↑ Most roads between nondescript villages on the Quilotoa loop look like this.
Quilotoa loop is a circular route that explores remote villages, mountains and river canyons to the west of Latacunga, with Lake Quilota being the highlight. Starting from the small town of Latacunga, two hours south of Quito, I headed north-west to a village called Isinlivi on the first day. On the second day, along with some random travellers, I hiked from Isinlivi to Chugchilan and continued onwards to Quilotoa lake. After trekking around it on the third day, in what was one of the most beautiful treks I ever did, we returned back to Latacunga at the back of a pickup truck.
There are several other routes to hike in the area depending on how much time you have. Some folks do it in a clockwise manner, starting from the highest elevation, while others (like me) do it the other way. There are a number of indigenous markets on specific days, so people spend several days frolicking in the area. All this is possible thanks to comfortable hostels or basic accommodation available in the villages on the route.
Note: While my stay (minus food) was provided by the hostels below, I was completely free to write about my experiences (good or bad) which I have done below. I would never write about something that I didn’t believe in.
Hostel Llullu Llama
↑ Hostel Llullu Llama
Pronounced Yuyu Yama, this hostel was originally a farmhouse at the edge of the tiny Isinlivi village. Volunteer travellers run this place and when I visited in September, it was being managed by a jolly Belgian couple. The hostel has maps and directions for hiking to nearby hills, lookout points or waterfalls. Three other independent backpackers happened to arrive there at the same time as I did, so the four of us decided to checkout nearby trails. It was one of those experiences where the size of mountains around you, the vastness of space and clear visibility till infinity makes you feel trivial and unimportant in the grand scheme of nature.
Back in the hostel, we relaxed with some beer and swapped travel stories. The common area is very cosy, with wood furnace and comfortable sofas. The hostel is operated in an sustainable manner – waste is recycled, food is locally grown and the owner encourages local economy. All in all, a good karma place.
↑ Soup with spinach-like leafy greens, homemade bread and main with vegetable salad and pork stew with beans and broccoli.
I am salivating as I write this, recalling the perfectly complementing savoury flavours of the main course and the dessert that followed. Breakfast in the morning was epic – fresh juice, coffee/tea, cereal, fruits, granola, yoghurt/milk, toast and eggs. After letting out a satisfied burp, I said bye bye to the volunteers who were running the place. I sure would have loved to stay longer in this idyllic village, spoilt by the lavish meals, but alas I had a schedule to stick to.
Link: Hostal Llullu Llama
↑ Hiking from Isinlivi to Chugchilan along a canyon formed by river Toachi
Our next activity was hiking to Chugchilan, a village about four-to-six hours away, depending who you are talking to. From Chugchilan, one can hike to Quilotoa (next day), but in the interest of time, the four of us decided to share a pickup truck to Quilotoa instead. It was a good decision.
↑ The reward: Laguna Quilotoa
Lake Quilotoa, formed inside a collapsed volcanic crater 3km wide, is filled with emerald blue water. It’s wonderfully bizarre to see a sight like this, and we spent an hour sitting in silence and staring at it’s peaceful water. The next day we trekked along the circumference of the crater in what I would say is one of the most beautiful journeys I ever did. Six hours later, we were back, physically exhausted but mentally rejuvenated. It was time to end this escape and return back to the noises and crowds of Latacunga.
I spent one night in Latacunga in Hostal Tiana, the only real backpacker place in this small town. Being fiesta de mama negra (about which I will write in few days), Latacunga was brimming with tourists and this hostel, located in the historic centre of Latacunga, was conveniently in the middle of the heat. The hostel’s website provides a wealth of information, especially the interactive map of Quilotoa loop
↑ Common area of the hostel. Plenty of room to chitchat with other travellers, use public computers or laptops with wifi and have endless cups of tea or coffee.
Facilities in the hostel are pretty standard and comparable to budget backpacker places. Simple breakfast is served in the morning but there is tea/coffee all day. Although I stayed here only for one night, I used Latacunga as a base to explore the nearby areas like trekking in Quilotoa loop and hiking in Baños. The staff was always friendly and let me use their storage lockers.
Katerin manages both Llullu Llama and Hostal/Cafe Tiana and she is a delightful and knowledgeable lady to chat with.
So that was my Quilotoa loop in a nutshell. Have you been here? What was your experience like?