The Quilotoa Loop

Trip Start Sep 20, 2010
Trip End Dec 18, 2011

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Flag of Ecuador  , Cotopaxi,
Friday, August 12, 2011

Day 1 – Latacunga to Tigua

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. We went straight, as advised, but soon had 3 angry dogs were heading our way as we walked towards a farmhouse. Most of the dogs around here are more bark than bite but because they were moving at some speed, and also at that moment we saw someone back on the road, we backtracked a few hundred metres rather than face the hounds. She told us to take the left track so we did. We knew part of the walk that day would be in a canyon but we hadn’t really asked the right questions before setting out so we had no idea when we should enter the canyon and how long we should be in it. We were eventually walking beside one and after more consultations with the locals headed in. It wasn’t that deep so we followed it for a while. After a bit we thought we had come to the point where we should leave the canyon so we did. We ended up on a long straight road through some farmland and we could see the Quilotoa crater in front of us. Can’t go wrong from here we thought. We walked on for a while passing whole families working in the fields. Looked like pretty back breaking work. We thought we were going good till suddenly the ground in front opened up to reveal a massive horseshoe shaped canyon blocking our path. Very deep and steep. We were stuck. A way down to our right we could see a bridge over the river at the bottom of the canyon but the owner in Tigua had been very adamant that we head to the west side of the crater not the east. We found someone who pointed us up a well beaten path to the left. We knew we were still heading towards the canyon but assumed there must be a path down and up the other side. No such luck. The path just petered out and we were left staring down the sheer walls of the canyon. We (I) was starting to get a little panicked as it was getting late, we were lost and didn’t really know what to do. Liz made a great exec decision and decided we should head to Zumbahua. It was still on long walk and at this stage I was feeling very tired and a bit sick. After six hours walking and not really getting anywhere I was delighted, half a mile from Zumbahua, when a pickup stopped and gave us a lift all the way to Quilotoa. Our hostel was pretty dire, they all are in Quilotoa, and didn’t even have any electricity and hence running water. I went straight to bed and didn’t get up again as was felling terrible. The stove in the room was brilliant but all in all it hadn’t been a great days work. Lying in bed shivering and boiling at the same time and steadily filling up the unflushable toilet I wasn’t looking forward to tomorrow.

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.  However because Kevin wasn’t feeling great we had been awake a few times in the night anyway – it seems we don’t like to sleep when we’re trekking, it adds to the challenge!

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 were directly opposite Quilotoa town we started to head down the outside of the crater.  We could already see out destination, Chugchilan, way off in the distance but to start with focused on Guayama, the first town we could see.  Although in hindsight I think we took the wrong path, we did take a path that was heading towards the town.  Our only problem came when we were close enough to touch the village when a gorge opened up in front of us.   However compared to when we had the same issue the day before it was tiny.  We could see a path up the other side, and after a bit of searching and scrambling we managed to make our way down into the gorge.  The rest of the day was relatively easy as the path was obvious, and we only had to ask the locals for directions once.  It was still a long road to Chugchilan though – a steep gravelly slippy path down into a massive canyon and then an even steeper path up the other side.  After such a cold night and walk early on the wind stopped in the canyon and it got boiling hot – never happy!

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.  The scenery around the Quilotoa is absolutely gorgeous – patchwork green mountains, layers of them which is impossible to get in a photo.  It’s a nice change from our usual minus degrees, snow peak experiences. 

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.  He turned out to be a carpenter so we went back to look at some of his work.  We ended up buying a little carved and painted scene of local life after found out he’d also made the beds that we’d slept on in Latacunga! We were also happy that our halting Spanish was able to get us by in a full on conversation about woodwork. 

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.  The other guests were an Israeli couple just starting their South America trip, a Dutch girl who had worked in the hostel 2 years before and an English guy who was volunteering there for a few weeks.  We had a good chat over dinner and went to bed looking forward to our milk truck jaunt in the morning.

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.  Lazy but true!

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. 
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