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Steve and Emma's Travel Tales

Looping the Loop in Quilotoa

ECUADOR | Tuesday, 23 October 2012 | Views [838]

We really didn’t fancy another night in Guayaquil so we walked from the airport to the bus terminal and hopped straight on a bus bound for Quevedo.  This town has gone from a brief mention in our Lonely Planet to not even being marked on the map in the latest publication!  From the little we saw it’s not a place worth writing about and I’m only typing this so there isn’t a day missing in my journal!  Other than not wanting to stay in Guayaquil again the couple of hours to Quevedo meant we were closer to the mountains where we were headed for some more trekking.

So what can I tell you?  Well; we checked into the only hotel we could find in the area the bus had dumped us.  Relax Hotel was spotlessly clean with the only furniture consisting of a bed but we did have private bathroom and cable TV.  I have to say it was over-priced at $25 but she knew she was the only option around.  In order to get some sort of value for money we didn’t check out until Steve had watched a 10-man City beat West Brom away.  Other than that; all I can tell you is Quevedo is where many Chinese immigrants chose to settle and we did enjoy a couple of tasty rice dishes in a Chifa restaurant.  That’s it so let’s get another bus and move on.

We were headed towards the central highlands in order to take in the Quilotoa Loop which is completed with a mixture of local buses and walking.  Initially we thought we’d get down in Zumbahua but that would have meant going up and down the same area of the hills.  Instead we caught a bus that took us all the way to Latacunga.  At first the going was slow even though we were only at a paltry 150m and travelling through Ecuador’s rice bowl.  Reason?  There are many more people living in this area and so the bus was stopping every 20 yards or so to allow passengers to boards or alight.  As soon as we turned off the lowland road the stops became infrequent but the bus was now crawling its way up the hills.

The day began murky and overcast but a couple of hours later the skies cleared to reveal villages basking in sunshine.  We used the Cotapaxi bus company and previous time vs ticket price led us to believe this journey would be less than 4 hours.  The ticket to Latacunga cost $3.75 and we were using our dollar an hour scale.  In reality we only made it as far as Zumbahua in that time and were briefly tempted to resort to Plan A.  The journey up to this town at 3800m and situated on the western side of the Quilotoa Loop was another very picturesque one.  Again we passed indigenous peoples tending their livestock and crops on seemingly impossibly steep slopes.

In the end it took us 6 hours to reach Latacunga at 2800m and quite a large town with an attractive old centre.  We checked into the 1970’s inspired Hotel Cotapaxi which at $20 is much better value than last night.  We’ve got the same speck as last night but with the furniture inventory extending beyond something to sleep on and best of all we over-look the very attractive main square.  Although it was Saturday night the place was very quiet but we enjoyed watching the limited comings and goings from our room.  We spent some time reflecting on our Galapagos experience but agreed that we had to put that luxury behind us, lower our expectations and get back to sticking to the travel budget.

We caught the 9.30am bus that took us to Sigchos (2800m) 60km away and with the new improved roads the trip only took us a couple of hours.  The tickets only cost $1.80 so we were back on track with our price/time ratio!  We had a cursory glance at Sigchos’ market, filled ourselves up with menu of the day at a cheap local’s café and set off towards Chugchilan.  With exiting and re-entering the mountainous area in order to take in our little side trip to the Galapagos we’ve not done any exercise in a fortnight.  So it’s always a good idea to get the legs and lungs going again with a 23km Sunday stroll!

The going underfoot was easy as we followed the road that winds its way along the hillsides and undulates its way up to Chugchilan at 3200m.  With having been at sea level for a while we noticed the difference but soon got into our stride.  Mind you I have to confess that we knew we’d done a long walk by the time we found somewhere to stay that evening.  Luckily the weather stayed warm and sunny so we had excellent views into the valleys and the canyon that dominates this area.  It took us 4 ½ hours to reach our destination where we checked into Cloud Forest Hostel.  The rooms were as basic as we’d expected but clean with an unexpected private bathroom.  At $12 a head including hot water, heated pipe running up the room, dinner and breakfast it was a great deal.  Plus the staff provided us with a map and details of the walk we would need for the following day.

Day 2

The included breakfast was very good and promptly served so by 8.30am we were ready for Day 2 of the loop.  There is actually a choice of routes from Chugchilan to Quilotoa with the easiest but longest option being on the road.  We’d done a road route the previous day and even though traffic is scarce in these parts we fancied a change.  An alternative would have been to take the road about half way to Guayama and then proceed to the crater rim via the track.  We went for the no road, track only option which initially involved descending 400m from Chugchilan into the bottom of the canyon.  Not surprisingly the next stage was to re-ascend those 400m on the opposite side of the river.  The track then went through the village of Guayama and up a further 600m to the crater rim.  Basically we went from the canyon rim, to canyon floor, back up to the canyon rim and then up to the crater rim.

This section was relatively easy going and took less than 2 hours.  Once we reached the crater rim mirador we were faced with another choice; turn right and walk only a short section of the rim to Quilotoa or turn left and traverse most of the rim path ending in the same village.  With plenty of time and good weather on our side you know which option we took – yep the longer, more challenging one.  Our information said it would take 2 hours but we soon realised that this was a gross underestimation.  The ridge route undulates quite substantially with steep scrambles in places.  It turned out to be much more of a workout than we’d expected and it took us 3 ½ hours to reach Quilotoa.  I’m sure it could be done in less time if you’re fitter than us and used to carrying all your gear.  Doing unguided treks are great on the wallet but we’d forgotten how much we hate carrying heavy-ish packs.

As we approached the village it seemed that the entire population were gathered together and on hindsight it was probably 95%.  The whole community is working together to improve and beautify Quilotoa.  They’ve already finished the square and the guesthouses were being built to a higher than basic standard.  In fact there was great excitement while we were pottering about as a JCB had arrived to help them knock down an existing hostel.  We had a look at Alpaca Hostel which is definitely in the new, improved bracket but not quite finished so seemed a bit steep at $50.  We never expect or go for luxury while we’re trekking so checked into Hostel Chosite instead which was basic but perfectly fine at $20 including dinner and breakfast.

Day 3

We’d had some mad-capped plan to walk down to the crater lake shore before breakfast but soon scuppered that idea.  Carrying heavier than normal packs and being unused to trekking has taken its toll on our old legs.  The day had dawned bright and clear and we could see Mount Cotapaxi in the distance.  Although the hostel had been a steal it didn’t inspire us to stay another night and do some short walks in the area.  So following breakfast we set off on the 12km walk down the road to Zumbahua.  This stretch was easy going on a tarmac road but once again the traffic was incredibly light. 

The views of the hills were lovely and all the locals warmly greeted us which is more than can be said for some of their dogs.  A few of them were a bit over-zealous in their protection of their master’s land and ran at us barking and snarling.  A quick wave of the trek-poles in their direction soon had them cowering back towards home.  Other than that it was a very pleasant end to a most enjoyable 3-day self-guided trek where you can get to the start and the end using public transport.

As per usual with treks the end section was uphill because we had to get to the top end of Zumbahua in order to flag down a Latacunga or Quito bound bus.  As luck would have it the former arrived first so once back in town we knew we’d be dropped at the terminal.  A short taxi ride over the river and into the old town saw us re-ensconced in Hotel Cotapaxi where we closed the Quilotoa Loop.


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