The Quilotoa Loop – part 1

19 Dec

Map of the Quilotoa Loop

Keen hikers and travelers who want a detour off the gringo trail in Ecuador are doing the Quilotoa Loop; moving along the paths that join the small towns that are dotted around the crater lake Quilotoa.

Traveling the Loop is a little bit of an adventure as bus services operating between pueblos are limited, and run at ridiculous hours (ie the bus from Chugchilan to Latacunga departs at 3am…). Certainly the Loop is more exciting if you take some time to walk between pueblos and hitch-hike at least one leg of the journey. If you aren’t a fan of walking or catching a ride on the milk-truck, the Quilotoa Loop probably isn’t for you.

Most guide books are still short on the details that backpackers need to do the Loop. The best source of up-to-date information on transport and accommodation on the Loop are hostels, specifically Hostel Tiana in Latacunga and the Black Sheep Inn and Chugchian.

Hostel Tiana will provide photocopied maps and detailed directions to guests. The Black Sheep Inn has a great website with printable maps and good information about transport around the Loop. I also found reading other travel blogs useful which is part of the reason I am writing this blog entry. The Loop is beautiful, exciting, and not too difficult a feat. It is truly one of the best experiences that Ecuador has to offer visitors.

Day 1: Folk art and and a dairy farm at Tigua

Our adventure started on a warm sunny Tuesday morning in Latacunga, a small city south of Quito (about two hours by bus). In Latacunga we walked from our little hotel in the centre of town to the regional bus station. If you are trying to find this bus terminal you need to cross the bridge that you most likely used to enter town, cross the busy Pan American highway, and walk 100 metres to your left. The terminal is next to the new yellow supermarket which is also a good place to stock up on snacks for the trip. There are plenty of buses that can drop you off at Zumbuhua from where you can walk or hitchhike to El Quilotoa, a small pueblo that sits right above the crater lake. We paid $2.00 each to catch a bus that was headed to Quevedo with plans to jump off in Tigua.

After leaving Latacunga we were quickly driving along a dirt road that wound up into the Andes. Sitting on the left side of the bus we had clear views of Volcano Tungurahua, which can easily be identified by the giant plumes of ash it continues to spew into the sky. Soon we were surrounded by green hills and farm land on both sides of the bus. Our friend Lisa shared her seat with a little old man who kept falling asleep on her shoulder. She complained to us later that he smelt bad and had no respect for her personal space which Alex and I found amusing. Then again, we weren’t the ones with a slightly smelly old man leaning on us.

The manager at Hostel Tiana suggested that if we could afford to take our time traveling the Quilotoa Loop, we should spend our first night at the Posada del Tigua located in, you guessed it, Tigua. We thought we would at least check it out and asked our bus driver to let us off at Tigua. He happily obliged. Two hours after leaving Latacunga our bus pulled over in the middle of a hilly paddock and the ayudante told us that we had arrived in Tigua. A little sign pointed us in the direction of the Posada that sat about 1km off the main road.

Yep, in the middle of nowhere

Margarita who owns and managers the Posada de Tigua alongside her husband Marco warmly welcomed us into her home. She served us coffee which we drank while deciding whether we should stay in Tigua for a night or try to get to El Quilotoa before dark. At $20 per person, a stay at the Posada was a bit pricey for our backpacker budget, but we decided to treat ourselves and spend the night. As this rate includes dinner and breakfast it worked out being very good value.

Throughout Ecuador Tigua is known for its artists. Three or four folk-art galleries sit high on the hill above the Posada. We spent a good hour climbing up through paddocks to pay the galleries a visit. Up hill climbs are hard at high altitude (and I am probably not as fit as I should be), though we enjoyed the exercise.

As Alex and I are in the last phase of our holiday, we have started to buy presents and souvenirs. We bought a great painting of a noche buena fiesta that we’ll hang proudly on a wall in whatever house in whatever city we finally settle into. In addition to really liking this particular piece of art, we were also seduced into a purchase by the fact that we could watch the artist paint and have a chat with him. He was very happy to explain the scenes in his paintings which are inspired by everyday life in this part of the Andes as well as by the artist’s dreams.

