To many of us, it is a rare occurrence to breathe the crisp air at 3000 feet. To reach a summit above 6,000 feet above sea level, is even more of an anomaly. To find yourself at such an altitude is often a result of arduous effort, sore feet and countless hours. In the Andes, however, you will be the sun’s closest spectators; hardly ever finding yourself below 6,000 feet. Those curious souls who have found their way to Ecuador can therefore expect to be in for an experience unlike others.
Winding roads make their way through the Andean highlands, taking you through green valleys and past peaks shrouded in clouds. Silent and majestic, the Andean mountains stand immovable and unconquerable throughout time, thus giving you a sense of why mountains have been revered as sacred by the peoples of the Andes. With this as company, your trip to Quilotoa, a crater lake located in a dormant volcano, will not appear like a normal run of the mill drive.
As the crater slowly appears in view, the most noticeable thing is the lake’s color. The lake glimmers in a dark, emerald green colour, created by the minerals that lay at the bottom of the lake. This stands in stark contrast to the encircling steep hillside, marked by brown, grey and dull green colors. A path will take the willing visitors down to the bottom of the crater. After a light hike down the path, you can enjoy the shimmering lake up close. However, if you do indeed end up finding yourself at the bottom, make sure that you’ll thoroughly enjoy the view. The volcano resides at almost 12,000 feet; hence you can expect your lungs to work a little harder as you work your way back to the top. No feat ought to come too easy but it is so worth it!
If walking up and down hills does not tickle your fancy, you can enjoy the dazzling views from various vantage points close to the parking lot. And if you feel a tad more adventurous, you can commence on a loop that takes you around the crater. The loop will take about 4 hours, yet, for those with lungs that are not accustomed to the altitude, this path will prove to be more surmountable. While traversing the loop, you will immerse yourself in the quietude of the Andes, accompanied by nothing but the emerald lake and a fickle Andean sky.
As dusk silently glides across the sierra, heralding the forthcoming night, Hostal Mama Hilda offers a perfect refuge. Located in the small village of Chugchilan, it is situated about a 20 minutes’ drive from the crater. The village has a rustic charm typical of the Andes. Within 30 seconds you have both entered and left the village. Yet, despite its small size, it’s full of character. In small shops where you can buy locally grown vegetables, the owner is sitting outside leisurely talking to its neighbours. If you happen to come through at a time where the village is full of life, you will find the small streets enriched by the colours of the local outfits. And if you happen to overhear conversations between the locals, you do not need to question your Spanish abilities. Quichua, the indigenous language, can frequently be heard spoken here, as well as throughout the rest of the Andes.
Hostal Mama Hilda itself is situated at the end of Chugchilan (or the start, depending on what direction you come from). The hotel can boast a number of charming, wooden buildings scattered around its area. There is a dining hall, a main building with a homely common room, and various houses for accommodation. Furthermore, they are currently working on a full-scale restaurant building, with its own bread-baking oven, and a little spa. All rooms are dressed in wood panelling, only occasionally interrupted by areas covered in coarse stone, making it feel like you are in a wooden cabin; a cabin far removed from the noise and stress of urban life. Moreover, as an extra boon, the homely rooms are equipped with wooden stoves to keep the Andean night at an arm’s length.
The estate’s buildings are kept apart with various vegetation, pathways and green spaces. Just outside my own room, there were overhanging trees which were the home to a flock of hummingbirds. A flock that ate happily out of one of the hummingbird feeders hung up for the enjoyment of the birds. And during your stay, you will most likely get to meet the whole family, always with a smile on their faces, which all fulfil various posts around at the hotel.
With breath-taking and serene landscapes coupled with the hospitality and charm of the Andean communities, Quilotoa and Mama Hilda epitomizes a uniqueness which can only be found in the Andes. Hence, for the traveller who lusts for the immeasurability and peacefulness of the mountains, a journey here will give the traveller everything they are looking for.
Do you want to visit the Andes? Check out our trips to the Ecuadorian Andes here!