The little hostel that could,the Quilotoa Loop, the Jungle, and the Galapagos..Travelling with a conscience!
There are a few places in Ecuador that are out-of-the-way, a little tricky to get to, and are well worth the effort to get there just for the experience and joy of travelling that they bring to any journey.
Among these are the hills of Otavalo, which take catching a caminisetta or a taxi, Vilcabamba, which is a few bus rides and often sticking out your thumb in the hopes of a ride, and the Quilotoa Loop, which is a combination of luck and finding someone going the way your hiking.
These spots are what I call backpacking. The journey is half the fun and the people and places that one meets when there are the inspiration behind travelling to Ecuador.
The inspiration that these places hold brings new experiences to life and the people who own and run the hostels and facilitate travel there chooses to do so because of these experiences.
One person that I have met whom is high on the list as well met and one to literally listen to about travelling in Ecuador is Katrien. She owns two incredible well equiped hostels on the Quilotoa Loop.
At this point I want you to stop and consider the last sentence. Katrien is the kind of person that one looks for when travelling. She is the person I hope to find when searching the travel forums or emailing hostels, travel agents, or contacts given to me from friends.
She moved here eight years ago and proved herself in the tourism industry as a guide and working for a good travel agency. No small task.
I can imagine her in those days. Hip, smart, and funny with the savvy needed to weed through the endless daily routine of missed connections, dropped reservations, and bilingual confusion that those of us who choose to live here are often immersed in.
I can see her finding the good guides, the communities that were moving forward, and the people who were making a difference within them.
I can also imagine her finding Quilotoa and deciding to invest her experience, time, and passion by starting her hostels and creating new resources for those travelling there. It must have come as a shock for those people and employers that she left.
In short, Katrien is the kind of person that the writers at Lonly Planet dream about. Smart, passionate, and a bit under the radar while still caring about the people who visit Quilotoa and the people in the communities that live and work there.
The vision behind her hostels is to show those who choose to make the journey why they have come. Everyone travels for a reason, an often forgotten aspect of these reasons is to experience the culture from an altruistic perspective to find new relevance in day-to-day life.
The Quilotoa Loop is a corner to be turned as far as finding reflections to this end and Katrien understands how to guide those who start and end the trek in Latacunga towards those experiences.
This is no accident. It´s a well thought out combination of experience, and a love of the culture that grows when others find it for the first time.
The loop itself combines hiking, travelling, by bus, navigating trails that arn´t always apparent, and in the end finding communities and markets that are off the beaten path. It´s not the tourist driven scene of Banos, nor the gringo driven markets of Otavao that the weekend brings. It´s exploring and adventure complete with wrong turns, unexpected nooks and crannies, and a fresh look at the culture that hosts travellers eager to find wonder in the Galapagos, wildlife in the jungle, and sunsets on the coast.
What Katrien and her partner have built within the vibrancy of this landscape is a resource for honest adventure that springs from her experiences there and in Ecuador.
This experience contains a wealth of knowledge for travellers and offers options for a diverse variety of travel.
Consider the basics of why people travel to Ecuador. The Galapagos, the jungle, and the coast come to mind. Now go over the research that people planning a trip undertake to make it worthwhile!
trying to find the right lodge, hours spent on travel forums and with heads in guidebooks in search of hostels, the right person to contact about last-minute cruises, and countless questions that lead to new horizons once feet are set down on Ecuadorian soil.
The answers that Katrien has complied for those who choose to use them are intelligent and solve the riddles with consideration for the must see spots while remembering the people who call these places home.
The resources on her list from Hostal Tiana and Hostal Llullu Llama are impressive and display the skill and savvy that She learned while working in the industry that often neglects the aspects of travel that she includes.
Tributrek offers multiple day trips to the loop by private transportation, guided public transportation tours, and detailed instructions for doing it on your own.
2. The Hostals
Both Hostal Tiana and Hostal Llullu Llama are great points to stop during the typically three dat trek and offer more than your average stay on the gringo trail.
They are run in part by volunteers and are set up to support and nourish the culture that they are a part of. Volunteers are asked for eight weeks where they help with the day-to-day operations of the hostals and can spend time in remote communities teaching English. This courtesy is extended to people staying whom are treated like fellow participants in the endeavor. Friendships are created in this enviroment while being a guest feels like being guided towards incredible things rather than finding a bed in a foreign land for the night.
3. The Galapagos from an insider! Katrien has created a community driven travel agency geared toward providing travellers with real last-minute cruise options. As with her innovations for the loop, she offers budget, tourist class, and luxury options for cruises on the same boats that others charge a significant more for. She keeps her overhead down by operating online out of Hostal Tiana. Her partner, Ellen, lives in Quito and can come to your hotel and giving you expert answers to the questions that flood the travel boards about boats, land options, and people to use for your travels to the islands.
