LAGO DE QUILOTOA
It was a crisp day. After a hearty communal lunch with other travelers, we stepped outside to get ready for our hike to a crater lake in the area called Lago di Quilotoa. There was a crunch to the early morning spring air. It would be easy to forget that we are at an elevation of almost 13,000 feet but would be reminded shortly as soon as we start a small ascent to hike around the crater lake.
I would again be astonished as the beauty of Ecuador. After walking barely a mile, we arrive at the first point of the trail with a panoramic viewpoint of the lake. Audible gasps could be heard. The caldera and the teal water, framed by the high Andes in the background, was a spectacular sight. There were wildflowers everywhere along the trail and an eagle or a condor would fly overhead. We did not meet anyone on the trail and it is such an affirmation that sometimes, the least traveled trails prove to be the most beautiful.
Relative to the day we had prior, Day 2 of this adventure trip was a bit more mellow than the one before it. Because of the high altitude, it was slow going. It would take us close to 2.5 hours (with frequent stops for photos) to hike 2.5 miles. There's not much to say here except that this little less explored side of the Ecuador (and the planet, for that matter!) is just extraordinary.
Quilotoa Lake was formed by this volcano's eruption in 1280. The center collapsed after the eruption and the volcano has not erupted since. While there are many crater lakes in the world, I find this one uniquely beautiful because of the landscape surrounding it and the iridescent turquoise water.
There are many ways to visit Quilotoa. Our tour had us booked at a humble local guesthouse overnight so we could be on the trail bright and early. We would mountain bike from our guesthouse later that day down to Saquisiili. Otherwise, there are day tours from Quito that could drive you for a day's worth of adventures and drive you back to your hotel in Quito which is about 2 hours away. You can choose to hike along the higher trail where you can get a more panoramic view (which is what we did), or you can choose to descend closer to the water. Closer to the water, you can kayak on the water. Since we were conserving energy for the rest of our adventure day, we skipped this part because the hike back up can be rather challenging at this altitude.
For the more adventurous, there is a multi-day hike called the Quilotoa Loop, which would traverse around the lake through small local communities, for about 25 miles.
After a quick coffee back in the small downtown area, we jumped on our bikes again to ride close to twenty miles to the town of Saquisili. We would ride through small villages and towns, sometimes running into school children excited to see rare tourists on bicycles.
The most scintillating thing that would happen that day would be us getting chased by about a dozen street dogs. Unfortunately, one guy from our group got bitten by one of the chasing dogs and we would spend a couple hours that afternoon driving to hospitals and clinics in the city of Ambato trying to find him rabies vaccine, to no avail. He would wait to get one back in the US and I'm pleased to report that he's a-ok.
We would arrive at our mountain lodge right as the sun was setting in Urbina where we will spend the night before the big day the next day, hiking up about halfway to Chimborazo, the tallest volcano in Ecuador.