Brian and I ride out of Quito bound for Lago Quilotoa. I’ve been hearing a lot about the hike and the great guys at Ecuador Freedom Bike in Quito highly recommended the ride from Quito to the small villages and valley leading up to Quilotoa. The guys at the shop were fantastic, giving us loads of great roads to ride, a couple of free t-shirts, stickers for the bikes and more. I’ve been hearing from more than a half dozen other riders that this is a great shop, and I’m glad I get to see first hand how great they are.
So off we go on a Thursday following one of the routes they suggested, down the PanAm and then exiting near Lasso and riding west up a narrow road that climbed and descended over hills and valleys toward Sigchos where the narrow shoulderless paved road would end and we would turn south on the gravel for Chugchilan and aim for the Cloud Forest Hostel.
We pass a house that is painted to support a local political candidate, a common thing in Central and South America.
The road is incredible, but the valley and road are so narrow it’s hard to do them justice with a photo.
It’s cloudy today and the further we go the darker the clouds become. It looks like rain, but hopefully it will hold out until we get to the hostel. We decide to stop for an early afternoon lunch in Sigchos and there is only one plate available to have, so we each get one. At first I think the rolled up things in the sauce are tortillas but I later find they are chicharrones, pig skin, and not my favorite. But I make the mostof it by eating everything else and smuggling the parts I don’t want out to a small dog on the street. I’m just happy to have the food, and that it costs $1.50 per meal, including drink, is even better.
As we head out of town on the road, I can see it’s very rural. Cows graze along the road edges.
And to make the view even worse, it starts to pour rain. Perfect. Just another hour of this before we get to the hostel for the night, and I’m soaked and cold.
We settle in for the night and decide to go for the big hike around Lago Quilotoa and across the valley back to Chugchilan and our hostel if the weather is good in the morning, and we are assured it will be.
So we catch a 6am local bus for $1 for the 15 mile ride to the village near this crater lake for the start of our walk. It takes nearly an hour just to go those few miles because the roads are so twisty and because of construction on the road. But already I can tell this is going to be an incredibly beautiful day. Unfortunately it was equally cold so I wanted to stop for a hot chocolate and an alpaca hat and scarf before we set off. After a few minutes in a chilly local restaurant we climbed the ramps to the observation deck to catch my first glimpse of this stunning deep blue lake filling a collapsed volcano crater. Wow….
We start the walk along the inside and then the outside of the crater rim and about 1/3 of the way around the trail we want drops down to a small village.
The tribal women of Ecuador wear skirts, even when working with stock or plowing fields by hand, about knee-length and stockings alogn with sweaters and small hats. They almost all wear their hair in a single long dark braid down their backs, that turns a little silver with age. When it’s really cold they may throw an alpaca shawl over all of this, or even two. They often carry children and heavy bags of grains on their backs.
After we pass through the village we get to the deep gorge of a river and have to climb down a steep trail to cross the river over a bundle of logs. Then we begin the steep hike back up the other side and eventually get to our hotel. This 7 mile hike started at 12,000 feet and descended to roughly 8000, and was incredible even with the last 1.5 miles being nearly vertical to get us back to 9500 feet. No wonder it’s said to be the best hike in Ecuador.