Perched high in the Andes Mountains is a picturesque volcanic crater lake. It is time the world knew about Ecuador’s best-kept secret—Quilotoa.
About a month ago we had a long weekend to celebrate the Day of the Dead. For those of you who do not know, the Day of the Dead, or Día de los Muertos is a holiday celebrating deceased relatives on November 2. In the cultures that celebrate this holiday, death is not something to be feared or depressed by; it is a celebration. On this holiday, families congregate at the graves of their deceased and quite literally have a party. There is music, laughter, adult beverages, and lots of food. I have to say, there is something to be said for approaching death in this manner. To see the graveyards full of families singing, dancing and enjoying the day was really remarkable.
Without an Ecua-family of our own to celebrate with, a few friends and I decided to take advantage of the long weekend and get some fresh air. Our destination: the beautiful lake-filled volcanic crater of Quilotoa.
There were more than a few bumps in the road on this voyage. To begin, we completely underestimated the holiday. Día de los Muertos is comparable to Thanksgiving in that it is a huge family day. Since November 2nd is a national holiday, families travel from all over to be with one another for the long weekend. So, we tried to catch a morning bus to Quilotoa, which was the equivalent of catching a last minute plane on Thanksgiving itself… aka the impossible. The bus station was packed so full I thought it might burst. I had to aggressively push my way just to get into a very long line to buy a ticket. Of course, the bus station itself is a nightmare, and we ran to our bus just to realize that we needed to stand in a very very long line. It was the hurry up and wait game—welcome to Ecuador. Our trip to Latacunga, from which we would take another bus, took us over 3 hours when it should have taken 2. We then got on to our final bus only to have them load the aisles with large bags of grain, which unlucky passengers then sat on, as they blasted Ecua-music. With no idea where we were actually going, and children in our laps, we were done with the stupid holiday.
But, despite the headache and a half that it took to arrive, the destination was so more magnificent than I had imagined. Quilotoa is Ecuador’s hidden gem. It has been my absolute favorite piece of the country.
High, high in the Andes Mountains, the air was brisk. We actually stayed a town over from Quilotoa in Chugchulan. Our hostel was very cheap, and included breakfast and dinner because there are no restaurants in the town. We relaxed in the hammocks and enjoyed the cool weather.
Our big adventure day took us to Quilotoa to hike the crater of the volcano and back to our town. Ecuador struck again as we boarded a bus to the town, which only took us halfway, dropped us off at the bottom of an enormous hill, and told us that it was a mere 5-10 minute walk away. 45 minutes later, sweating and cursing, with lungs exploding from nearly 13,000 ft. elevation, we reached Quilotoa ready to take on the hike.
First of all, the crater is magnificent. The water inside changes based on the sun– it was anything from a deep blue to a light green. I honestly think that it was the most breathtaking view I have ever experienced.
We walked halfway around the lip of the crater, gifted with mind-blowing views the entire way, before we dipped down the back and headed the rest of the way towards our town. Again, we were told that there would be very clear signs showing us where to go. Of course that was not the case, although an arrow drawn by rocks in the sand directed us…
Just as we were about done with the hike, we could see our hostel across the way, we realized that we had to climb down a ravine of sorts and then back up it. This was a difficult hike. It was not so much physically exhausting (although the extra 2 km uphill that we put in before the hike even started didn’t help), but I cannot explain what that altitude does to your body. It doesn’t really matter if you are in shape; it sucks the life out of you. It was only about 8 miles, but by the end I thought I would have to be carried home. Although, a man from New Zealand did the entire hike in front of us with a broken leg… I am not sure if he was crazy or if I was weak.
Our long weekend ended quickly as the only bus back to Latacunga left between 3 and 4 am, which was another bump in the road. I was also greeted on the trip with horrible digestive problems. Despite everything that went wrong (and really… everything went wrong) I still found our trip to Quilotoa to be one of the most rewarding weekends due to the sheer beauty of the area. Regardless of how I feel about Quito or the Ecuadorian culture, Ecuador really is one of the most beautiful countries in the entire world.