The crater lake of Laguna Quilotoa has to to be one of Ecuador’s most staggering spectacles.
Bumping along the spectacular dirt roads of the Quilotoa Loop and hiking between Andean villages was an exhilarating experience. Transportation was tricky but the rewards were abundant: highland markets, the breathtaking crater lake of Laguna Quilotoa, splendid hikes, and traditional highland villages.
The lake of Quilotoa is a water-filled caldera and the most western volcano in the Ecuadorian Andes. The 3 kilometres (2 miles) wide caldera was formed by the collapse of this dacite volcano following a catastrophic VEI-6 eruption about 800 years ago, which produced pyroclastic flows and lahars that reached the Pacific Ocean, and spread an airborne deposit of volcanic ash throughout the northern Andes. The caldera has since accumulated a 250 m (820 ft) deep crater lake, which has a greenish color as a result of dissolved minerals.
It took about 5-hours to hike around the rim of the crater and I lost count of the many times I said “wow” to myself. It was a tough hike but hugely rewarding. Because of the altitude, nearly 4000 metres, I quite often found myself gasping for breath as I attacked one crest after another.
Next was an exhausting but exhilarating 5-hour hike from Quilotoa to Chugchilán, a wee village about 14km north of Quilotoa, which proved to be an fantastic base for further hikes.
I stayed at one of the nicest places I have so far been to in Ecuador – the family run Hostal known as ‘Mama Hilda’ (www.mamahilda.com). The accomodation was plush, the food excellent, and my fellow guests entertaining.
From here I took a third hike to the ‘cheese factory’ – another great hike of about 5-hours with further breath taking scenery.
Next stage: Mindo.