One of the places we had heard about from several people both before and during our trip is Quilotoa in the Andean highlands of Ecuador. Fortunately this was on the way south towards the Peruvian border from Quito, so it was an easy stopover to make!
Quilotoa is an active volcano (though it hasn’t had an eruption for more than 200 years) 3800 metres above sea level. In its crater it holds an emerald green lake that together with its surroundings is said to take your breath away. The area around also has some of the most beautiful hiking trails in Ecuador, and yes, it did deliver!
Just the bus journey was an adventure as the mighty Andean mountains surround you and you sit in awe of how the Ecuadorians manage to live here. The hills are lined with acres in 50 shades of green and the highest tops are surrounded in a skirt of clouds..
We did a day trek from the Quilotoa village to Chugchilan, which took us alongside the crater rim for an hour, down from the volcano and through small farms and a more or less forsaken village, and finally down a steep valley and up again 600 sweaty and hard metres. We started at 3800 metres and finished at 3200 metres, with 2600 as the lowest point, the whole trip took about 5 hours including many breaks. The high altitude makes even crouching down to take a photo and getting back up an exercise, and with a landscape like this we took a lot of photos!
Travel tips to Quilotoa
To get to the Quilotoa area you first have to take a bus to Latacunga and then a bus to one of the smaller villages from there. We used Chugchilan, north of Quilotoa, as a base and took our day-trip from there, but more hardcore hikers might want to leave some of their luggage in Latacunga and hike/bus from village to village around the Quilotoa loop. Either way it’s definitely worth a visit as you will see landscape like nowhere else. We almost felt like Frodo and Sam in Lord of The Rings as we gazed upon the huge volcano far away and the hike we had done :)
Chugchilan is a very small village with three hostels/hotels. We stayed at Hostal Cloud Forest which is the cheapest option of three. Private room was $12 per person including basic breakfast and dinner. There really isn’t much to do in the village, but there are many other day-trip options in the area.
To leave Chugchilan the only public bus is at 4 or 5 am. For those who like to sleep at night it’s easy to arrange private transportation to one of the larger villages with more frequent buses, we chose Zumbahua.
More photos from Quilotoa and the rest of our travels in Ecuador can be found here.