Cuenca is the sort of place to put on some comfortable walking shoes and just wander around. If you get bored and crave the outdoors, a 1/2 hour bus ride is Cajas National Park, which offers excellent and safe hiking. The towns of Chordeleg, Sigsig and Gualaceo are a convenient day trip to get in some small town culture. We were accompanied by our Chinese friend Bones while we were in Cuenca and we even managed to celebrate Pongal together.
A small photo tour of Cuenca:
|Local sweet stall|
|at the plaza|
|Waiting for the sun to rise at the bus station|
|We were just walking and saw this performance at the plaza as we passed by. No idea why.|
|Construction ongoing at park entrance, mist because of 4500+ m altitude|
|First refuge hut|
|Second refuge hut|
|Inside the refuge hut. What a haven for hikers!|
From Latacunga to Baños, take a bus to Ambato and then to Baños. ~2hrs and $2
The loop can be anything you want – a trek, a walk, a bunch of loosely connected bumpy rides – all through the rugged countryside of central Ecuador, in Cotopaxi county. During the time we went, we saw only a handful of travelers after day one, and even those folks had hired a car for a day trip.
If you are ever in Ecuador, forget about time, go the full loop – either by road transport or by walk (if you have company) and it will show you an unforgettable side of Ecuador and travel in general. I have so much to say about these few days that I hope you will bear with me and read the entire bit.
It is a path that travelers take that mostly originates in Latacunga, Ecuador and winds eastward towards Laguna Quilotoa (lake Quilotoa) and after an overnight stay there, leads to the village of Chugchillan. From Chugchillan, one can go to the tiny town of Sigchos. From Sigchos there are regular buses back to Latacunga.
Laguna Quilotoa is a beautiful crater lake. The transportation in the entire circuit is very infrequent, so its best to carry warm clothing, rain proof clothes and snacks (dried fruit, bocadillo etc.).
|Bus Latacunga to Quilotoa|
Latacunga is the base for this trip. Infrequent buses from Latacunga reache Quilotoa early in the afternoon – inquire at the bus stop as soon as you arrive at Latacunga. When we reached the lake, it was raining heavily. So we decided to check out one of the restaurants there. To picture the place, it really looks like the middle of nowhere with a few hotels near the entrance to the lake. The village is really small with one or two roads and a few establishments that advertise food and stay. These hotels are family owned and we stayed at Hostal Chukirawa right by the lake. The room cost includes a home cooked meal by the owners. The people here speak Quechua and are dressed in the traditional attire of a black skirt with embroidery, white blouse, colorful jewelry and long socks!
|Our accommodation in Quilotoa|
We walked down to the base of the lake – its about 30 minutes down and 1 hour up. The views are incredible all around – the scenery here is unparalleled. If you just want to stay here an entire day and trek the entire rim, thats possible too.
|Hiking up – I am striking a pose, though in reality it is to mask my exhaustion|
|The path to the bus stop is on the left, the lake is on the right|
|On the way during Swami’s walk|
|mama hilda hostel|
|Ecuadorian ladies and a milk truck|
Because of this delay, we reached Zumba at 8 AM and missed an earlier collective that goes to the border, La Balsa. We were tired and hungry when we got off. Finally we brokered a deal with the taxi driver to take us to a place for breakfast and then on to the border. The bus terminal at Zumba was so spanking new that restrooms were not yet open to the public. There was one restaurant, but they didn’t have any usual breakfast items. But they did have a tourist booth, where we were handed tourist maps and ostensibly made to sign the tourist register.
You can find the list of hotels/hostels here.
We went to the Otavalo from Tulcan at the Colombia-Ecuador border. Cross the border at Ipiales and arrive on Ecuadorian side. Get a collective for 75 cents to Tulcan. From the Tulcan bus stop, a bus to Otavalo will cost approximately $3 for a 3 hour ride. Pay the fare after you see the bus and make sure it looks okay. As you approach the bus stop, you will be approached by bus company agents asking you if Otavalo is your destination.
In Otavalo, we stayed at Hostal Valle Del Amanecer on Calle Roca y Quiroga. Its a nice little place with clean bathrooms, no kitchen, good breakfast and a shaded central courtyard to sit and relax. Saturday is the best day to experience the market and the animal market (which we did not get to see). Go prepared with plenty of change and will power – you’ll need it if you dont want to shop too much.
Otavalo is home to a successful indigenous community who still pride on their traditional ways. You’ll find otavalenos wearing traditional clothing, super cool bead jewelry and travelling in really modern cars. Multiple strings of golden beads are really common: