Quito to Quilotoa: 3 days hiking the loop

Three days hiking between small Ecuadorian villages, along tranquil rivers, up relentless hills and finally finishing the adventure at the mesmerisingly blue crater lake. The Quilotoa loop is a popular activity on most travellers tours of Ecuador, and for great reason! It’s a three day hike but you finish each day at a great hostel with a rate that includes a 3 course dinner! We walked from Sigchos to Insliví to Chugchilian and finally arrived at Lake Quilotoa on the 3rd day, this is how we got on.

Day one: Latacunga to Insliví  We’d spent the previous night in nearby Latacunga at the Hostel Sendero de Volcanes. So after a satisfying breakfast of eggs, fruit, juice, coffee and a ham and cheese toasty we stored our big backpacks and headed for the main bus terminal. The bus system in Ecuador is very organised and cheap, and finding the right bus at the terminal was easy. In order to start our hike we needed to take the bus from Latacunga to Sigchos, which set off at 9.30am and arrived at about 11.30am. After we arrived we conversed with another couple of travellers who had received sketchy looking written instructions from their respective hostels, all that was clear was that we needed to walk 14km to get to Inslivi (unless we wanted to wait for the bus, which we clearly didn’t).

We followed the road, followed the route marked on maps.me and also tried to make heads from tails with the directions. So far we had made it to the bottom of a canyon and across the stone bridge, turned right at the intersection then followed the road around to the right, then the left, then immediately after the next right found a small path… but was it the same small path from the photocopied picture in the directions? Were we supposed to climb this barbed wire fence? This hill was pretty steep. When we couldn’t actually see a clear track up the remaining cliff face so we decided to turn back. Its a fine thing when the local farmers don’t even bat an eyelid to see three dusty foreigners traipsing through their paddocks.

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Stopping for a picnic before we realised we were lost…

 

Rejoining the road we walked on a bit further until we found the next possible path. This one was a LITTLE more defined, but not enough that it was the proper path, more a goat track that lead near vertically up a dusty hill. Through more crops and gumtrees to the road above. The altitude was definitely an issue for me. I was loving the adventure but had to stop every few steps to regain my breath and slow my heart rate back to a manageable pace. Once we reached the road at the top we decided to follow it for the remaining couple of kms.

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The pretty church in the town of Insliví

Oh Inslivi was a beautiful site, a very small town with a cute brick church and a spattering of smiling locals. The hostel we chose, Llullu Llama was also a very welcome reprieve. I’ve written more about it in my review of Llullu Llama but in a nutshell, this hostel had the perfect recipe to make travellers happy. We found it fun and social and met other travellers walking the loop, so overnight our group went from 3 to 10!

Day 2: Inslivi to Chugchilian To start the day I thought I would make the most of the fresh air and the view with a spot of early morning yoga before breakfast. I chose a lovely quite spot where I was alone with nature. My only company was that of a llama, and a giant Saint Bernard called Balloo (named after the bear from the jungle book for his larger than life friendly appearance). While I was mid down-dog, Balloo got very excited playing with the llama, I didn’t even make it through a sun salute before his attention shifted to me… He came bounding over and used his huge paws to try and dig straight through my mat! I was in a state of shock and panic but all I could think was “Save my mat!” I don’t know if you’ve ever tried wrestling a bear who thinks he’s a puppy for a yoga mat, but it was pretty crazy.

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The formidable Balloo

After that little run in, the days hike was rather placid. We had a new set of instructions from Llullu Lama and our new German friends were leading the way. Down into a beautiful valley, past a lovely babbling river and back up the other side. Up was the hard bit and while it was absolutely stunning and much more rewarding then the day before, I was pooped!

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The charming valley from the top of the other side. You can see the winding path in the bottom left of this shot.

We made it in just over 4 hours. Even though the walk was more enjoyable today, the altitude was still bothering me. We reached The Cloud Forrest (review of our hostel in Chugchillian) in good time but after a nice hot shower and cold beer I’d decided if the following day was as hard as it was reported to be, I’d be happier hitching a lift!  At dinner the owner came around and chatted to everyone about their plans for the next day. I organised a pick up truck for $20usd which I was going to share with an older couple who were staying down the road at the more expensive Black Sheep Hostel. For the guys braving the walk he explained there had been a slip jeopardising the old track, so they’d created a new improved path, less steep and marked more clearly.

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The delicious views over the valleys make this walk a must do (well, the second day at least)

Day 3: Chugchillian to Quilotoa Steve and the active crew headed off at 8am while I had a leisurely breakfast before our 10am pickup. The drive took less than half an hour, including the time it took to stop for a young couple and their 4 little girls to jump on the back of the truck. After we arrived at Quilotoa we paid $2 entry at the boom gate and headed to the mirador to enjoy the view of the  beautiful crater lake. The sides of the crater must be 300-400m high and hold a perfectly round turquoise body of water. Its just mesmerising. From here my travel companions headed down the lip of the crater to the waters edge. It takes about 30 minutes to walk down and an hour to climb back up, but from there you can hire kayaks for a few dollars an hour. I started walking around the top to see if I could meet back up with the happy hikers. To walk the entire way around the crater takes 4-6 hours but I was only walking about  a 6th of the way. The terrain is quite challenging with ups and  downs over a loose sandy path, and at 4000m above sea level with blustering  winds I was happy to just find a sheltered spot to set up camp and wait. I heard Steve yell out at around 12.40 so in the end they’d made it in an impressive 4 hours! The track was apparently quite challenging but was marked with red paint along the way and the new directions from Cloud Forrest made the trip much easier than expected.

To get back to Latacunga and complete the loop you have to walk to the main road to catch a bus. The last one leaves at 4pm however there are plenty of taxis willing to take you to the next town where more regular buses pass by.

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The reward after the hike is this beautiful lake!
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