In addition to the great enjoyment of seeing Quilotoa itself (one of the images of Ecuador I had stored in my head and which had inspired my wish to visit), I also loved the journey to and from the crater, despite sometimes poor weather and lengthy delays in the road-works. In fact, perhaps those two factors added to the pleasure of the journey. The weather created some dramatic lighting effects and brought out the soft greens of the landscape, and the road-works gave us two good opportunities to stretch our legs and take photos of the scenery.
One thing that amazed and impressed me was just how much of this highland environment was under cultivation. The local people have farmed these lands for centuries of course, and are experienced at getting the best out of them, using traditional terracing and irrigation techniques. Crops grown here include potatoes, maize, beans and other vegetables.
We also stopped at one point near a house built in the typical indigenous style (see photo four) of wood, wattle and daub, with a steep over-hanging straw roof to protect it from the often harsh weather conditions at this altitude (we were around 3,800 metres at this point).
if you love mountain scenery you will love this landscape, whether you simply drive through it in a single day, which was all we had time for, or stay a while and do some walking on the famed Quilotoa Loop.
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Fondest memory: It was not as direct as we would have liked and though there were likely local shortcuts we didn’t like being led off the main path in an area we were completely unfamiliar with. The trail descended sharply now and with our packs and no walking sticks it was a knee bracing affair. About three quarters of the way down the trail he asked us for his fee and we explained in vain that we had never agreed to pay him anything. But we were now a bit at his mercy unless we wanted to backtrack up the steep path we’d just come down on. He wanted $2 per person but I said all we would pay was $2 for all four of us. He sheepishly agreed and continued on. It was a much longer hike than we had anticipated but we made it in time for our comrades to catch their bus. While waiting, we had a beer at a local shop and our “guide” hung around like he was now in our group. Perhaps he expected a beer for his “services,” but we made it apparent that his behavior was not to be rewarded. If he had just been honest from the beginning we might have considered a beer as a tip. Or if he had just taken us there as a friendly gesture like he had made it sound we would have considered him a new amigo and gladly bought him a beer, maybe even a meal. But as it was, he’d already had his cake, I wasn’t about to let him eat it too.
Favorite thing: Approaching the lake is a cool experience since it stays hidden from view until you're practically on top of it. You're likely to park in a parking lot a few minutes walk from the upper edges of the cliffs above Quilotoa. However, there is a crevice in the rocks that you must pass through that keeps the lake hidden from view. After squeezing through the rock here, you'll have a full view of the bizarrely colored water of this magnificent lake.
Favorite thing: 8 years ago my brother and I took a local bus to Zumbahau. Couple small hotels but nice. We then took a cab and he went as far as he could up the mountain. We then had a 2 hour hike and spent 4 hours at crater. The last remote house on the way up a small boy came out selling paintings. Basically 8"by 12". We bought one they are pretty neat. Cost us 7 dollars. But he then when up the mountain with us and showed us the sights and it was worth it!!
Fondest memory: We were halfway around the Quilotoa Loop and had met three other travelers en route when we jumped into a pick up truck and found them sitting there. With few options on places to stay we all wound up at the same hostel. We all investigated on our own but of by late afternoon we found ourselves all huddled in the dining area trying to warm up at 4000 meters. Our room was stone cold and after an icy shower we had failed to get back to 98.6 F lying in our damp cold bed. Things were looking less than rosy and we questioned our sanity on staying overnight at Quilotoa rather than doing it as a day trip on our way to Chugchilán as most travels do. But it was fun sitting around the table with a contingent of people from Germany, the UK, Italy, Spain, and America. It was a mish mash of languages with the common denominator of laughter. I noticed out the window some glowing rays of the setting sun and suggested going back up to the crater lip to have another look since it had been cloudy the whole day since arriving. We raced up the hill only to peter out after five minutes. I guess no one was truly acclimatized but we made it just the same, just a little more slowly. By the time we got up there only a small portion of the caldera was still glowing but it was spectacular just the same and in the distance the setting sun was even more so. We walked back to have our dinner and enjoyed a good night talking about things travelers do but perhaps the biggest plus of the whole escapade was were all had warmed up, running up that hill.
