My Local Guide to Lake Quilotoa

by Sam on September 22, 2011

Latacunga, Ecuador-

I was on my way to Quito from Baños when I turned and asked the woman sitting next to me how much longer it would be until we arrived. A pretty face beneath a short-brimmed, felt, fedora hat turned, smiled and thought for a second. She was Highland Quichua and her appearance and dress is easily recognizable in a crowd of people.

After thinking for a moment she replied, “About another hour and a half.”

For an hour of that hour and a half trip we began talking. The standard travel questions soon passed and we began just having a normal chat as two twenty-somethings sitting on a bus passing the time. Originally from a small pueblo three hours outside of Quito she spends a lot of time commuting between her pueblo, Quito and another sizable town called Latacunga. Based on who she’s seeing or what she’s doing her dress changes between a fedora, shawl and embroidered skirt to jeans. It was soon time for her to get off the bus so we exchanged contact info, kissed each other on the cheek and parted ways to the befuddled looks of the other passengers. People don’t usually see a 6’1” gringo and an Ecuadorian girl in native dress part on such friendly terms on a daily basis.

In Quito with Magdalena

Those looks followed us when we met in Quito a few days later for an hour. Magdalena once again in native dress and myself in my gringo clothes just walking, talking and laughing down the street. On our first encounter she said I hadn’t really seen Ecuador until I saw Lake Quilatoa. The topic came up again in Quito so I began thinking, “If she really wants me to see Lake Quilatoa then she should take me there.” It’s not like I have any plans or obligations at the moment so I can randomly change plans and stay in Ecuador a little longer and check out this lake if she’s willing to take me there.

She was willing and a week later we met in the bus terminal of Latacunga at 7:00 am. As I walked to the terminal that morning I wondered to myself what she would be wearing. Is today a traditional dress kind of day or a jeans day?

As it turned out it was a jeans and high heels kind of day.

That small pueblo three hours outside of Quito where she was born is known as Tigua. In Ecuador Tigua is known for it’s indigenous painters and art. On our first meeting she said she was a painter from Tigua but what I didn’t know was that her father, Julio Toaquiza was the first painter in this village and has since trained several hundred painters including her and her six siblings. The native paintings that originate in Ecuador were most likely painted by Julio one of his family members or someone who he has taught. A quick in and out of her father’s studio was just enough time to snap a couple photos before hopping on another bus and a taxi up to Lago Quilotoa.

Magdalena was right. This lake was impressive. The lake sits in a 800 ft deep and 2 mile wide crater of the Quilotoa volcano 12,840 feet above sea level. The turquoise blue waters and black volcanic rock off-set one another beneath a cloud filled sky to create something special.

Lake Quilotoa

What do I mean by 'the pose'? Here's a fine example of it. Oh, she really liked my hat as well.

We sat around the rim of the crater for a couple of hours with me mostly snapping photos of her and then having her tell me to take another because that one wasn’t good enough. I don’t think I’ve ever met someone who liked having their photo taken so much but that doesn’t surprise me. I can’t count the countless number of times I’ve seen some Latina giving ‘the pose’ for their mother, father, friend, boyfriend or husband to snap an infinite number of photos of them.

I finally took enough photos and we needed to head back to Tigua for some type of meeting with engineers building a road. I didn’t get much more info out of her than that. It wasn’t until I was standing next to a road under construction on the side of a mountain listening to some guy rant on in Spanish and the local men and women of the pueblo raising their voices and talking to one another in Quechua that I fully understood. To build a new paved road the engineers need to destroy some farmers fields and a house that Magdalena’s family owns. This wouldn’t be so bad but no one seems to want to be held accountable for the destruction. The engineers pull out some papers saying that the people will be reimbursed by a government office but no one thinks the compensation is enough to replace the land that their fields are on and are pretty upset about it. I stopped listening at this point being distracted by four small children with big eyes and wind-chapped cheeks staring at me and running around throwing dirt at one another.

Physically exhausted from the wind and cold and mentally exhausted from thinking and talking in Spanish since 7:00 am and fruitlessly trying to make sense of Quechua in the afternoon it was time to end this day and head back to Latacunga.

Travel Info: Latacunga to Lake Quilotoa

A quick travelers reference for those going from Latacunga to Lake Quilotoa or the Quilota loop.

  • Take any of the buses headed towards Quevedo from Latacunga and get off at Zumbahua. The 1.5 – 2 hour trip should cost between $0.75 – $1.00.
  • From Zumbahua you need to take a taxi which is $5.00 for the 14km drive. I’ve heard that there is one bus a day that stops in the town sometime around 3:00 but I can’t confirm tha.
  • Entrance is $2.00
  • Bring food because the couple of places to eat in Quilotoa are overpriced.

Photos of Lake Quilotoa:

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