The Quilotoa Loop was one of only a handful of things we had identified as ‘must do’s’ whilst passing through Ecuador; a three day hike in the western flanks of the Andes to a dead volcano, its once body of fire now tempered by water, it’s rim sitting at a breathtaking 3,915m above sea level and the path to it (known as the Quilotoa Loop/Quilotoa Traverse) is one of the prettiest hikes I have ever done in my life.
We left our hostel in Latacunga to catch the 11am bus to Sigchos, a tiny little town high up in the Ecuadorean Andes, as with most things we do we had opted to hike the three day trail without a guide or tour. Luckily however, we met a lovely Australian girl called Ali on our bus, the three of us made our way to the mouth of the valley and began our little adventure into the mountains.
The directions we had been provided by our hostel proved to be a little sketchy, I’d estimate we made it around an hour and a half before we lost our way by the rushing water navigating its way through the bed of the hills. We eventually found our way through a barbed wire rimmed field back to the path, turn left at the two ‘houses’ actually meant turn left at the third set of two ‘houses’. As we crossed a small bridge the weather seemed on the turn, the dark clouds that had covered us all day began to groan, with a sheer climb up the side of a small mountain ahead we lucked out. The sky gave us a little refreshing drizzle every once in a while and we powered on through weed green patchwork fields, squeezing past cows and little boys playing with a wheelbarrow, arriving at our ‘hostel in the sky’ for the night, four hours after we had set off from Sigchos.
Our little group of three was now a multinational party of ten, all occupants of the hostel setting off down into another valley at just after 9am. The weather was glorious and the scenery on the second day was a sight to behold, half the group took a path right, us left. They had gone the correct way, although our route was much more fun. Even though we were heading for the peak on the other side of the green mountains, we found ourselves climbing higher and higher, skirting the side of the now white cliffs like a couple of mountain goats, the views from here, looking out over the many peaks and troughs of the Ecuadorean Andes were absolutely sensational. Back down again, following the river for half an hour or so, the sun beating down, at a small village where children played on a break from the school we turned right and up, sharply up. The most testing part of the hike, we climbed quickly, the mountains at our back quickly becoming the mountains at our feet. At the top a little old lady selling paintings saved our lives by also selling bottles of ice cold water.
The final part of the day following a new road even further up to the town of Chugchilan and our bed for the evening. A tough six hour hike under our belts, we drank beers and played cards listening to the heavy rain creeping in over the peaks.
The rain had not subsided through the night, half of us had decided against the final days steep climb to the volcano, instead opting for a pick up truck to drive us the hour to Quilotoa and in doing so checking off one of my smaller bucket list items. I rode in the back of that truck grinning like a child at christmas, bitterly cold winds beating at the three of us on the bed of the truck, the new road at one point disappeared, the victim of one of the almost daily landslides that occur up here. We arrived at Quilotoa early, before the crowds and before the sun had chance to warm the day. This marvellous 3km wide caldera can shine in all weathers, it’s now water filled body shone a strange greeny blue, the air was thin and cold, thus our visit was short and sweet. Before catching another pick up to the bus station for $1 each we drank hot chocolates at one of the small hostels by the crater. Our bus journey for $2.50 became another pick up ride back to Latacunga for just $3 each, cutting the time in half and arriving us back at our first hostel before 1pm.
There is no need to pay the extortionate amounts touted for guides or tours here, the maps given out for free at the hostels are great, if a little wrong, but that all adds to the adventure. It’s three days and 30km of absolute beauty, of conversations with strangers not marred by smartphone interruptions, set to a soundtrack of silence only broken by the songs of exotic birds and rushing water (unless you’re the two cretins we passed, walking the trail with a speaker attatched to their bag listening to some god awful RnB, I despair at some people I really do).
If you find yourself in Ecuador, take the bus a few hours south and hike this trail, you will not be disappointed.