Because I grew up in the suburbs of a big city, I was as impressed by the Posada de Tigua’s animals as I was by the art Tigua has to offer. The Posada is located on a working dairy farm and is home to seventy-eight cows that are milked twice daily. I was interested to watch the late afternoon milking, as the only other time I had observed a cow being milked was at school a visit to a kiddy zoo when I was about ten years old.

The Posada is also home to a family of alpacas and we had the chance to ride and hug a friendly alpaca called Paco!

Riding Paco

Alex & Paco

Llama love

Dinner at the Posada was great, but breakfast the next day was even better, featuring fresh home-made yoghurt, cheese, milk and dulce de leche (yummy caramel stuff). Another couple staying at the Posada were from Belgium. I think they were the first Belgians I have met on the road. The man was a computer programmer and the woman was a public servant. When I told them that they were like the Belgian version of Alex and I, they told us that they were brother and sister… Still.

Day 2: to El Quilotoa

After a warm shower and breakfast at the Posada, Alex, Lisa and I trudged up the path from the posada to the main road we were to wait for a bus to Zumbahua, from where we planned to take another bus to El Quilotoa. We were told the buses come by hourly. After about 10 minutes of waiting a ute came along and we asked for a lift to Zumbahua, and were welcomed on board the tray by the couple already riding in the back.

After we shared water and cookies the inevitable conversation about the relative cost of assorted stuff in Ecuador and Australia commenced. When an Ecuadorian passenger asked how much money I paid for my pants were I told him “$10.00” because I didn’t want to draw unnecessary attention to the obvious gap in our means. The guy responded proudly that his pants cost $25.00. I commented that they were probably of much better quality than my inferior pants.

Then the guy showed me his charming gold teeth and asked me how much gold teeth cost in my country? I know that gold is expensive, as are visits to the dentist, but I honestly have no idea how much gold teeth cost. So I shared that going to the dentist is always expensive in my country but that we usually have other metals or plastics in our mouths instead of gold. He was astounded. Really?
Yes Really! The guy then told me that his own gold teeth were worth $400 USD a pop. Well I was surprised that the campesino could afford such a luxury. Shows how much I know about the Ecuadorian economy.

We arrived close to El Quilotoa after 40 minutes riding in the ute. It was chilly riding in the tray so I was happy to walk for a while. We followed a young couple for the final 4km walk into town. We arrived at small settlement of El Quilotoa just before a heavy rainfall that would last all night started pouring down. We checked in to the Cabanas El Quilotoa. This was a much more basic set-up then the Posada de Tigua and cost us $10.00 a night for a very basic room with a fireplace, dinner, breakfast, tea and coffee. It was very cosy inside the Cabanas but rather boring. To minimise weight I opted not to carry a book which proved a big mistake. The only thing to read at the Cabanas was a copy of a Jehova’s Witness book in Spanish, and an old Ecuadorian school almanac that was mostly full of pictures. We entertained ourselves by playing an improvised game – How many X can you list in 1 minute. Topics included African countries, capital cities, Latin American heads of govt, etc. I told you we were bored.

The Cabanas were also home to the Christmas tree from hell. The family who ran the place plugged in the tree at about 5pm, so until 9pm when we retired to our room it flashed coloured lights and belted out loud, off-key parts of well known Christmas carols. Horrible!

Dinner at the Cabanas was filling and tasty consisting of a potato and maize soup, and a plate of rice, vegies and a little beef stew. The family here made an effort to provide us with a breakfast that was to our taste; fruit, granola and yoghurt, served alongside bread and jam. I recommend staying here if you plan to spend a night by the crater lake.

2 Responses to “The Quilotoa Loop – part 1”

  1. william Hodgettopoulos December 19, 2010 at 8:01 am #

    The maps were extremely hard to read as the writing is very small and I am very old. The goats in your pictures look very friendly. Just wondering what you had for breakfast at the Posoda?
    Regards WH of banksmeadow Wales

  2. lisaunterwegs February 8, 2011 at 11:05 pm #

    Christmas tree from hell.. LMAO 🙂
    All the best to you!

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