Also gained from her experience in the tour industry, Katrien offers her experience from an expat perspective about the many diverse lodges here and what they have to offer. Her experience with those who operate the lodges brings fresh insight into the community driven havens that host many travelers looking for boat rides down the river and wildlife at every turn.
Community driven tourism isn´t a new idea in Ecuador but some whom I consider experts in the subject here consider it still in it´s beginning stages as opposed to the western world and countries that Ecuador borders such as Columbia and Peru. Finding someone who is actively trying to take it out of this stage by taking money from the business of the Galapagos, where the money more often that not is taken off of the islands, and redirecting it towards other deserving community projects in the relatively undisturbed communities of the Andes is a refreshing discovery.
It´s becuase of this that I am writing in the hopes that those reading it will strongly consider contributing to Katriens business and making their way to Latacunga to experience the culture and vibrancy of Ecuador first hand.
For serious inquiries about any of the above information including the Galapagos, the jungle, The Quilotoa loop, volunteering, or teaching please contact me directly through firstname.lastname@example.org.
Katrien is expecting her first child any day now and because of this day-to-day operations of her businesses are being delegated to others including her partner in Quito. If you need help or are going to the Galapagos or the jungle, I will forward your information to the person in charge and get you email addresses and phone numbers.
Directions to Latacunga
By bus: Find your way to the southern bus terminal in Quito. Busses go every forty minutes and should be between three and four dollars.
By Taxi: There is a pre-scheduled taxi that stops at different times at stops in Quito and costs eight dollars. Phone is 099242795. Please be aware that it can get crowded and taking a lot of luggage probably won’t work.
Something to try if you are stuck: The Secret Garden in Old Town has private transport going to its hostel in Cotopaxi on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 10:30. If they don’t have a lot of people going they might consider taking people to Machachi and then you could get a taxi from there to Latacunga.
Saquisilí Market — Thursday
Saquisilí is a town just 20 minutes outside of Latacunga, so it’s easy to visit if you’re in the Cotopaxi area on a Thursday. You can also catch this market on your way from Latacunga.
Economically, Saquisilí market is one of the most important markets in the province of Cotopaxi. The entire community comes alive with vendors at every street corner selling everything imaginable throughout the village. If you want to buy a llama, the best selection at the animal market is at 6 am, so make sure you get an early start. Good weavings and tourist items are for sale until approximately 1pm.
Zumbahua Market — Saturday
You can hire a local truck to take you to the Saturday Morning Zumbahua Market, it’s a beautiful town surrounded by rocky peaks. The market is very indigenous and colorful. Lots of llamas. Market ends by 1-2 pm. On the way to or from the market, you can also visit the Naïf painters gallery in Tigua. You can also stop at Laguna Quilotoa for a quick photo on your way to the Market. A round trip truck costs $30-50 for up to 5 people.
Chugchilán Market — Sunday
Every Sunday you can stroll through the small Sunday Market in Chugchilán. The town of Chugchilán is quite small, but on Sunday an extra 100 people are in town, mostly hanging out.
Guantualo Morning Market — Monday
From Black Sheep Inn, you can hike or ride horses across the canyon to visit a very small, non-touristy, rural community market. See how people have been trading for hundreds of years. This is a three-hour hike each way. Guides and or horses are available.
Latacunga Market — Tuesday
Latacunga is the largets town in the Quilotoa Loop. Their market is also large, spreading across two plazas in the center of town. Very colorful. Gross views in the slaughter-house and meat market.
Generally speaking getting around Ecuador by bus is easy compared to many other South American countries. Distances are short and buses frequent. Now, when it come to the Quilotoa Loop it’s not quite as simple. Getting from Latacunga to Zumbahua is easy enough with frequent buses which take two hours and cost $2. From there to Laguna Quilotoa it’s easiest to jump on the back of a jeep or pick up truck. The more people riding together the cheaper it is. Locals cram twenty people on one and hence pay less per person. There is a bus once a day at 1:30 PM but it take twice as long and not likely you’ll get a seat unless a lot of people get off in Zumbahua. From Laguna Quilotoa to Chugchilán there is one bus per day between 2-2:30 PM ($2).
Latacunga to Chugchilán Look for Cooperativa Transportes La Iliniza for the bus all the way to Chugchilan.
The bus from Latacunga to Chugchilán takes about 4 hours and costs about US$2.50. Terminal Terrestre is located on the west side of the Pan American Highway, just south of the 5 de Junio Bridge.