Breathtaking scenery started from the crater lake of Quilotoa for me, as I walked through the sleepy town of Quilotoa and reached the edge pretty quickly. When the mist blows over, it leaves you with a stunning view that no pictures can ever justify. It takes 3-4 hours to walk around the caldera over the ridges, and there is a canoe hire at the bottom. We got here after transiting in Latacunga at around 4pm, and had no problems walking into the first hotel and securing a room. The included dinner eaten around the fireplace was delicious and introduced us to the peculiar but very yummy custom of eating chicken and corn soup with popcorn thrown into it.
We chose to start at Quilotoa for the loop as it was the highest in altitude compared to the destination of Sigchos, and we thought it would be much easier hiking downhill. We found out actually each hikeday consists of going all the way down to the valley, crossing the river, and then going all the way back up. Thus it might have been easier but only to a very small degree.
Arriving in the evening gave us nice early start the next day, and we started trekking clockwise around the crater for about 1/3 of the way before the left turn towards Chugchillan. This involves some steep paths up and down and only take the second left that you see. There will signs for Hostal Cloud Forest so follow them. Next, walk zigzag down some fields and end up on a partially flat path towards a town with blue roofs. We were almost hit by rockfall if not for some quick thinking and lightfootedness. The local farmers are friendly and helpful if you are lost. After the town with blue roofs, turn left at the end and walk down steep narrow rocklined paths towards the river. After crossing the river it is another zigzag path uphill and it is only half an hour before you reach Chugchillan.
The views were incredible on this leg from Quilotoa to Chugchillan and we stopped multiple times for photos and just to take it all in.
Chugchillan had a famous hostel called Black Sheep Inn that we splurged on (3-4 times the price of neighbouring ones at least). It has a yoga room, a gym, a farm, multiple eco-toilets and a flying fox! But the vegetarian dinners that they hyped themselves up for, were not as impressive. What is awesome is that they pack lunch for you so in the middle of nowhere you satisfy your stomach. We had a free day in between the hikes there, so we hired horses up to the cloud forest which was a wonderful experience, totally worth the money and gluteal effort.
After tearing ourselves away from the magic of Chugchillan, we headed beyond Black Sheep Inn to more hills and paths. Turn right down a small path near a white house and continue stepping into mud to reach a fantastic viewpoint of the river. Take the small rocky path down to the river just a few feet further from the viewpoint. If in doubt, follow the yellow markings painted on posts on the side of the road. Only cross the river at the second bridge, which is nothing more than a big log with no siderails. Continue beyond the pile of burnt Eucalyptus trees and uphill to a huge meadow.
This is where we got lost and my partner was so mad at me that he fell down a hill, sustaining a whole pants full of lovegrass that took ages to get rid off and some abrasions.
Our mistake was to climb up the rocky hill at the end of the huge meadow. Dont. This will lead to you climbing another huge grassy hill, and necessitating you to roll down the other end which is not very clearly marked where either. Instead, take the path on left of the rocks that leads down along the river, then only climb uphill when you see a proper path flanked by grass. It was rainy season and it was muddy and slippery to the point of being dangerous at some points, as your path includes grassy but steep drops on either side. After a lot of life threatening moments and hiking up muddy streams and stepping into huge piles of donkey manure, getting chased by wild dogs, we decided that maybe we wont do the next leg of the loop manually.
We would not recommend staying at Hostal Lululama, as there is another hostel just to it with a fantastic garden and much cheaper rooms that we discovered a little too late. Other than the very delicious garlic lentil soup, the rest of the dinner left us longing for more than just overcooked shreds of chicken breast. The bright side is that I got my donkey manure pants washed out within a few hours with their laundry service at Lululama.
There is a cool furniture factory next to the church in Isinlivi where the owner is a friendly Italian lady with a very dirty white dog. It supports local employment where farming is a dying trade and there is nothing much else to do in the middle of nowhere. The special thing about the furniture is that there are no hinges to them, just wood fitted like lego, and perfect in every way.
We took the milk truck the next day down to Sigchos and congratulated each other for the good choice of transport, as you could not get more local than standing at the back of an open air truck full of locals, stopping at every few streets to have locals dump their freshness into the churns loaded beside you.
We loved it, despite the dangers and difficulties posed. It was also very tiring, but rewarding. If you go in the rainy season, wear boots suited for mud and slippery surfaces. Also leave early in the morning as showers are mainly in the afternoons.