We packed a lot of adventure into a short stay in Latacunga. We found a great restaurant, got some rest, and watched a parade that never seemed to end. After six hours, overlooking the Mama Negra celebration parade from the rooftop of our hostel, we simply gave up. We couldn’t watch until the end. We packed up and attempted to catch a cab to take us out of town.
Unbeknownst to us, the parade had closed the entire town and each taxi driver told us that it was impossible to drive from the center of town to the bus station. Who closes an entire town for a parade? Apparently Latacunga does!
The taxi drivers told us that if we wanted to leave, we would have to walk the few miles to the bus station. With no other choice, we put on our backpacks and attempted to navigate the crowded streets and cross the parade route. We quickly found ourselves in the midst of the revelry and mingling in and out of the actual parade. It must have been an odd sight to see two American backpackers walking along with costumed dancers, marching bands, and pigs carried on stakes. Judging by the flowing alcohol, we were also some of the only sober parade participants.
We were able to avoid friendly drunks, amorous revelers, and puddles of vomit and in about an hour, made our way out of the crowd and to the terminal. We could finally begin our trip to hike the Quilotoa loop.
The Quilotoa loop is a popular hike in central Ecuador. It can be done in segments of short one day hikes, or a series of hikes from one remote mountain town to the next. We opted for a five day adventure.
The bus ride from Latacunga (9,055 ft) to Quilatoa was $2 and a short ninety minutes, up, up, and up. At our destination in the tiny mountain town of Quilotoa we were at at altitude of 12,841 feet, an elevation gain of 3,786 feet, no wonder we were huffing and puffing as we made our way to our hostel.
We dropped off our bags and went to explore the town before sunset at 6:00. We were out of breath as we hiked up to the crater rim of the lake. What a difference a change in elevation makes. It was getting late, so we enjoyed the sunset on the lake and then found a nice little restaurant where Jennifer enjoyed a traditional Ecuadorian meal and I enjoyed a pizza. I refused to eat chicken and rice again. Tonight we would acclimate and tomorrow we would hike down and explore the lake.
After a good night’s rest we awoke early to hike from the rim high above Lake Quilotoa to the lake below. The well traveled and dusty trail descends steeply to the water. The trail is a mile and a half and requires stamina, but no skill. On this morning, families of all ages mixed with the donkeys and horses going up and down. The animals are a way for locals to make money by providing rides uphill to weary tourists who are either too lazy or in no shape to hike back up the steep incline. We dodged the people and animals and worked our way to the bottom.
It took us about forty-five minutes of continuous walking to reach the lake. We were dusty and sweating even though the air was cool and breezy. As a reward, we rented kayaks and enjoyed some time on the water of this volcanic crater. Some say that bubbles from the volcano below can be seen in the clear green water. We didn’t see any signs of eminent eruption.
The views were spectacular even if the water was a bit cold at this altitude. After lounging in the sun on the shore for an hour or so we decided to make the hike back to the top. This would be a perfect warmup for the next few days of hiking the loop.
We began our ascent and were immediately propositioned by the donkey owners who wanted to sell rides to the tourists who looked like they either had money or needed help reaching the top. I’m sure we fell into both categories. We declined and continued the long trek up the steep incline. The trip that took forty-five minutes down took nearly ninety minutes in the opposite direction. We were winded but not exhausted. Our night in the village had served to acclimate us to the altitude. We were ready for the actual trail. Tomorrow would be a full day of mountain hiking to another village.