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Treeny Mountain Girl! At Quilotoa Crater Ecuador
The Ecuadorian Andes will astound you in their beauty; rolling landscapes in every shade of green, jagged gorges, and soaring volcanic peaks. Hiking on this rough terrain is no walk in the park, and at altitudes from 3500m to 5000m above sea level it will literally take your breath away. The Quilotoa Loop is a famous multi-day trek from Quilotoa to Sigchos; a 34km walk over high mountain passes and deep into canyons. This is the best way for getting a glimpse into Andean life in the countryside as you walk through remote mountain villages, passing traditional communities and isolated farmers. After our visit to the captivating town of Otavalo we were excited to be embarking on a three day hike into the wilderness to grasp this quiet, tranquil world beyond the bustling Ecuadorian towns, and to give our legs and lungs a real workout in preparation for climbing Cotopaxi.
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Quilotoa Crater. Start point for the three day hike along the Quilotoa Loop. 3840m above sea level.
We plonked ourselves in the busy town of Latacunga, a good base for arranging both the Quilotoa Loop and Cotopaxi Volcano Climbs. We stayed in the fantastic Hostel Tiana, where the staff are full of helpful information to assist you with organising treks. The hostel provides safe and secure lockers for storing big backpacks and valuables. It is a strenuous trek, and unless you want to make it harder for yourself we recommend taking only the bare minimum. There are cheap hostels along the route that provide comfy beds for your tired legs and delicious food to keep you going. We took one bag between the two of us and shared carrying it. Friends we made along the way, Heather and Brock, were troopers with their big packs and impressed us with their boundless enthusiasm. Though I’m not sure we would have enjoyed the walk so much with all of that extra weight. 

