A group of five of us set out from Secret Garden to hike for three days to a volcano crater (Paul joined us on the first night). We stayed overnight in Latacunga at Hostel Tiana which was actually a fairly decent hostel with interesting split-level rooms, costing $10.50 per night including breakfast.
We had breakfast, bought groceries for lunch and caught the 09:30 bus to Sigchos ($2.25, two hours) then began our hike to a small village called Isnilivi.
The trail does have red and yellow markers, though the hostels often give you some paper directions (which at times do not match up with the markers!)
Our first day was all fairly straightforward and only had one big uphill section where we also had to negotiate our way between a herd of cows. We stopped for lunch beside a river and shared some cheese, mini toasts and tomatoes.
We arrived in really good time at Hostel Llullu Llama which is in competition with Secret Garden to be the best hostel in Ecuador!
It did not disappoint whatsoever! We got beds in the main dorm room for $19 including dinner and breakfast and then we had a tour of the place and met Baloo the enormous St Bernard and Tito the Llama. We chilled out playing games and drinking $3 cocktails until the hot tub was open. There was a great group of people all going the same way so we spent hours in the big hot tub all chatting and getting drunk on happy hour cocktails. I spent time getting to know and American called James and Tucker and Isabel, an American/Canadian couple.
Dinner was fantastic, with big dishes for sharing placed on all the tables. We had homemade soup followed by fresh lasagne with lots of salad. After dinner I played Chinese checkers with Harriet then James and then we all joined a group playing and singing along to a couple of guitars. It felt like we staying up really late but in reality we were all in bed by 11pm! The place was so amazing that we were all considering staying another day before moving on.
The place even has a yoga studio with a panoramic mountain view. I promised to get up early and take a little yoga class so before breakfast 6 of us spent an hour practicing yoga with the most breathtaking view of the mountains.
Breakfast was heavenly. The granola was perfect, with little extra touches like shredded coconut, plenty of fresh yogurt and an enormous bowl of fruit. To top it off we had scrambled eggs, bread, coffee and fresh juice.
The lunch boxes at Llullu Llama are expensive ($6.50) so we walked to the shop a few doors down and paid about $2 each for plenty of sandwiches and snacks to last the day.
We had some group photos before we all set off, this time with Paul, who had arrived the night before.
The hike was a little tougher but was a lot of fun walking with the group chatting and listening to music.
We caught up with others on the way and stuck with some of them for the rest of the day.
The hike was beautiful and we climbed up a steep hill with beautiful views and ate our lunch. It turned out to be the wrong path but it didn’t matter at all as all paths seem to lead to Chugchilán.
We emerged from the steep trail to find a small village and then reached a main road where there were women selling drinks and snacks. I bought a cool melon/pumpkin thing which tasted delicious!
The final section was a few kilometres on a road, which seemed a little odd after hiking the rest of the day on tiny trails but soon enough we reached Chugchilán and passed Black Sheep which is the fancier place to stay and instead headed further into the village to find Cloud Forest.
We didn’t have any reservations at all on the trip but we didn’t encounter any problems at all with availability. We each paid $15 for a dorm room which included dinner and breakfast then I enjoyed a beer with some of the other guys we had stayed with the night before. We all arrived really early and had been really lucky with the weather so when it clouded over and rained later in the afternoon none of us minded going inside to play games until dinner. I joined in with a strange Dutch dice game for a while. The most complicated dice game I can imagine. It was hard to believe that Lotte had read the rules!
Dinner was pretty good and then afterwards we resumed our drinking and playing games in the games room with a pool table, table football and darts. Hilariously the games were exactly as we expected, a great idea but executed so poorly as to be funny. The table football was ancient with enormous players that looked like astronauts! The dart board was a plastic one with holes and magnets so you don’t throw real darts, d’oh!
We set off after another decent breakfast for our hike up to the crater lake.
As usual we were all in really high spirits in the fresh air and we had some really nice countryside to hike through.
The mountains around us were beautiful and stark against the vegetation and we were so lucky with the weather!
We had a couple of steep climbs and we walked through a tiny village. A group of children ran up asking for me to take their photo and then check this out… The more I look at the photo, the harder I laugh.
You would never suspect they requested the photo. They wanted money. And I suspect that these children will become more of a nuisance over time. But we technically weren’t on the main trail so maybe it would be better to pay greater care over staying on the main trail.
Shortly after the houses we reached a dirt road and then had a 40 minute steep climb up to the crater rim. The road has lots of switchbacks, plenty of testing spots and beautiful views over the valley.
My group was keen to stop for lunch but I was so keen to see the crater as soon as possible in case the weather turned, so we continued the uphill trudge (it wasn’t that bad!) and were rewarded with gorgeous views of the lake from the top. The altitude hit is fairly hard and we were all feeling it, but as soon as we got up to the crater I felt great! I love being at 3,800m!
We had our lunch with this wonderful view, the shadows dancing on the lake making it look like a tropical reef.
Then we headed around the crater need immediately took a wrong turn and were on a fantastic precipitous cliff for part of the journey around the lake. I loved it despite my fear of heights. Jarod freaked out and we had to keep him in the middle of the group with some good music playing. It was a lot of fun.
We climbed down steeply and then saw a group ahead of us stood still clearly debating the route as the trail forked and they were split across both bits. A little boy from the local practically jogged over to us to tell us we were on the animal trail and that he could help us (for a fee…) we democratically decided we would be just fine by ourselves and he trotted on ahead to catch the previous group who took him up on his offer…
We made it without issues. Except that the altitude was making it hard for everyone else and I genuinely felt great (which I still don’t understand about that altitude). We climbed (literally) up the last section and out onto a clearly marked and well-defined trail which we could now trace almost all the way back to where we headed down rather than up…
We went to the viewpoint and had our victory photos before heading to find a café. Everyone was totally done with walking so we pretty much went to the first place we saw. Quilotoa is a very unattractive village but it’s functional!
I went for an explore while we waited for coffee to arrive. I even went for a little jog along the road and then bumped into James, Mary, Mark and Holly, who had been staying in the same hostels on the Loop. Turns out they were planning to stay in the place we were having coffee so we all got to hang out briefly. I wasn’t sure whether to stay in Quilotoa with these guys or head back to Latacunga to have one final night partying with the guys I had been travelling with for a while. I decided to go back to Latacunga.
We caught a ride for half an hour in a pick up truck to the next town along for $1 and then caught a bus to Latacunga for $2.15 each.
We soon realised in Latacunga that Sunday is not a party day… So we bought an unbelievable amount of rum, went out for pizzas and then got drunk and played games all night in the hostel.
Whilst not the night out we planned, it was still fun and the next day we parted ways! Finn, Paul and I got a bus to Quito and then Finn carried on to Mindo while Paul and I planned our trip into the Amazonas Rainforest……