Ecuador: Hiking The Quilotoa Loop...Well Some Of It
One of the main things we wanted to see on our visit to Ecuador, was the Quilotoa loop. The loop is a multi-day hike that leads to the Quilotoa Crater, a massive lake in a dormant volcano. The plan was to hike from town to town until we ended up at the beautiful views of Quilotoa. It didn't quite go the way we planned. Keep reading to find out what happened and learn from our mistakes.
We flew into Quito from Panama, and the next day we took a cab from there to Latacunga. The cab ride was fun. Our driver was great, and he stopped several times for us to take pictures and point out spots of interest. He charged us 45 dollars for 4 people and the whole ride took about an hour. The journey ended right in front of our hostel, the Hostel Tiana.
Hostel Tiana is the first stop for most people traveling on the loop. The stay was pleasant enough. It was clean, but nothing special. Latacunga itself was a disappointment. Not very much to see or do there. Plan to arrive late and leave early so as not to waste time in Latacunga. We stored our carry-on bags at the hostel and headed out for our first hiking spot, Sigchos.
The bus ride there was an experience. When riding around Ecuador, it feels like there are no traffic laws and yet somehow no one crashes into each other. It's pretty bad. But before we even got on the bus, we had to buy tickets. The only thing that really annoyed me in Ecuador were the bus stations. Everyone there was grabbing us and trying to direct us to their stall, while we were trying to figure out what connecting bus we had to get on. It was confusing for sure. Once we boarded, the ride itself is bumpy and curvy. It lasts about 2 hours, and we stopped a few times for cows in the road. Yes...cows in the road. It was interesting for sure. Consider taking some Dramamine if you get motion sickness because it's a curvey ride.
The hike really starts off in Sigchos. After a quick lunch that only cost two dollars per person, we hit the trail. We hooked up with two other hikers who spoke way better Spanish than we did and we tried to find the start of the path. The signs and markers for the trails are hard to find, but the locals helped us out a bunch.
The early parts of the hike were great. We had fun being off the beaten path, and the countryside of Ecuador provided some fantastic vistas. The trail is hard to stay on though, and we did get lost of a couple of times. We're also pretty sure we took the most strenuous path to our hostel. The last two miles were almost straight up and brutal.
It was a terrible idea for us to jump right into this hike. We live at sea level in Louisiana. Sigchos starts at around 10,000 feet and only goes up from there. Altitude sickness hit me hard. After our first day of hiking, I had shakes, nausea, and a killer headache. My skin crawled, and even a short walk around our hostel was tough. Of course, Charise was absolutely fine. Me being sick caused us to stay one day longer at Llullu Llama then we planned and affected the rest of the hike because it took several days to get over it. Altitude sickness is no joke. Take more time to acclimate than we did and take it slow in the beginning.
The only positive part of being sick was that we extended our stay at Llullu Llama. This place was the best. The location couldn't have been better. The view from our cabana was awesome, and it felt like we had the entire place to ourselves. Our favorite part of our stay though was the food. They provided breakfast and dinner every day. It was all fresh and homemade. Plus it was served family style, so we met a lot of interesting travelers from all over the world. We hated to leave, and it would have been great to spend a few more days at Llullu Llama.
If you were going to hike the whole way, you would leave Llullu Llama and walk to Chugchilan and spend the night there. Then finish up by hiking to Quilotoa. I was too sick for that. So we got a truck to drive us to Quilotoa. From Llullu Llama to the crater, was about an hour and a half ride. It’s scenic and beautiful just like everything else in Ecuador. Our driver spoke very little English, but he stopped us at great outlooks all the way.
When you arrive in Quilotoa, it’s just a few hundred yards uphill to reach the crater. It’s a fantastic view. From the top, you can hike down right to the edge of the water. There are kayaks that you can rent and donkeys that can help with the ascent. As sick as I was we couldn’t make the hike down. This was pretty disappointing as we know the views would have been so much better than from the top. But I could barely breathe, and even the short walk to the top had brought back my headache. It’s was sad and anticlimactic, but the view from the top was still great.
The Ride Back
We hopped on the bus to head back to Latacunga from Quilotoa. The bus drivers weren’t in any hurry to get going, and with all the stops, the ride was at least 2 hrs. At Hostel Tiana we found our bags safe and sound. We didn’t waste any time continuing on our journey to Baños.
Our trip to Quilotoa wasn't anything like we planned. We hoped to hike the whole way and enjoy trekking through all of the small Ecuadorian towns. Altitude sickness got the best of me though. When planning your trip spend a few days getting used to the altitude before you start hiking. It’s nothing to play with and can stay with you for several days. What about you? Have you ever visited Ecuador? What about altitude sickness? Have you ever had to deal with it? Answer below in the comments.