interesting) people other than us to talk to
Stayed – Posada de Tigua
Day 2 - Tigua to Quilotoa
What a disaster! Our plan today was to walk from Tigua to Quilotoa as the first walking leg of the trip. One problem with the whole loop walk is that there is no topo map of the area and for this part we couldn’t even find a rough drawn one of the route. Still as people do the walk all the time we assumed it must be pretty easy. Ava and Peter had warned us it was pretty tough to find the path and they had been using a GPS with the path marked in, although they did give us some pointers that they thought would help. We also got some basic instructions from the owner of the Posada who basically said ‘just go straight’! We set out anyway, sure we’d find our way and there are always local farmers about to ask for directions if we got lost.
We quickly realised it wasn’t going to be too easy when within 15 minutes we had a choice of 3 roads
Stayed – Hostel Pachamama
Day 3 - Quilotoa to Chugchilan
We’d been lucky the night before because the lady in the hostel had lit the fire heater in the room so it’d been quite warm, despite being freezing outside
So we dragged ourselves out of bed to make it upstairs for breakfast and by 9am were heading off on our second days walk. Obviously we were hoping to make it to our destination today after yesterdays disaster, so we were a little disappointed when we met an Irish guy who had tried to walk to Chugchilan the day before but couldn’t find the path so came back. We just figured we were better than him though, not just because he thought our dinner the night before was pork even when he clearly had a chicken wing on his plate. He wasn’t even joking. We took a picture of the map board and instructions just in case!
The walk starts with a rim-walk over Quilotoa Laguna. The laguna is a huge crater lake and it was a spectacular sight as we walked up onto the rim and got our first views. It’s so big a crater that the whole rim walk can take around 4 hours. For our walk we only had to do a third, but because we were tired and kept stopping for views and photos it took us about 2 hours! It was also tough walking as it was unbelievably windy.
When we made it to Chugchilan we checked into Mama Hilda’s, a lovely hotel with fantastic views of the valley. After a well needed shower we went for a walk around the village and managed to see a locals volleyball game. It looked quite tough as the net was about a metre higher than it should have been.
All in all it was a really great day
Stayed – Mama Hilda’s
Day 4 - Chugchilan to Isinlivi
Today we decided would be our last day of walking. We didn’t want to get lost so were happy when 2 Swiss girls we were chatting to over dinner said they had a guide book with track notes and a map. Unfortunately it was in German so Liz got a quick run through and we took some pictures of the book to help us out. The map would have been very useful on the first day and I really don’t know why some of the hostels haven’t made a copy.
Anyway, we headed out with a lot more confidence this morning. Too many bloody gorges around here though. Once again the day involved a steep down to the river and then a steep up the other side in order to get to the next village. Just before the road started heading down a local man offered to show us a mirador over the canyon
The path down was very steep and dusty which made for a lot of slip-sliding. We eventually made it with a couple of dusty bums. We got some more direction in the village at the bottom, it never hurts to be sure, and headed towards the suspension bridge to cross the river. This turned out to be a pretty scary crossing. The bridge was pretty old looking, fairly long and the broken/missing slats didn’t engender much confidence in the remaining ones. I went second and with my big heavy bag was hoping if one did break I would get stop in the hole Indiana Jones style rather than fall into the river below. The bridge held though and we started our long up on the other side.
The weather was hot and the rest of the days walk was hot but very beautiful. We made it to our hostel in time for lunch and were glad to have some time to relax and read in their back garden with a view. Before dinner we walked around the town and up a nearby hill for some really cool valley views as the sun set
Stayed – Llullu Llama
Day 5 - Isinlivi to Latacunga
Our last day of what was a really great 5 days around the Quilotoa Loop started with a nice sociable breakfast in hostel Llullu Llama. Lucky for us the Dutch girl was also getting the milk truck so knew exactly where to go having spent a lot of time in Isinlivi during her time volunteering in Latacunga.
The milk truck is a very genuine experience, i.e. it’s not a tourist thing and the locals really do use it. It is a nice change but the real draw of the milk truck is that it leaves at 9am so you don’t have to get the bus that leaves at 4am. And of course it means that you don’t have to do the 4 hour walk to Sigchos which is the other option
There is no real timetable but the guideline is 9-9.30am. The driver must have been in a hurry though because he was early and we had to run to make it. Although not the most comfortable journey ever – pole in by back, dusty and so cold I couldn’t feel my hands – the scenry was stunning. Despite the discomfort the milk truck was fun. An odd experience stopping as people appear out of nowhere with a bit of milk from their cow and pour it into the drums next to us in the back. But unforgettable. As we went over the main path of the trip we got stunning views of Volcan Cotapaxi, which looked like it was floating, and also the twin peaks of Illiniza Sur and Illiniza Norte. We finally made it to the next big town where we could catch a bus to Latacunga.
The Quilotoa Loop was fantastic. A change from the other walks we have done in terms of scenery, and it was also nice hiking in the sun. We stayed in some great places too and it’s a definite must-do for Ecuador.