The Quilotoa Loop

Chugchilan Travel Blog

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View 1 from out of the window of the bus to Chugchilan

What an amazing 3 days!!

It all started in Latagunga, a town that really didnt do it for me but was the gateway for great things to come. The Quilitoa loop (as its called in Lonely Planet) is basically a series of towns to the West of Latacunga and the Panamericana which are all connected by one road in a loop kind of fashion. At the halfway point is supposed to be one of the most amazing sights in Ecuador - Laguna Quilotoa, a massive lake in the middle of a volcanic crater.

Anna and I planned to base ourselves in the tiny town of Chugchilan (three great hostels there) and do some day trips from there.

Anna after a few days growth
The trip to chugchilan proved to be at once the most gut wrenchingly horrible and stunningly beautiful bus rides I have ever been on. The first half of the journey was on sealed roads and ascended over 1000m allowing the bus driver to prove that Ecuadorian bus drivers have as much "balls" as anyone. Overtaking buses going up hills on blind corners was the norm, a simple toot of the horn the only thing deemed necessary to avoid an accident.

As the road plateaued out, the land became a patchwork quilt of crops and paddocks and we were able to see for kms all around. The road continued to twist and turn for another 20 or so kms until it reached the tiny town of Quilitoa which is where the real fun started. From there it was 23km along an unpaved potholed track, along cliff faces that you would seriously think twice about riding with a mountain bike.

The view from halfway up the canyon as we foolishly followed Vlad!
Nevertheless, our fearless bus driver tore along it like it was a main highway, I think I was thrown from my seat 5 times along the way...and have no idea how the chicken and the lamb strapped to the roof managed to survive.

Somehow we made it. I have never been so thankful to leave a bus ever! Chugchilan is a tiny tiny town made famous by the Black Sheep Inn (an ecolodge of apparently world class standards). Our budget could only afford another hostel though, The Cloudforest Hostel - the rooms are a quite cramped but it is very cheap, the food is good and best of all there were hot showers.

That night over dinner, we engaged in some international conversation with a Czech couple (Vlad and Yanna) and a couple of Serbian guys, and we all hooked up a horse trip to a cheese factory and into a cloud forest for the next day.

The amazing Quilotoa Crater

The next day proved to be a memorable one. First of all the horse tour - my horse farted an obscene amount, bit other horses and constantly decided that the best route was always the one a couple of cms from the cliff edge....having only ridden a horse once I was a little worried to say the least. Annas horse we think was an outcast (maybe had a little bit of donkey in it), it didnt like to go near the other horses, if it did it was bitten or kicked. Still, the country side we rode through was breathtaking and walking through a cloudforest seeing (and smelling) all the different varietys of plants was awesome. Apparently, 40 years ago, the entire area was covered in cloud forest, then humans came and managed to stuff it all up by undertaking slash and burn techniques for crops and grazing paddocks.

Anna soaking up the view
 The remaining cloud forest is now in a protected zone so hopefully it remains for many years to come. 

It was incredible to see the way that people make a living in this area, primarily agricultural and primarily corn and potatoe crops. It was the way the crops were planted though, literally on slopes that could almost be considered as cliffs, farmers tend there crops 365 days a year, sometimes walking half a day into the nearest town just to sell them for like $10 and then walking half a day back again....the people here a very poor.

After 5 hours or so I was glad to get off my horse....give me a snowboard any day!! Not ones to sit still for any length of time, the Czechs suggested a walk into the canyon below was in order. Never trust Czechs!! After 2 hours of walking, I was 200m up the side of the canyon, in my sandals, holding onto the serb girls hand as she came periously close to falling.

The local transport in these parts was the second ridiculous situation I found myself in since arriving in Ecuador. Awesome awesome views and I am so glad I did it but never trust a Czech when they say they have found a path. Top walk though Vlad!!

The next day we were up early and catching a ride in the back of a bus up to the town of Quilotoa to begin our walk around Quilotoa crater and back down to Chugchilan, 12km in total or about 3-5 hrs depending on hour fast you want to walk (The track is quite well described in the Lonely Planet so finding the way is pretty easy). The trip up in the truck cost $5 but was well worth the cash...standing up above the cabin as we tore round the crazy roads was definitely a highlight of the trip so far. Another highlight coming moments after jumping off when we walked the 50m to the top of the crater for the view down onto the lake.

A lovely local shepard looking after her flock was absolutely stunning, I cant really describe it. Luckily for us, the first hour of walking took us one third of the way around the craters rim (there is actually a 5 hour walk that goes all the way around) so time spent gazing down to the lake was plentiful, unluckily for us the clouds rolled in after about 20mins (The weather to date has been down right mean). To counter the clouds, we dropped to about half way down the crater and the views returned, but it made for a tough hike back up. Definitely worth it though.

We dropped off the other side of the crater soon after reaching the top again and made our way down the other side towards Chugchilan, along the way passing through small remote towns, locals tending their crops and sheep (we even got to see a 1 hr old baby lamb) and even attracting a flock of school children.

A mother and daughter on the walk back to Chugchilan
The last hour or so provided more stunning views as we descended to the bottom of a major canyon (using well trodden paths this time though so no repeats of yesterday) and rose again up the other side. Extremely tired by the end of it we couldnt wait for a big feed....ahhh, chicken and rice for the umpteenth night in a row but oooo, a little bit of avocado this beauty!!

That night we were treated to some local school girls performing traditional dances in the dining area at our hostel. It was magic.....until they all grabbed a tourist (6 of us in all) by the hand and got us up dancing. Having had no beers I was a little worried about my dancing skills but it was all good in the end!!

Yep it was an amazing three days....but as the saying goes "a rolling stone gathers no moss" and my clothes were starting to gather some sort of odourous fungi which meant it was time to move on.

Up next was Banos and hopefully a laundry!!

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View 1 from out of the window of t…
View 1 from out of the window of …
Anna after a few days growth
Anna after a few days growth
The view from halfway up the canyo…
The view from halfway up the cany…
The amazing Quilotoa Crater
The amazing Quilotoa Crater
Anna soaking up the view
Anna soaking up the view
The local transport in these parts
The local transport in these parts
A lovely local shepard looking aft…
A lovely local shepard looking af…
A mother and daughter on the walk …
A mother and daughter on the walk…
Lost in translation
Lost in translation
Looking back on where we had come …
Looking back on where we had come…
View 2 from out of the window of t…
View 2 from out of the window of …
View 3 from out of the window of t…
View 3 from out of the window of …
Me and my steed
Me and my steed
The view from the top.
The view from the top.
Glad to be alive after the little …
Glad to be alive after the little…
Anna and I at the Quilotoa Crater …
Anna and I at the Quilotoa Crater…
I found some friends
I found some friends
Smile girls!
Smile girls!
Waiting for the cheese factory to …
Waiting for the cheese factory to…
photo by: eefab