I had originally planned for three long day hikes once we returned to Quito, first being Quilotoa Crater Lake. It was naive and foolish, especially considering all three required car and/or bus and/or taxi rides greater than an hour to get to, and there is only so much time in a day and so many days in five days. Plus, I sacrificed my knee on San Cristobal like the overly ambitious dunce that I can be, so let’s be honest, could I really have managed three long, strenuous hikes all at high elevations? No, but stubborn me certainly would have tried.
After researching hikes in Ecuador, I found the closest hikes to Quito that were recommended. I landed on Quilotoa Crater Lake, Volcán Cotopaxi and Parque Nacionale Cotopaxi, and Laguna Cuicocha. Quilotoa is a three hour drive from Quito, so I elected to find a company that did tours to and from the former volcano. G Adventures, a company we have traveled with many times in the past, does a day trip with a local tour company to Cotopaxi. Uncle Google and blogs informed me Cuicocha is a short taxi ride from Otavalo, a place we were going to visit anyway, so that’s easy enough to figure out myself. Turns out, I tried to cram too much in, something Hubs says I do often with trips. I just want to see everything, geez! Naturally, it was far more simple to trash the plans for Cuicocha since I hadn’t already paid a tour company to ferry us there. Sorry, Guinea Pig Lake, catch ya on the flip side.
Adventure Journeys, an Ecuadorian based company, specializes in Ecuador, Peru and Colombia active excursions. We elected to take the Quilotoa Enchanted Crater Lake day hike. By the end of our time in Ecuador, we would discover day hikes with a guided tour are not our cup of tea. They seem to err on the side of the LEAST fit, and the hikes are painfully short. Regardless, neither of the day hikes we went on were bad, but they left Hubs and I feeling unfulfilled and wanting to hike a lot farther. Next time, I’ll just figure out a way to get to the parks another way.
Anyway, we were picked up at our AirBnB by Carolina, our guide. We quickly discovered we were the entire group, as Adventure Journeys has begun doing private tours amid the pandemic. We hopped in our chauffeur’s SUV and off we went, winding south out of Quito. A short time later, we were climbing through the mountains and entering the rural countryside. Ecuador is a beautiful country. While meandering through the mountains, your eyes are constantly flitting from farm to farm, as the owners have constructed their plots all up and down the mountainsides. Makes for some seriously steep fields, but they seem to be fine with that.
Many hours later we arrived in a small town, and Carolina parked the car in a lot that would later be filled with other vehicles. We were lucky, and the skies were clear when we arrived, providing a magnificent view into the crater. By the time we were back at the top, the clouds had rolled in.
This hike was short, but insanely arduous. You begin at the top and hike down into the caldera on a very well defined path. Wear solid hiking boots/shoes. We saw several morons stumbling down the steep pathway wearing things as foolish as flip flops. For being so dimwitted, I hope you all slid down the trail instead. Hell, I was unstable enough with my knee screaming at me with every step. Down was terribly painful with every bend of my crippled knee joint, and I have very little doubt I looked like a decrepit elderly fossil descending into the bowl of the former volcano. However, I made it without utilizing the assistance of the many for hire horses and mules being paraded up and down the hillside that were there for the quitters and unfit.
Once down at the bottom, you can kayak into the acidic lake for a fee. I wouldn’t suggest swimming in it since it’s preposterously cold and a bit sulfuric, but do as you may. When the sun hits it, it’s a brilliant emerald green. We wandered around the beach area for bit, and watched the clouds start to roll in.
Given that Carolina put me to shame on the way down, I felt better when I redeemed myself for the trek up. Be prepared for a much slower pace simply due to the sharp incline paired with the elevation (12,841 at the top and 11,483 at lake level). My knee was un-phased going up, so I decided to push the speed significantly. Carolina informed me that I’m ready for Kilimanjaro! Hubs couldn’t quite keep up… he’s getting old. I’ll keep him around for now, though. He at least made it up without utilizing one of the quitter burros.
Scenery from the viewing platform at the top of the crater…
Once at the top, the clouds really moved in and Carolina lead us towards a restaurant for local lunch. Much of Ecuadorian’s diet is made of potatoes, evidenced by our appetizer of potato soup. A common trend we’ve noticed in countries that have an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables at their disposal, the juices they make are to die for. Lunch was no different… I don’t remember exactly what fruit was murdered for my benefit, but that orangey-brown liquid was delicious. As was the Ecuadorian chicken and vegetables that followed shortly thereafter. I departed the family owned restaurant pleasantly plump for the three hour drive back to Quito.
We did make a couple of stops to and from Quilotoa, one of which was Cañon del Río Toachi, the Toachi River Canyon. The canyon is the result of pyroclastic flows from Quilotoa Volcano. The canyon originates at Quilotoa before gradually fading into the landscape. As the names implies, a river runs through it. This viewpoint has been exploited by the locals, who will charge you to use the car park, viewpoint and swing out over the canyon.
Carolina also stopped by a local shop on the way back to Quito, but I have absolutely no clue where it was located or what it was called. The owner has a special concoction made of tea and liquor that’s nicely warm on any cold hands. Canelazo is a traditional hot spiced drink from the highlands of Ecuador made of homemade aguardiente (sugarcane alcohol) and agua de canela (boiled water with cinnamon). It didn’t hurt that the proprietors had an adorable little dog they let us play with. He also used a Corona box as a bed. Classy.
We learned some fun little tidbits from Carolina on our long drives. Most of it surrounded holiday traditions in Ecuador, since we were rapidly approaching Christmas and New Years. Families construct a life sized doll of a family member, dress it in that person’s old clothing, and then wish away all the bad from that year. And then they burn the doll, and with it, all the dreadfulness from that year. Another one is eating twelve grapes at midnight on New Years, one for every month of the year, and each represents a wish. The men dress up in women’s clothing……… Yeah, regardless of how many times Carolina attempted to explain the reasoning or belief behind that one, I still couldn’t grasp it.
Carolina elected to take us on a backroad through Quito on the way back to our AirBnB. We were warned it would be bumpy, and she learned awhile back to only take her less fearful clients this route. Apparently, there are a lot of people out there that are deathly afraid of steeper, paved, well traveled roads? Anyway, the avenue is the route was used by the Ecuadorians as an escape route when the Spaniards were attempting to conquer the city as it winds up the mountainside.
And thus ends my silly post about Quilotoa Crater Lake. Had I known better, I would have gone for the Crater Lake rim hike instead of this short stroll down into the caldera. That one is at least 7.5 miles around, and would have offered Hubs and I the length of hike we prefer. You live, you learn. Still a good experience!