The Quilotoa Loop is a road that takes you from the Panamericana highway far into the backcountry of Cotopaxi province- and by backcountry, I really, really mean backcountry. Most of the roads are mountain switchbacks, with no guard rails and, in some cases, unpaved. We also had the pleasure of driving multiple times through construction sites- parts of the road were being redone, and in the Quilotoa Loop that means you drive on dirt next to operational excavators, front loaders, and bulldozers. As in, stop the car while workers dig a big hole a foot away. Meanwhile local women with children traipse along beside you, completely indifferent to the major road work occurring around them.
But back to the Loop- this area of the Andean region is rife with indigenous communities, markets, and mountain hiking trails shadowed by snow-capped volcanoes. Every view is captivating, every road is treacherous, and the isolation of the region brings you into contact with lots of indigenous communities and a centuries-old way of life. We traveled from Quito to Isinliví (the link gives the extremely sparse information you can find online), and stayed the night at Hostal Llullu Llama.
Hostal Llullu Llama: I can’t say enough great things about this place- our cabin was cozy and beautiful, the spa was steamy and inviting, and the lunch and dinner we ate there were both fantastic (the cheese toast at lunch was very possibly the best grilled cheese I’ve ever eaten). The hostel guests all spent the evening playing games, hanging out around the wood-burning stove, and getting to know each other.
Hiking: There’s a lot of great hiking to be had in the Quilotoa Loop, and, in fact, most of the travelers in the area are there for the hiking. We did just a couple shorter trails, since the girls tend to make it about an hour before a hike loses its allure. Trekking around remote Isinliví, our girls were popular. We were invited into farmers’ homes for coffee and snacks and received curious glances in many areas of Ecuador overall.
Getting there: In order to get to Isinliví, our route was the following: we drove the Panamericana to E30 (Via a Sigchos) to Isinliví. Its hard to get lost, as there is really only one main road. Also, thank you to Google Maps for their offline option. The part that gets tricky is when you are trying to decide if the path you are driving on is actually a road- at one point we followed a sign for Hostal Llullu Llama only to realize too late that it was likely a path for hikers, not automobiles. Driving backwards on cliffs with no shoulders or guardrails is not something I recommend. Following our stay in Isinliví we drove back through Sigchos and then on through Chucchilán, Quilotoa, Zumbahua, and Pilaló, towards Quevado.
What we saw: We drove through cloud forests (sometimes with about 10 feet of visibility- eek!), livestock, numerous indigenous communities, and the Reserva Ecologica Los Ilinizas, a national park composed of volcanic peaks, and Andean grasslands, fields and valleys. We saw an entirely unique way of life, sensational panoramas, and lots of animals- sheep, cows, llamas, pigs, chickens, dogs, goats; always exciting for 6 and 7 year olds. It was humbling to see this region of the world with a microscopic view- the hard work required for even a simple living, and the dazzling and awe-inspiring surroundings.