Quilotoa Loop-Ecuadorian Andes, vegan style
Quilotoa-12,000 feet in the Ecuadorian Andes. A small tourist based pueblito, built along the rim of a giant 2 mile wide caldera filled with gorgeous green water. From Quilotoa, you can walk from pueblito to pueblito, spending anywhere from a two day to a four day trek walking through the Andes covered in lush green plants, towered over by beautiful mountains, gaze from high top mountain plateaus, and descend into gorges and canyons. It’s a lovely trek, off the beaten path and highly highly recommended.
Taking a bus from Latacunga, after staying at the fabulous Hostal Tiana (a good place to meet up with other hikers if you’re solo or want more in your group (the more the merrier, the trail is tricky!), or a good place to drop off all your extra baggage. Free baggage storage! They also can provide you with all the maps and hiking information for the hikes), we made our way up and up to the small pueblito, dropped off our small trekking bags, and did the two hour descent and ascent of the crater. It’s a bit of a climb, and will be difficult if you are not acclimatized, but it’s lovely. You can easily rent horses to go back up ($8), or rent kayaks on the lake itself (2.50 per half hour per person).
From there, we hiked from Quilotoa to Chugchilán. It took us about five hours with getting a bit lost. (It’s the third sand look-out over the crater!).
Then on day 3, from Quilotoa to Chugchilán-six hours. The trickiest trail of the day.
Day 4-Chugchilán to Sigchos, 3-4 hours where you can catch a bus from Sigchos to take you back to Latacunga.
As a vegan or vegetarian, I was a bit nervous. With almost all the hostals having dinner (merienda) and breakfast (desayuno) included in their price, and small pueblitos up in the mountains, I assumed there would be very little but meat and potatoes, but luckily, it was fairly veggie friendly! When you arrive at each hostal, it’s very easy to say you’re a vegetarian. (vegetariano or vegeteriana (girl)). From there, I’d just say that I did not eat eggs (huevos) or cheese (queso). Most meals weren’t going to have milk or butter anyways, but feel free to mention them if you’re particularly worried. I did find the meals pretty good and wasn’t starving or anything.
Quilotoa-the worst options in terms of food. Smaller less gringo-ized hostals. I had rice, french fries, and two slices of tomatoes. There was a vegan soup, and fried plantains for desert. All vegan. Breakfast was bread, and a fruit salad. They did have eggs and yogurt for breakfast as well, but I declined.
Chugchilán-We stayed at Cloud Forest, highly recommended. $10 for lodging and merienda and desayuno. Merienda-veggie soup, beans, rice, salad. Ice cream for dessert, so no go there. Breakfast was serve yourself essentially. They’d bring an egg (declined) and fruit salad. Then they had self-serve bread, oatmeal, etc. for breakfast. (The owner, José, knows the word vegan, and you can definitely describe yourself that way!)
Isinliv-We did not stay at the acclaimed LLuLluLLama hostal, though it looked nice, but stayed at the other option in town for $5 cheaper. Hostal Taita Cristobal. For dinner, veggie soup, a stir fry of vegetables, and an egg tort that I clearly said no eggs to. My friend was luckily very nice and gave me his veggies, and me the tort. I should’ve said I had a strong strong allergy to eggs, but alas…Desert was fried dough with canela sauce (canela is really unrefined sugar, the melted down version is delicious). Breakfast was the same as chugchilán, oatmeal, fruit salad, bread, and a declined egg scramble.
Ultimately, I’d say that the trek was easily done vegan, and would be perfectly suitable and recommended for both vegans and vegetarians. Staying at the hostals, feel free to use the word vegetariano (vegano is a bit more unknown, but you can explain it). Just make sure to continue to explain your diet. Saying you have an allergy is also a potentially good idea. As vegans, we know the food isn’t going to necessarily be amazing on these back country treks, so take it with a grain of salt, but ultimately if there is a will to do the trek, there is a way!
As for lunches, a few places will pack you a lunch at a price, but I ended up buying fruit a few times, and bringing a few extras things with me, so I don’t really know how vegan friendly they are. I brought a bit of TVP and rehydrated that one time, I also brought nuts, crackers, and dried beans (habitas, delicious!). Feel free to bring extra snacks, granola bars, etc. The hikes are demanding, but not impossible!
It is a beautiful, beautiful trek. Winding our way through earthen walls, down canyons, up to plateaus!
A few quick final pointers:
1. Take the directions with a grain of salt. Part of the fun is how bad the directions are, but do try and travel in a group and don’t be afraid to ask locals for directions. They all know where you’re going, though you may not.
2. Be careful of some of the animals. We did have a few dogs chase us and we did have a cow attack. Some are lovely, like our stray dog we took with us, or the cute donkey that got caught up in his rope.
3. Try and leave earlier in the morning. It almost always seemed to rain and get cloudy in the afternoon, making the hike a bit more wet, and the views not as good.
4. Have fun! Get excited for beautiful vistas, small Ecuadorian andes farms, and lots of animals!