Near the rim of the crater, just on the opposite side of the road from where the path down to the lagoon begins, are three restaurants and hostels. From left to right they are Princesa Toa, Restaurante y Hostal Pachamama and Restaurante y Hostal Chukirawa. At least at the two last ones the price for a room, including breakfast and dinner, is $10 (July 2011).
After the hike from Chugchilán I had lunch at Hostal Chukirawa. I got a soup and then a plate with chicken, rice and French fries. The portion was very small and I was still hungry after finishing it. I also got a small juice. The lunch was $3.
The next day, after hiking around the rim of the crater, I went to Hostal Pachamama for lunch. I liked this place better because the atmosphere was warm and welcoming and I talked to some nice people during the lunch. First I got a soup with quinoa and then, on the main plate, there was once again chicken, rice and French fries, but this time the portion was bigger. To drink hot water was served for coffee or tea. I had an extra coffee, but was not charged for that. The lunch was $3. I ate here in 2012 as well and the lunch was $3 then too.
Across the road, up at the crater rim there is another place to eat, the cooperative-run Kirutwa. When I visited in 2011 it was not open, but in 2012 I went inside to have a look. No one was eating at the moment, but I saw that from some tables it is a good view over the lagoon. VT-member toonsarah has eaten here and she enjoyed her meal. You can read her tip here.
We ate our lunch in a friendly café which is perched right on the crater’s edge near to the viewpoint – Kirutwa (I am indebted to MalenaN, one of VT’s experts on Ecuador, for the name as I forgot to note it on the day). Jose Luiz explained that he likes to patronise this restaurant because it is community-run. Local people take turns at the cooking and serving and the profits are shared among them. I liked that idea – and it reminded me of one of my favourite London spots!
We took a table by the fireplace and one of the women came over to stoke it, as it was a chilly day. We were amused to see that they were burning all sorts of pieces of wood, including an old broom handle and several bits of old furniture, some of which stuck out into the room rather alarmingly. No UK Health & Safety inspector would have passed the arrangement, but it certainly made for a great blaze!
Favorite Dish: We started our lunch with a bowl of tasty lentil soup which was accompanied by yucca chips (a nice change from the more usual banana) and a hot aji sauce. The main course was pork chops, as it had been the day before in Tambopaxi. Unused to large lunches I opted to skip this course, but Chris had one and said it was very good. Dessert was pineapple, which I love, although it was a shame that it was served in a rather sweet syrup. The accompanying juices were very good though, and we enjoyed our cosy meal here.
The hostel has views of the crater, but for most of our time here low cloud lay over the mountain and we could see neither lake nor nearby village. By the way, the restaurant also has nice clean toilets, and sells fair-trade Ecuadorean chocolate, so if you need a snack before or after your hike it could be a good place to come – and if you buy a bar, you can ask to use those good loos!
Next tip: the local crafts cooperative.
One of the great joys of traveling in the Andes is the local markets and for me the best part about them is trying the traditional foods. Don’t get me wrong, this is not a gourmet culinary affair but most things are quite tasty and it’s inexpensive so there are no excuses. Some feel it is easy to get a stomach ailment being so adventurous but I found Ecuador to be without such worries. It seems to be a step or two above Peru and Bolivia in this regard. Besides, why travel halfway around the world and not have a taste. One of the best things about it is the reaction you get from the locals. They are very happy to make a sale they might not have counted on and I think they are as curious about us as we are about them. It’s a great chance to interact with locals and by eating their food to show we are not so very different at the core.
Favorite Dish: Cheese empanadas are typical fare and while they are not quite what you expect (it seems the traditional methods have been watered down a bit over the years) they are still tasty, filling and cheap. You’ll likely get three for a quarter. It is deep fried dough filled with just a small amount of cheese. Confusingly they put sugar on if you want it and most seem to want it. This is what made me think I was eating their version of a donut rather than an empanada. We had them from a couple of young girls that set up a small stand on the edge of the market in Zumbahua. Another popular small meal is a fried egg served over fried potatoes or chips. You’re looking to be set back maybe 50 cents per serving. In these small villages sometimes it’s all you can find to eat to jump right in.
In the Saquisilí market they had some very tasty snacks and the market itself was very colorful if subdued compared to Zumbahua. You also saw more tourists though it was still far from overrun considering how close it is to Latacunga.
Favorite Dish: We had some roast pork served with mashed potatoes and then later had golden brown perfectly fried potato pancakes. We had met a traveler from Munich while walking around and he even said the schweinebraten (roast pork) was better than in Germany! These were delicious and though a bit pricey at 50 cents apiece, well worth it when you saw the work that went into making them. I also tried a “health” drink of some kind after seeing a couple of older ladies slurping them down. The water supply and cleanliness of the facilities was a bit suspect and it was in fact the only time I got any kind of stomach ailment on the whole trip to Ecuador. My wife wisely declined more than a small sip of mine.