Ecuador: Day 1 – Quilotoa Loop to Banos
Luis picked us up from our hotel around 8am to begin our journey through Ecuador. We took the back road through the Quilotoa Loop. The ride was rocky, filled with potholes. I wish i took one of those motion-sickness pills.
Our first stop was in Selva Alegra, a town known for their guinea pigs. Guinea pigs are abundant in Ecuador and are eaten regularly like chickens. Guinea pigs are kept in the kitchen so that the owners can feed them scraps while they cook. This is to fatten the pigs up before grilling them over the fire. On our drive, chefs stretch the guinea pigs over a stick before placing them side by side over an open flame. The smell of BBQ meat filled the streets of Selva Alegra. My stomach growled.
1. Cotopaxi Volcano:
The first stop on the Quilotoa Loop was to Cotopaxi, the most active volcano in Ecuador. Cotopaxi has 2 neighboring volcanoes including the largest volcano in all of Ecuador. On the drive, Luis pointed the red mud out in the meadow and revealed that it was caused by Cotopaxi’s eruption from about 125 years ago. It’s unbelievable that after all these years, you are still able to see the impact from the eruption.
Time Spent: 1 hour | Parking: open road, free
2. Limpiopungo Lagoon:
Our next stop was the Limpiopungo Lagoon. Due to the wet season, the lagoon flooded the parking lot but an officer was there regulated the area for safety conditions. He allowed us to drive over the water to park our vehicle in a dry region.
Around the lagoon is an easy walking trail. Towards the end of the hike, we had to walk in 4 inches of water. Luckily, we had proper hiking boots and crossed almost water-free.
The trail wasn’t as popular as the actual lagoon. Most tour companies use this site as a stop over with little time to walk the trail.
Time Spent: 1 hour | Parking; Free
3. Quilotoa Crater Lake:
Quilotoa is a crater lake caused by a volcanic eruption. The lake is a captivating greenish color. The site is a popular tourist destination but it is easy to ignore the crowd. Once you view Quilotoa, you have the option to hike up or down. I didn’t take the trail up but it offers you an overview of the area. The down trail is about a 30 minute hike down and a 1 to 2 hours hike up due to the uphill and elevation. Many patrons hike down and pay $5 for a mule to go up. If you are ambitious and reach the lake, there are water activities waiting for you.
Time Spent: 1-3 hours | Parking: $1/pp or park outside the entrance for free
Where to Eat:
We had lunch at a small shop in El Chaupi. On the menu today: chicken soup, cuy (guinea pig) with potatoes, or choclo con queso (Andean corn, cheese and lima beans). We ordered 2 dishes of the cuy, 2 dish of the choclo con queso, and 1 chicken soup. The total came out to be $13.
My friend and I each ordered the cuy. It was our first time trying guinea pig. Our guide told us that he is not a fan of the meat but we had to try it. We both ordered the tail end of the pig. We took a big bite into the pig and we got stuck….the guinea pig skin was too chewy. It was thick! We yanked the skin out of the guinea pig and slowly ate the little meat on the bone. I’m not a fan of guinea pigs but glad that I tried it.
We paid the family for the meal and tipped generously. One of the workers chased us down the street to give us a few postcards as a thank you.
My friend and I shared a Churrasco for dinner. The thin sliced steak was served with fries, potato salad, green salad, avocado slices, and a fried egg. It was delicious.
We ordered the local beer which is typically Pilsener. The bottle is larger than the size of your head so be mindful when you order your drink(s).
Where to Stay in Baños:
As we were getting closer to Baños, I started searching for places to stay for the night. There were only 2 options that appeared, one being Hotel Dondé Marcelo. The rate online was $90 but they only charged us $62 for walk-ins. There is a small percentage fee when we booked using a card. The room is small and it does get loud in the hotel. The building echos and guests are up at the crack of dawn. Another downside of this hotel is that the blinds are light filtered vertical blinds. People can actually look into your room, but there is little foot traffic. On the plus side, there is so much to see around the hotel. There are countless restaurants, bars, candy shops, food carts, and nightlife. For what the area offers, I wouldn’t mind staying here again.