Fondest memory: Getting candid photos entails being sneaky and being sneaky is greatly facilitated with a good zoom lens. Though I purchased my latest one mostly for wildlife photography I knew it would come in handy in South America for getting photos of its colorful but guarded indigenous population. Sure, you can ask to take a shot but those aren’t candid, are they? And perhaps the worst aspect of that is when the subjects realize the value to their poses and start to charge money. So, I tend to position myself far away from the action and just snap away. From the vantage point of a balcony overlooking a local market one can get some amazing shots. You also notice things you might not otherwise such as the simple act as the purchase of a hat for a young girl by her mother and I’ll assume grandmother. The vendor was right below where I was sitting and only a very cute photogenic little girl drew my attention to the transaction. They tried on numerous hats and haggled over the price endlessly. They returned repeatedly and reenacted the whole scene. Oddly enough they were oblivious to me except for the little girl who noticed me or more than likely my camera pointed her way. She looked up and her expression summed up everything. The eyes of a child can be wondrous things. In no others can such innocence be displayed. In no others can fear be so absent. They never did agree on a price so she didn’t get a new hat that day, but my heart, that was hers.
Fondest memory: When I first read about the Quilotoa Loop I wanted to walk the entire thing, but as I read about the trails it seemed that much of it was not very well marked and what was marked was more or less a dirt track, not a true hiking path. So, reluctantly, I succumbed to doing most of it via local transport and that proved to be a bit of a challenge in itself and a fair amount of fun. One portion of the trail I refused to miss was the section between Quilotoa and Chugchilán. It sounded like if we got on the right trail leading down from the caldera we were home free. A young couple we met at the hostel the night before our departure was eager to try it too. They were flying home that evening, both to their individual countries after having worked together and obviously falling in love while doing volunteer work in Quito. This was their farewell to Ecuador and they wanted to do something special so we happily took them with us on the hike. We got an early start as they were pressed for time and we were carrying a lot more gear than they were. It was very cold and windy but we found the trail into the next valley easily enough and the descent was not as bad as we had expected. Once there we found an old church and were looking for the next portion of the trail when a local asked us if we needed some assistance. We explained all we wanted was to find the road to Chugchilán but were not looking for a guide. He said he was going that way to visit his family and could show us the route. We reiterated that we were not willing to pay a fee and could find it on our own but he lead us just the same. (concluded below in Fondest Memory)
Fondest memory: It was after all a market and since I wasn’t interested in buying any clothes or other such souvenirs much to the vendors’ dismay I figured I would buy some fruit. I was looking for the exotic and found some tree tomatoes and some yucca bread which would have easily sufficed for a good breakfast. Then I noticed some nice looking red bananas. I don’t normally buy bananas while traveling as we have them in the US and they are cheap enough. But red ones I like and can’t get at home. I went up and without thinking asked for a dollar’s worth. She picked up an entire arm of bananas and handed it to me. Too embarrassed to say it was too much I thanked her and handed her the money. She reassessed her initial judgment and added on another six or seven for good measure. Of course, that would have been more than enough in itself but all I could do was thank her again and smile. She smiled back and I walked back to the hostel with my cargo. Needless to say we had enough for lunch, handouts to fellow hostel mates, snacks for the bus and even some for a hike the following day. Next time I guess I’ll ask for a quarter’s worth.
Fondest memory: We were just relaxing and resting at the bottom, when it was time to trek our way back. We would always glance back, watching the water distance itself from us, then we saw clouds rolling inside the crater and almost touch the water. It was one of the weirdest things ever!
Fondest memory: While hiking to the lake, you'll notice what seems to be gardens in the very steep slopes of the volcano. When we arrived at the bottom, we saw that there were a few people living there, raising some sheep, and planting potatos.
Fondest memory: This is us, before we set off to the bottom of Quilotoa. Laguna Quilotoa is a lake lying in the crater of an extinct volcano. The color of the water is exceptional, I am not quite sure what is the real color of the water, which seemed to change from blue to green depending on when the sunlight hit its surface.
Fondest memory: The ride to Quilotoa itself is awesome -- the people always smile, some kids tried chasing the truck, sheeps, pigs, dogs scattered around...