On our first full day in Chugchilán, we hiked out of it, to the Quilotoa Volcano/Crater/Lake. The trailhead for this famous hike was marked with an unceremonious sign right behind our hostel. We set out at 9:30am from an altitude of ~10,500 ft, and began the hike by descending in the sunshine among llamas, sheep, a donkey, horses, and some adorable pigs in a young corn field, into a valley.
After about a half a kilometer of going down, the path started to ascend, and that, dear readers, was the last time we had a normal heart rate for the next five hours. The trail soon led into thick brush* and what began as a steep incline soon transformed into what felt like a full on vertical scramble. Thanks to Drew’s tracking of the hike on Strava, we were later able to verify and validate this sensation: we registered a grade of 46.6 percent at one point. Here I am, loving that:
After a breathy and sweaty climb to the top, we reached La Moya – a collection of 5-6 houses with garden plots adjacent to a brief gravel road. A small child appeared out of nowhere at exactly the right moment to show us where the trail continued. He led us around his house, chickens in the yard and laundry drying in the mid-morning sun, into a gully and up the other side. He cheerfully pointed the way onward and then looked at us expectantly. While we fished out some treats from our day pack, we found out his name was Anthony, he was seven, and that he had six brothers and sisters. We gave Anthony some chocolates, thanked him for his help, and went on our way.
From La Moya, the hike was a beautiful challenge along a ridge line, into a canyon, across a river, up a hillside, through another town – this one seemingly abandoned – and through many acres of rural farmland, until we got to the final ascent a few hours later.
On the side of the Quilotoa crater, a series of seven punishing switchbacks led us up, each one bringing us closer to the hike’s reward. About 45 minutes later, hearts pounding, we crested the summit at 12,841 ft, and were gifted with an uninterrupted view down into the spectacular, ethereal Quilotoa Crater Lake.
Though reaching the crater’s edge was the hike’s star moment, it wasn’t its end. We then hiked around the crater for another 4 kilometers towards the town of Quilotoa where we would catch our ride back to Chugchilán. The trail zig zagged from the precarious ridge line – getting more and better views of the crater from every turn- to the outer face of the volcano which was silent, dotted with high desert scrub and pines.
We made it to the town of Quilotoa on the west side of the volcano around 2:45pm. A Carnaval party was in full swing and we followed our noses to the smell of oil cooking. A team of three were rolling dough balls, stuffing them with cheese, throwing them in the deep fryer, and dusting with powdered sugar. We bought five for a dollar and then walked out to the road, hopped in the back of a stranger’s truck and rode the six kilometers via paved road back to Chugchilán.
The hot shower and glass of wine that awaited us back at our hostel were each in a league of their own.
*For those that might have stumbled upon this post in search of directions to Quilotoa, know that this is the first of many decision points in your route; there is also a road (rather than trail) that you can take to La Moya which is longer, but less steep. We recommend using Strava’s global heat map to design your route, and maps.me to assess options in real time and stay on course – it can get confusing! Check out our hike here for some more details: