Quilotoa – Otavalo – Quito

IMG_2457I’d read lots about the “Quilotoa loop”, a must do 3 day hike in Ecuador with spectacular views and contact with villagers living a traditional life. Most of the online articles were by fit looking 20 somethings, saying it was one of the most difficult hikes that they’d done. So, I found the ideal alternative, the Black Sheep Inn, an eco lodge in Chugchilan, one of the stopover towns for the loop.

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From here we could experience all that the area had to offer, without carrying packs from place to place. What a great find. Our room our room high on the hillside had the most stunning views over the valley.

IMG_2352 IMG_2357We had great vegetarian meals and interesting company. I even had an excellent massage by one of the local women. The inn was set up about 25 years ago, and what we liked about it was that the money goes back to the local community as all of the guides, drivers and staff are locals. You could easily spend a week or more hiking around here.

The manager, Edmundo, recommended we use a local guide for the Cloud Forest Walk. We were so pleased we did. Our guide Humberto has lived all his life in the area and has an incredible knowledge of the native animals, the plants and their medicinal uses.

IMG_2292 Our walk passed though many ecosystems, the initial pastures were drier, crop and sheep country, on the top of the hill there were lush dairy pastures, then we descended into the cloud forest, which prior to land clearing, had covered all of these valleys.

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IMG_2286The scenery was spectacular, there was now way we would have found our way into (or more importantly out of) the rainforest maze without Humberto. Although he had limited English and we have pathetically little Spanish, he was an incredible communicator. We found out so much about life in the valley over the last few generations.

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Our planned hike to Quilotoa postponed because of rain, we visited the local Sunday Zumbahua market. The animal market had just finished, so there were many people taking home their new acquisitions.

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We’d hope to see Laguna Quilatoa with the clouds reflecting in the water as we’d seen in so many other photos, but it wasn’t to be. Sunday was obviously the day for locals to visit. They were charging down the path to the lake in not so good shoes, obviously not thinking of the climb back up. That’s where the mules come in…

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A local driver dropped Humberto, Ian and I off at Quilotoa to do the hike back to Chugchilan. As there had been rain the day before, there was some discussion as to whether we should do the walk via San Pedro (which we did), rather than the safer route via la Moyà.

What a spectacular walk, not nearly as difficult as we’d been led to believe. There were some steep spots, but fine with the right footwear.

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IMG_2383IMG_2394Our last day at Black Sheep was another seriously spectacular walk, Edmundo’s sky walk. Appropriately named! We could see why they did not recommend it for those afraid of heights as the narrow path along the ridge had serious drop offs both sides.

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Yes, the path goes right along the ridge line!

IMG_2435Sad to leave Black Sheep, we stayed overnight in Latacunga, then on to Casa Sol Andean Lodge, just out of Otavalo.

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IMG_2448Once again, great accommodation, and a perfect base for hiking around Cuiocha Lake, lunching and shopping at Cotahachi, the leather centre of the area, and in the artisan town of Peguche, and of course visiting the famous Otavalo markets. Everywhere we seemed to meet Americans who have either retired to or were planning to retire in Ecuador. Of course, we had to visit the Otavalo Saturday market, finally arriving early enough to see the animals at the local markets.

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IMG_2551IMG_2553and then visit the touristy markets.

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IMG_2557Car returned to the airport, we headed into Quito for our last few days in Ecuador. Arriving on Saturday afternoon was totally overwhelming after being in countryside. So many people and cars. Sunday is great, no cars, just lots of pushbikes in town for the morning, much more pleasant. Our little hotel, Portal de Cantuna, was in a fantastic spot in the old town, just off Plaza San Francisco. It was quirky, very economical, had a good breakfast and very helpful staff. With our savings we ended up having 2 great meals at the 5 star Hotel Casatenga restaurant next door.

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Portal de Cantuna

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Plaza San Francisco

 

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La Compania de Jesus – 7 tons of gold inside

The (not so easy to find) Vista Hermosa was a great spot for a drink overlooking the city lights of Quito.

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IMG_6714There are some excellent museums in Quito. The Casa del Alabalo and  were very relevant with their archeological, historical and cultural displays of the areas we had visited.

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Our last day was spent at the Capilla del Hombre and the Museo Guayasamin, showcasing the work of the important, prolific and influential Ecuadorian artist Oswaldo Guaysamin. Highly recommended.

Our trip to Ecuador was planned so that we’d have 3-4 days in a few places in which there was some good walking. We rented a very small chevy -would get a 4WD next time. Driving was fine, but in the areas in which we drove it was slow because of winding roads and at times stressful. We’d been using maps.me for navigation – a great app which you can download and use offline. The problem is, it didn’t differentiate between minor and very minor (rough dirt) roads, a real challenge for our tiny rental car. We really only saw the middle of Ecuador – for a small country, it is so diverse. There were a few other places we wished we had time for – Cuenca and Mindo in particular, but you can’t do it all.

 

 

 

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