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The Quilotoa Loop – Trekking the Andes in Ecuador

Happy Travellers

Ecuador

In this final post of the blog series, Ann and Geoff take us on a journey down Ecuador’s famous ‘Avenue of the Volcanoes’. For the last leg of their fascinating tour of the country, our Happy Travellers leave their low-lying Amazon retreat well and truly behind and head off to colder climbs. Exploring the area just south of the capital Quito, they tell us about their experience trekking in the Andes in Ecuador:

On our return from the Amazon, we spent two days in the magnificent historic centre of Quito, luxuriating in our hotel room complete with hot shower, mirror and flushing toilet. Here our exhilarating time in the Amazon seemed a world away. After this little bit of luxury, we were transported by our gentle and knowledgeable guide, Santiago, into yet another realm – the Paramo on the edge of the Cotopaxi National Park.

Exploring the Paramo in the Andes

The Paramo is an alpine tundra ecosystem specific to the northern Andes. Here we stayed at Hacienda El Porvenir, a lovely accommodation made up of old traditional farm buildings that benefits from a magical setting on the slopes of the Ruminahui Volcano. After a wonderful but soggy walk through the forest, with moisture dripping from the fairy-tale mosses which cloak the trees, we emerged into grassland and were eyeballed by a herd of bulls. Apparently, these bulls are specifically bred for fighting in the bullring. Luckily for us, their field was surrounded by extremely deep ditches to deter them from charging, and we were able to continue trekking the Andes in Ecuador!

Back at the Hacienda we were rewarded with a roaring fire, tiny freshly baked pies and a glass of invigorating home-made liquor, while our sodden clothes steamed in the heat. Next morning, we caught our first tantalising glimpse of the snow-capped peak of Ruminahui Volcano as it made a brief appearance through the mist. We then headed into Cotopaxi National Park, where we crossed an icy expanse of grassland to reach Laguna Limpio-Pungo, meaning Clean Gateway in a mix of Spanish and Kichwa. Sadly, however, throughout our walk around this beautiful lake high in the Paramo, Ruminahui Volcano remained obscured by clouds.

Stepping back in time

What followed next was an adrenalin-filled roller-coaster of a ride through stunning countryside, frequently along roads clinging precariously to sheer cliffs. We were heading for the Quilotoa Loop, a circular route which passes through isolated mountain villages steeped in history. As we approached our destination, the tiny hamlet of Isinlivi, the awe-inspiring sight of man-made Inca terraces came into view. This seemingly impossible feat of engineering, constructed hundreds of years ago, has completely changed the shape of the mountains.

Wandering over the hills above Isinlivi was like stepping back in time. Our little cabin at the Llullu Llama Hostel in Isinlivi was enchanting and boasted its own wood-burning fireplace. This is something we certainly took advantage of as nights spent at such high altitude can be extremely chilly! The hostel is a lovely place to visit and the staff have created a really warm and friendly atmosphere, where travellers of all ages come together to chat about their treks. It was very reminiscent of back-packing in the 1970s!

Ruminahui Volcano finally emerges from the mist

Continuing around the Quilotoa Loop, we finally achieved our goal – the majestic Ruminahui Volcano emerged from the mist! Unfortunately, time did not allow us to complete the original plan of walking from Isinlivi to the community of Chugchilan, a trek of about five hours. Instead we contented ourselves with viewing the magnificent mountains, steep river canyons and traditional farmlands from the car. The awe-inspiring sight of the volcanic-crater lake of Quilotoa, viewed from its precipitous rim 400m above, was a fitting end to this unforgettable journey in Ecuador.

We are very grateful to Ann and Geoff for sharing their Ecuador adventures with us. Their three very different experiences provide a great insight into this small country’s incredible diversity, and to the warmth and hospitality of all the people they met along the way.

To learn more about this and other activities and adventures available in Ecuador, you can visit our Ecuador Holidays page and send a travel enquiry.

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