Quilota , the most western volcano in the picturesque Ecuadorian Andes, and a destination hailed as "breathtaking" by Lonely Planet. Once the source of catastrophic eruptions spreading volcanic ash for miles, it is now known as a peaceful place of natural beauty, with a 3km wide water-filled caldera gleaming at it´s base. Commonly part of the Quilotoa loop, a hiking path that passes through remote Andean villages, Quilotoa´s crater lake is renowned as a stunning highlight of the trail by backpackers and locals alike.
Not wanting to miss this opportunity of Ecuadorian splendour, I donned my hiking boots and set off for the volcano. The three hour drive from Quito to Quilotoa took us gradually away from the emerging modernity of the city and into bumpy roads, country terrain and remote, classically Ecuadorian vilages; children laughing and playing whilst herding goats, men dressed in ponchos and fedoras, women wearing layers of gold beads and red coral bracelets. We arrived at the crater rim and were treated to a stunning view of the lake; the rugged crater enclosing water of an aqua colour, a greenish tint which I learned from a local is a result of dissolved minerals over time.
We set off in a clockwise direction around the crater. It was a steep walk over the highest points followed by more steep up and down bits; it´s possible to avoid the peaks but the path around them is much longer. The wind was fierce as we descended further downward; I highly reccommend wrapping up tightly in hats and scarves, even if the sun is shining. When we reached the bottom we were persuaded by giggling local childen to kayak in the lake, so we paddled out into the emerald water, feeling very small and surreal as we glided in the cavernous crater of a volcano. It took about an hour to scale the entire perimeter, and from the boat we enjoyed magnificent views of the rockface and the plantlife blanketing it . Camping is also permitted at the bottom of the volcano, which would be highly worthwhile especially on a clear day, when Cotopaxi can sometimes be spotted in the distance. Although it´s a half hour hike down Quilotoa, it is a 1-2 hour undertaking back up the 280 meter vertical ascent; at this thought we promptly chose the bored-looking, grass- munching donkeys, laden with brightly coloured mats and cushions, to help us on our journey back up.
Furry alpacas idly chewed on the foliage in the bright sunlight as we slowly trudged upwards, the donkeys stopping sporadically to sigh or seemingly stare out over the horizon. The men and women leading the donkeys spoke their own native language, a version of Quichua, reaffirming the rich sense of history that this 40,000 year old volcano is a part of. My visit to Quiltoa gave me beautiful scenery, breathtaking views and a taste of traditional Ecuador, a place unrivalled and unmissable!