Quilotoa Loop Day 3 – Chugchilan to Quilotoa
Before setting out from The Cloud Forest Hostal, Jose, the owner, gave us another hand-drawn map to help us on our way. He told us it was about 4-5 hours to the lake. It took us 6 ! We picked up a few snacks from the local bakery and we were on our way. There are plenty of small stores in Chugchilan for snacks and drinks.
The trail is very easy to find from town. Just like the two previous days, the trail starts out fairly easy as you once again descend into the canyon. Chugchilan is at an elevation of 3200M. The bottom of the canyon is around 2600M I believe. Quilotoa is at 3800M. Do the math. You have quite a climb ahead of you from the bottom of the canyon!
You will pass through a few tiny villages on your way, but with not much to stop for. One exception was the guinea pig farm pictured above in the village of La Moya. Cuy (guinea pig) is quite a delicacy here in Ecuador and you should definitely try it. The local family happily gave us a quick tour of the place as my German friend didn’t know what a guinea pig was in English. After seeing these cute little creatures running around you may never want to eat one ever again!
After passing the next village of Guayama is when things start to get a little more difficult. The trail starts to climb and just doesn’t really stop until you get to the lake.
From here on out the climb seemed never ending. The more we climbed, the thinner the air got. We could see the crater of the volcano in the distance but it never seemed to get any closer. We did manage to take a wrong turn at some point which cost us a little time and some unnecessary elevation changes. There is enough uphill as it is without doing parts of it twice!
There were a few waterfalls along the way, but at least at this time of year, they were not worth the small detour.
Maps.me was very helpful at this point. There were many small trails you could take and the hand-drawn map just wasn’t cutting it. When you get close to the top you reach a sandy, almost beach like, area. There is a sign telling you to go right to Quilotoa. Ignoring the sign, we decided to take the small detour to the left for a view of the lake. Was it worth it? Absolutely!
To be honest, I’m not sure if we were more excited to see the lake or the lady selling cold drinks! There is no electricity up here but the nighttime temperatures chill the drinks quite nicely. We bought two cold sodas at a dollar each and doubled the lady’s sales for the day!
The lady who was nice enough to have cold drinks waiting for us also told us we still had 1 1/2 hours to walk until town. At least it should be flat from here we thought. Unfortunately that was not the case.
There appear to be 3 trails leading from the lake to the town of Quilotoa. We decided to take the one we came in on, and after talking to other people later, this was the correct choice. Some other people took the lower trail thinking they would have better views of the lake. After about 45 minutes they couldn’t follow the trail any longer and had to return to lake and take the trail we took.
After another hour or so of ups and downs and plenty of great views we finally reached the village of Quilotoa. It is a surprisingly big village with plenty of places to stay, eat, drink and shop. Although we were crazy enough to hike for 3 days to get here, many people just take the bus straight here. But what’s the fun in that?
I got a room at the centrally located Hostal Churikawa, while my German hiking buddy caught a bus on to her next destination. That was a big mistake in my opinion. Like her, and the few other guests at the hostal, nobody really took time to enjoy the lake that they had hiked 3 days to see.
While Hostal Churikawa wasn’t my favorite place I stayed on this trip, I decided to stay two nights anyway. The food wasn’t as good as the last few places and the staff weren’t as friendly, but the price and the location were great. Once again, $20 a night including dinner and breakfast, and a location right across the street from the lake, How can you go wrong?
It had been an amazing three days on the Quilotoa Loop trail. After about 18 hours of hiking in 3 days, I was exhausted but not quite ready to be done yet. I know I said that the Quilotoa Loop was a three-day hike but you really shouldn’t miss out on Day 4! I read several other travel blogs before doing this trip myself and nobody mentions Day 4. I’m sure 99% of the people are missing out on the highlight of the trip. I know all the people I met on this trip missed out, but you don’t have to. Read on and find out why…