And lift off! On our first official day on the Wanderbus Ecuador hop off, hop on tour we made a couple of stops before our three night stay in Quilotoa. After leaving Quito at 6am, we made our way to Cotopaxi National Park. At 5897m (19,347ft) Cotopaxi Volcano is one of the world’s highest summits and Ecuador’s second highest. Our tour of the park included a 2.5hr walk around its lagoon, with views of the volcano on a clear day. The trek around the lagoon is so incredibly scenic, and so wonderfully relaxing in it’s mid morning splendour, that it has become one of our favourite hikes to date. The difficulty level is “easy”; it’s flat all the way around, making it a pleasant way to spend a morning and still get some exercise in. We had rolling fog on our morning hike, but that in itself was spectacular to witness. As the fog rolls in and covers all, it almost seems as though it will swallow you whole. As it rolls back out, which it does within seconds/minutes, watching things reappear made me think of Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, it was that enchanting.
The whole process recurs over and over throughout a day. It did mean however, that we only got small glimpses of the volcano, but it was still well worth the visit. I imagine camping in the park would have been quite the experience, so if you travel with gear, this would be an awesome two day stop on your Wanderbus tour, as there isn’t any lodging in the park. Staying a couple of nights (it’s probably really cold at night though, beware) would afford you the opportunity to hike the volcano to the refuge, the glacier, or beyond depending on your experience level. You can actually sleep at the refuge before continuing on or before your decent, as well. We later boasted about the experience in the park to other backpackers to such a degree, that they actually backtracked in their travels, to check it out for themselves. Makes me think we should have become travel agents…After completing our tour of the park, we thought Cotopaxi was getting ready to make a full appearance, so we stuck around a little bit longer, which struck us as incredible. Here we are with a tour company which is on a tight schedule with a full day of stops, and at our request, we stayed an extra 15 minutes. The bus driver actually stopped after we had already set off, as he noticed the volcano peak out, and let us off the bus to take photos; now that’s service! Alas, it wasn’t meant to be, we got some stellar shots, but 100% visibility wasn’t in the cards...Onwards and upwards!
One of our favourite parts of traveling with Wanderbus is that your rides from place to place are filled with information you wouldn’t get traveling on your own. Our ride from the park to our next stop, a local indigenous market in the town of Tigua, was a tale of gods, myths, legends, and history involving the eight volcanoes we saw en route (eight volcanoes in just a short ride!). Fun fact: Ecuador’s 89 volcanoes are named after the gods the indigenous peoples believe in to this day. Some male, some female, they are said to have come down to earth in the forms of volcanoes and expressed themselves through eruptions. These dramas are often centred around love stories. It’s like a soap opera for the ages! At the market we were met with vendors selling fruits, vegetables, clothing, textiles, and the like. These markets, which occur all over Ecuador in indigenous communities, are held on specific days throughout the week and depending on the market, they may even be selling livestock, handmade gold and silver jewellery, pottery etc. After grabbing lunch, we headed towards our final destination for the day, Quilotoa.
Though the town is referred to as Quilotoa, it is actually the name of the attraction in the Pujilí Canton, and not the name of the town itself. Quilotoa is a water-filled caldera and the most western volcano in the Ecuadorian Andes. Yes, that means that under the waters of the lagoon, there is an active volcano, so cool! Travelers often do what is called the Quilotoa loop. This 3-5 day hike takes the following route through villages and towns along the way to rest each night: Latacunga > Sigchos > Isinlivi > Chugchilan > Quilotoa > Latacunga. This mission is not for beginners. Due to the altitude, the terrain and the weather, I would suggest that only experienced hikers do the loop. Of course it can be done sans experience and sans a guide, but after crawling on your hands and feet up steep canyons, you may be rethink the whole thing; it is not for the faint of heart. However, the rewards along the way are said to be plentiful. I’m going to admit I’m grateful that I got to sit on a nice, warm, cozy bus on route to the Lagoon. Going from mild/warm temperatures in Quito to seemingly negative ones is a bit of a shock; especially after spending so much time in sunny places.
We spent three nights in this frigid cold, without running water at our hostel, and no way to heat our room other than to make a fire in the wood stove. I don’t need much in the way of luxuries, but this was slightly trying to say the least. If I could do it again, I would have continued on the journey with Wanderbus after taking photos of the Lagoon. Yes, we could have trekked to a lookout point in Shalala, or walked the rim of the lagoon itself for 8-10hrs, but walking in a giant circle didn’t seem very appealing to me. Thomas would have done it in a heartbeat, as the allure of seeing wild Alpacas, and Llamas was quite strong, but even my steadfast husband was a little too cold to move forward...that’s saying a lot. There are weather permitting activities like kayaking in the lagoon, and camping on the edge. Kayaking was one of the main things we had hoped to do actually, and I’m still a bit sad we didn’t get to do it. That would have been a major highlight I’m sure. Apparently you can actually see bubbles coming to surface on the water from the slowly erupting volcano that lies beneath. The trek up and down the lagoon that would go hand in hand with this, would have also been a nice bit of exercise. It may be a 30 minute walk down, but it’s about 2hrs to get back up. They actually have horses and donkeys taking people up, so don’t despair if your legs give up on you. With the cold, we spent three days cuddling by a fire watching the World Cup matches. Not too shabby in the end
Had we moved on with the tour straight away we would have continued on to Baños, though we did of course eventually make it there, we really could have used a bit more time at this stop. We only had three nights, and there was so much to see and do in town, that I would have gladly taken back my three nights in Quilotoa and spent 6 full nights in Baños. From town, you have the option to visit the amazon rainforest, and nearby Puyo, and in Baños itself the sightseeing, activities and eats are endless. The ruta de las cascadas is a major highlight! But I digress….I guess you´ll just have to come back and read or next blog to get all the details on Baños. It’s an epic tale of monkeys, and parachuting, and waterfalls...I promise.