When Dan and I started planning our Latin America trip, the Quilotoa Loop was one of the first things we decided to do. Blog posts and guidebooks were full of the wonders of the loop, hiking through beautiful Ecuadorian countryside and marvelling at the stunning scenery, getting away from the world and getting lost (literally, in some cases) in nature. It sounded blissful, and it was something we had really been looking forward to.
As luck would have it, by the time we got to the Quilotoa Loop we had a great gang to hike with! Not only was Michelle still travelling with us, but we had also met up with our friends Belinda and Keith from the Galápagos who were hiking the loop at the same time. We all got together in the small town of Latacunga, the jumping off point to start the loop, and planned our route over food and a little too much wine and beer.
There are many different options for hiking the loop, whether you want to hike for one day or five or somewhere in between. In the end we decided to catch the bus to Isinlivi, then hike to Chugchilán the following day and finish with the hike to Quilotoa and the famous crater lake the day after.
Before setting off, though, we needed to pack our small daypacks with everything we would need for a couple of days of hiking. We stayed for one night at the fantastic Hotel Central in Latacunga, where the incredibly helpful and friendly manager provided us with a fantastic breakfast the morning of our departure and let us store our big bags in their locked store room for free. It was then very easy to get the bus to Isinlivi – travelling by bus in Ecuador is comfortable, quick and oh so simple – where we headed straight for Hostal Taita Cristobal to see if we could get rooms for our first night on the loop.
Hostal Taita Cristobal turned out to be our favourite hostel on the trip so far, if not our favourite hostel of all time. The manager greeted us and showed us to spacious, clean private rooms, with beds heaped with blankets and duvets (the nights on the loop get pretty cold!), before telling us that dinner would be at 7pm down in the lounge. Our rooms cost $15 per person including breakfast and dinner, which turned out to be a brilliant deal! After checking us in the manager told us to come down to the main square in town, as there was a party going on that afternoon.
Not wanting to miss a local party, we dropped off our things and headed straight into town. It turned out that the party involved a large arena in the main square, into which a van was habitually unleashing angry bulls so that the locals could practise their matador routines. It was very entertaining – if a little terrifying – to watch, especially considering the fact that most of the men involved seemed to be more than a bit drunk. The craziest part was saved until last however, when out of the van came a baby bull…and all the local kids got to have a go! We never thought we would see the day when a six-year-old boy would taunt a charging bull amidst the cheers of adults. Ecuador has been full of surprises!
We then returned to the hostel and enjoyed some drinks outside on the lawn, occasionally playing with the baby cow and alpaca that were tethered there, before heading in as it started getting chilly to be warmed by the roaring log fire and delicious three course dinner that was served to us. We loved the hostel so much in fact that we were almost tempted to pack in the hike the next day and stay an extra night!
In the end though we stuck with our plan and set off after breakfast the next morning, having been provided with a helpful map by the hostel. However, less than 10 minutes into our journey we realised that we had already made a wrong turn. After consulting the map, we thought that it would be easy enough to join the original trail a short distance further along, so instead of turning back and going the right way we just continued along the path we were on.
This turned out to be a bit of a mistake, as we ended up hiking around 18km instead of 10km that day! Nevertheless it was all worth it – the hike was tough and very steep in places, and by the end we were all about ready to give up (Belinda and I even sat down by the road just outside of Chugchilán and announced we simply were not going any further), but the views and scenery were absolutely breathtaking.
That night we stayed in Cloud Forest Hostel, where we once again got lovely private rooms for $15 per person, including dinner and breakfast. When we arrived we took comforting hot showers and promptly passed out for a couple of hours, before going to the lounge to enjoy another delicious three course dinner.
The following morning we were up and out again after breakfast for the final leg of our hike. We had read on various blogs that the trail from Chugchilán to Quilotoa would be the hardest part of the journey, but because our unintentional detour the day before had made day one a lot longer and harder than necessary, we actually found it to be not that bad. Don’t get me wrong, the hills nearly killed us in places (especially as we were up at nearly 4,000m above sea level by the end) and I almost had a total meltdown during the last 45 minutes when we kept rounding corners and coming across yet more hills, but the day itself wasn’t as long and we were rewarded by beautiful views of the Quilotoa crater lake before we came to the town of Quilotoa.
Our final hostel of the loop was Hostal Chukirawa, a nice place but sadly our least favourite spot of the journey. The rooms were spacious and comfortable, and the common area was a great place to unwind after the day’s hike, but the staff were unfriendly to the point of almost being surly, and we had to pay $20 each for the room, dinner and breakfast (haggled down, I might add, from around $27 per person). Unfortunately though this is the nature of Quilotoa town – accommodation here is generally a lot more expensive and of a lower quality than other towns on the loop, because it is such a tourist hotspot and places can basically do what they want. Having read reviews of other hostels in Quilotoa though, Chukirawa was by far the best option.
On our final morning we briefly entertained the idea of hiking around the rim of the crater (about another 6-8 hour hike, depending on what sources you read), but in the end we all decided we felt much too tired and decided to hop on a bus straight back to Latacunga, all looking forward to the chance to rest our legs and have a good long sleep!