So the Quilatoa Loop is basically a cluster of indigenous towns that you travel between via hikes, buses or local trucks, with super scenic views. You can complete the loop in a ton of different ways, visiting whichever pueblos you like, but the key attraction is a stunning volcanic crater lake in the village of Quilatoa.
Keen for some good views after our damp, slightly lacklustre time in Banos, we dived in headfirst and got the bus to the crater lake on Day 1. The bus in itself was pretty fun, taking us from the little colonial town of Latacunga, through windy pretty hillsides, slowly filling up and emptying with local indigenous folks in their traditional garbs, and some seriously cute kids in school uniforms. We watched as they excitedly boarded and disembarked the bus en route home.
After a couple of hours we arrived in Quilatoa – a strange little town with nothing much going on except a ton of hostels/lodgings, one restaurant, and a few shops. It seemed like the town pretty much subsists on tourism, and there wasn’t much in terms of indigenous vibes going on, save a few donkeys and mules hanging around. The hostels there (and on much of the loop) offer a package of room, dinner and breakfast which made it feel pretty spenny, but with few other options, we bit the bullet and found a nice lodge with a wood burning stove in our room (which came in handy during the FREEZING nighttime!)
After finding the hostel, we excitedly ran up the hill to take a look at the crater lake, and it was BEAUTIFUL. The bright turquoise water glimmering in the sun transfixed us, and we spent a few hours sitting on the edge of the crater just staring at the dramatic sight. You can walk around the crater in about 6 hours, but given half of it was on our Day 2 itinerary, we just chilled instead, and saved our energy for our biggest hiking day….
Day 2 offered some truly spectacular scenery, as we walked from Quilatoa to our next village Chugchillan. We were blessed with bright blue sunny skies (a relief after chilly Cuenca and rainy Banos!) which made everything look that bit sharper. We strolled around the crater lake, stopping for MANY photo ops, then followed a path behind the crater, through rocks and sandy hills, pausing frequently to photograph the endless colourful patchwork fields and farms and villages. The views were so good we often sat down for a few minutes just to drink it all in.
We clambered down steep woodland, past bulls and sheep, through little hamlets and farms with pigs and llamas grazing, and locals wishing us well on our travels and waving us hello. After a good 4 hours hiking, we stopped for lunch above a canyon, chilling next to some hens and chickens. Then, the trickiest part of the whole walk, the canyon itself…
There’s a couple of things I find challenging about hiking: 1) really steep, relentless uphill climbs and 2) slippery steep downhills, and this canyon had both in good measure. For the first hour, we slipped and slid our way down narrow sandy switchbacks, looking on in fear at all the handrails that had been grabbed so hard they came out of the ground. After trying to be handy with our footwork for a while, we eventually gave in and just started running down the slope instead, which was kind of liberating!
Then the even trickier part, climbing back out of the canyon, which involved crossing a river on a thin branch, then scaling an impossibly steep stretch of dusty woodland, which we achieved by basically ‘frogging’, or sticking ourselves to the ground as close as possible! And grabbing all the branches we could find.
After a few more hours walking up steep roads, we finally reached Chugchillan, tired but victorious, and found our fave hostel on the loop, the Cloud Forest. It was the little touches we loved about the Cloud Forest, from the little porch outside our room, to the super comfy bedding, piping hot showers, and the fact that dinner came with CAKE at the end! A dream for a starving hungry hiker.
Town itself was tiny and cute, and there’s even a Cheese Factory there (though we didn’t visit as it involved hours more walking!)
Feeling pretty knackered on Day 3, we took the lazy (and fun!) option to complete our Loop, which involved jumping on the back of a milk truck and zooming around the stunning verdant green hills, standing and holding on for dear life as we bumped our way over the dirt roads and swerved through the hairpin bends. We also got SUPER dusty. It was cool travelling as the locals do, and we met a couple of people on their way to work who also boarded the milk truck, one of whom was carrying a big gas cylinder that rolled around on the floor menacingly.
We ended our loop in Sigchos where we spent a couple of hours hanging around the town square, and walking into the surrounding countryside for some breathtaking miradors whilst we waited for our bus back to Latacunga.
After a night in Latacunga to pick up our big bags, we decided to mix it up with some city living, and hopped on a bus to Ecuadorian capital, Quito…