Hiking through Andean hills

Hiking on the Quilotoa loop

Ecuador travelogue: Chapter 27 | Read other chaptersSee photo gallery

↑ Spectacular hiking route on the Quilotoa loop.

Trekking on scenic Andean trails

One can never get tired of seeing soaring snowcapped peaks at the horizon under deep blue sky with wisps of white clouds and noisy streams of water flowing through a lush green mountain valley next to the hiking trail. That pretty much summarises the scenic four to six hour trek between the villages Isinlivi and Chugchilan.

I meet three other random travellers in my hostel and we decide to hike together. Our strength in numbers would be required to shoo away barking dogs who are quite aggressive in this area. However, I’m sortof a self-taught expert in the matter of Ecuadorean dogs after successfully avoiding any confrontation with them in Baños, Latacunga and Otavalo. We have a lavish breakfast and assemble outside an open-air church on a hillock.

↑ Sheep and open air church.

The Quilotoa loop is a circular trail offering truly spectacular views of the Andes in central Ecuador, and it connects numerous indigenous villages on the way to the star attraction – the Quilotoa Lake. Travellers can do this entire stretch in a day of non-stop driving, or split it into a minimum of three days of hiking-trekking-driving itinerary which is what I did. The loop can be visited in clockwise or an anti-clockwise manner, stopping on the way in little indescript villages that dot the landscape. This region is not a tourism hotspot however one shouldn’t fantasize an off-the-beaten-path illusion either because there is no such thing.

The scenery is spectacular, especially on a clear day, with plenty of sunshine and a gentle breeze. Walking on an irregular path that hops through streams and meanders around grasslands, there are no buildings, roads or factories in sight. I see unspoilt natural beauty for as long as my eyes could look, and such a setting automatically calls for a joyful session of introspection and reflection. We walk, for hours at stretch enjoying the scenery, without talking. It was a great group to hang out with.

↑ Terrain.

Five hours later, we are on the outskirts of this village of Chugchilan which had few huts and buildings alongside a single dirt road that ran further south and up the next mountain. Some of us want to continue to Quilotoa, while others want to stay here and acclimatize. Ultimately, while having a beer in front of the village church drawing much curiosity from the locals, we arrive at a consensus to either leave if we could get a pickup truck for under $25 or stay in the village otherwise.

I volunteer to negotiate with the two pickup truck drivers. One of them is loading stuff in his van and I imagine he’d be more willing to take few extra passengers. Within ten minutes the price is negotiated from $40 to $24 (since that’s divisible by 4) and we jump into the back of the pickup truck. Unfortunately there are no buses at this time.

↑ Views of surrounding volcanoes from Quilotoa.

A wild thirty minute ride on bumpy and twisty dirt road ensues. The driver takes no efforts to avoid the potholes, neither did he brake on sharp curves. We land in Quilotoa with our bodies visibly shaken and dusty, minds charged up and thrilled. Ready for an intimate experience of hiking around the Quilotoa lake.