The Quilotoa Loop starts and ends in Latacunga. There are various routes around it, the most adventurous being by bus and pick-up truck to Quilotoa Crater, trekking to the mountain town of Sigchos, and back to Latacunga on the back of a truck. The loop can be completed in either direction, however, we suggest taking our route as the reverse is a much steeper walk and would require a lot more endurance, particularly when making the climb from Chugchilán to the top of Quilotoa Crater, a long and near vertical walk uphill for over six hours.
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Our ride from Zumbahua to Quilotoa
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Hiking along the crater
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View from the top of the crater
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Start of the crater hike
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A beautiful new viewpoint
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Still under construction
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It's a looooong way down. Thankfully it wasn't too windy!
Some 3840 metres above sea level Quilotoa Crater is the start point of the loop walk and is a gigantic caldera of the active Quilotoa Volcano. The crater is enormous; at 3km wide and 400m deep the size is staggering, and the mountainous walk around the edge on a narrow, often perilous, cliff path is the only way to grasp this gurgling monster. We began the loop by embarking on the four hour crater walk with our new walking buddy Rogier from the Netherlands, spotting Llamas and farmers hanging onto the sheer flanks of the volcano, amidst some of the most impressive scenery we have seen on our South American journey.
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About to start the climb up to the highest point of the crater
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View from the top!
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Locals farming the volcano flanks
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The steep sandy descent from the crater
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Walking into the first village Guayana
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Local houses
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Downtown Guayana
After running down the sandy face of the Volcano the path became a mixture of dirt roads, narrow trails, and barely there tracks, with no markings the entire route to lead the way to Sigchos. Hostel Tiana, back in Latacunga, provided us with a detailed list of instructions of the route to follow and a very rudimentary map. The trek became like a treasure hunt as we answered the often cryptic directions looking for an obscure tree, a log bridge, a white house, a church, a post, or even a field. With the three of us, which became five after Heather and Brock joined us, we did pretty well at putting our brains together to interpret the directions. We only went off course once, lucky for us with our sense of direction and logical thinking we landed back on the path in no time. It was much more fun this way, had there been markings to lead the way it would have been too easy. Now where is the adventure in that? A tip for anyone using the Hostel Tiana instructions: read the instructions for hiking in both directions along the loop, it worked wonders for us in finding extra clues along the path!
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The gorge separating us from Chugchilán
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The steep path we had to take down
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Not a bad view!
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Beginning our descent
There are numerous little villages scattered along the trail, each with a church, football pitch, and loads of little kids in their cute red and white school uniforms running to and from school. Most of the villages are accessible by road with some more isolated areas where groups of families live together and farm the nearby mountain slopes. There is no public transport so getting in means walking or hitching a ride, this helps to keep this place quiet and less touristy. We did not walk past any other backpackers the entire way, the only time meeting other hikers was in the evenings upon landing at the hostel where we were able to share stories and tips for completing the trail. 
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We made it to the bottom!
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The steady climb to Chugchilán
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Downtown Chugchilán
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Our bed for the night Cloud Hostel Chugchilán
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Vernacular homes on the hills
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Meeting a local on the road to the Cheese Factory
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A sheep grazing in the clouds
Having time on your hands makes this trip a lot more relaxed. We allocated four days to complete the trip but ended up finishing it in three days. This decision was based purely on the fact that we wanted to do the Cotopaxi Volcano climb before the weather turned. Most people we met were doing the trek in three days stopping overnight in Chugchilán and Isinliví. Many of the villages, specifically Chugchilán, are in very scenic locations with other activities to do. We were interested in visiting the Cloud Forest, but were advised by a local that the Cloud Forest is virtually non-existent and would be a disappointment. Taking this advice onboard we decided to skip it and instead took a detour on our second day on the path above Chugchilán to the Cheese Factory. This was a three hour detour, but well worth it. Much to our dismay the Cheese Factory was closed. Despite this, the road up to the ridge of the mountain on the way there provided some of the most stunning views of the entire walk. When we reached the top, huffing and puffing, we were above the clouds and it was simply spectacular looking out to the Atlantic plains on one side and the Toachi River valley and the Andes on the other.
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The very closed Cheese Factory
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Cemetery in the clouds
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Local kiddies on their way to school
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Church in a little town
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Locals herding cattle along the path
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Crossing the log bridge
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Walking to Isinliví
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View from hostel Cristobel Tatiana, Isinliví
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View over the Toachi River valley
Eventually we made it to Sigchos after one last uphill slog with fabulous views out to Illiniza Volcano. We were tired and exhausted. The distance of this hike may not be so far; it is the steep and frequent gradients, in addition to the altitude, that really takes it out of you. Everyone in Sigchos was at lunch when we arrived, we were famished so joined the locals at lunch. This town really doesn’t like the backpackers, we were greeted with evil stares and uncooked chicken “bits”. It is the first Ecuadorian town where we didn’t feel welcome. We can understand their resentment as most backpackers just use the town as a transit stop and are by this point are either too tired to communicate or too excited to get moving onto the trail. One enterprising local was definitely interested in us when he offered us a cheap ride all the way back to Latacunga in the back of his quite dubious looking truck. A much more exciting, albeit bumpy and uncomfortable, alternative to the decrepit looking bus which wasn’t due to arrive for an hour.
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View out to Illiniza Volcano
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The final hill to Sigchos. Slow and steady!
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We made it! Arriving in Sigchos with Heather, Rogier, Brock, Treeny and Iain
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Holding on tight back to Latacunga
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In Latacunga safe and sound after a very bumpy journey!
The Quilotoa loop was a highlight of our visit to Ecuador. It was made so special by the fantastic company of our new friends Rogier, Heather, Brock and their stalking dog, who joined us along the way, and the friendly and helpful locals who fed us advice and provided us warm comfortable beds for the nights. The walk was through some of the most serene landscapes we have seen, made so much more beautiful by the traditional townsfolk and the looming Volcanoes hovering above us. It was one of the most strenuous treks we have done, the perfect preparation for acclimatising us for the big one, the hardest climb of our lives which was next to come.

Next stop we climb the second highest active volcano in the world COTOPAXI…

Click here to see our Quilotoa Loop photos.
 





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