Quilotoa Loop for Everyone?

If you Google ‘Things to do in Ecuador’ and Quilotoa Loop will be on the list. We read about it on various sites and blogs and then decided not to do it! We don’t think Quilotoa Loop is for everyone.

Here is our reasons:

  1. Doing the Quilotoa Loop means leaving your big backpack at a hostel and coming back to get it after doing the loop. The thought of leaving most of our belongings behind for few days not comforting. What if we needed something urgently (I know it doesn’t happen but yea!)
  2. We could do the Quilatoa Loop carrying the big backpack with us. It meant walking with it for 6 hours each day. As if we are fit enough for that!
  3. We are on a holiday and we didn’t see the point in over exerting ourselves. Doing the complete loop meant hiking for 4 days back to back. We would rather hike to our physical ability and relax when necessary.
  4. We are quite particular about some of our clothes, especially because we are only carrying 4-5 sets of socks and undies. So hiking 4 days would mean no clean clothes after the hike and the thought of it was not comfortable at all.
  5. We found plenty of day hike options from Chugchilan, including the Quilatoa Laguna. This option was comfortable and yet adventurous.

Look out for our post about spending 5 days in Chugchilan. There is plenty to do from one location! We saw various parts of the region, almost similar to the Quilatoa Loop experience.

Safety while traveling

Some of you must of realised that our blogging has reduced. There is one main reason for it – our laptop was stolen from us. It was definitely an unfortunate incident but we have learnt from it. Here is what happened and how you can ensure safety while traveling.


During our South America research we read a lot about thefts in Colombia. We were mentally prepared about keeping ourselves and our belongings safe. But I guess the recent economical development in Colombia provided us a much safer environment. We gradually let our guards down and that came to bite us in the bum in Ecuador.

The Realisation

The incident took place on the bus ride from Otavalo to Quito. The journey itself was uneventful till we reached Quito. We were heading towards our hostel in La Marsical when at the Quito metrobus connection Shruti realised that one of the bags was unusually light.

We quickly opened the zips of the bag to realise that the laptop was missing. Our initial thought was we thought we left the laptop in the hostel. However, further thinking through confirmed that it was not a possibility. As we had checked out early to do the hike around Otavalo, we had locked our bags and left them at the hostel. An email exchange with the hostel confirmed our fears.

We then tried to recall every incident since we left the hostel. The theft could not have occurred on the Quito metrobus as the daypacks were on our laps due to the evening peak time rush. The only situation left was the Otavalo to Quito bus ride.

Theft from under the feet

After our 5 hour hike in Otavalo, we had a decent meal and were ready to board the bus to Quito. Due to the hike and food coma, Shruti and I fell asleep as soon as the bus left the terminal. The daypacks were places next to our feet on the bus floor. Something we have been doing since Colombia.

The thief/ves must have been sitting behind us on the bus. They would have realised that we were fast asleep giving them the opportunity to carry out the theft. At one point in the journey, probably 40 mins after we left the terminal, I woke up for a few minutes to realise the bag was not against the side but halfway under the seat. I thought that the bag had moved due to the rash bus driving along the mountains.

Once we got to our hostel in Quito, we went through the chain of events and realized that we had been robbed by some skillful thieves. The bag was dragged from under the seat, the laptop taken and pushed back to close to our feet.

What Next?

The next 2 hours revolved around changing passwords, estimating the damage and the plan of action. As we had specified the laptop when we bought our travel insurance, we had to file a police report as soon as possible to claim the theft. The tourist police station in La Mariscal area of Quito had an officer who could manage some English and helped us file a police report. In the next couple of days we filled our claim to the insurance and are currently waiting to hear from them.

UPDATE: Our travel insurance replied and they have reimbursed us for the lost laptop! I must say we have the best travel insurance and highly recommend Southern Cross Insurance for everyone! They have only been understanding :)

How to be Vigilant

There are a lot of lessons we learnt from this event. Here are some of our tips for ensuring safety while traveling.

  1. The time on the road is when we have to be most careful. The focus must be to arrive at the destination safe and sound. If you are distracted thats when an incident could occur.
  2. Always board the bus after decent rest. Sleeping on the bus is not an option unless you are hugging your belongings. This incident occurred because both of us were tired and fast asleep. Even when I woke up for couple of minutes during the journey, my tired brain accepted the easiest possibility of bag moving due to the bus ride. I did not think twice or consider other possibilities.
  3. Always lock all your bags, especially the zips with the money and passport.
  4. Never place anything on the top shelf of the bus because if you cannot see it, it is likely to be gone. Under certain circumstances if you have to place some of your belongings on the top, either place it on the opposite side so you can always see it or leave some part of the belonging hanging so it is still within your sight.

Take all the necessary precautions to avoid any damage. If an incident occurs, it ruins the next couple of days and possibly even your overall experience in the country.

Also, always remember that some people are constantly struggling to make ends meet. They are possibly in a situation where taking a chance is their best option. If they get caught, they could probably get away because most tourists do not get involved in pressing charges or taking action. It is almost a win-win situation for them.

In any case, we still count ourselves lucky as the thieves could have taken the entire bag and got off at the next stop. We would have been left with no passports and money then!

Otavalo, Ecuador

Otavalo is a small Ecuadorian town in about 3 hours away from the border. It is well-known for its indigenous Saturday Market where plenty of people flock together to buy, sell, eat and enjoy the day. The town is quite picturesque and upon getting there we realised there is lot to do around it.

Saturday Market

Shruti timed our border crossing and getting to Otavalo alongside the market. On Saturday morning we managed to visit the market and we were not disappointed to the slightest. Otavalo has been the market town of the native people in this area for centuries. It was amazing stepping out of the hostel to see men and women dressed up in their traditional attire. What was even more brilliant was that this was our first sight of native people all around us. We finally felt we were in the Inca Land!

Native woman, Otavalo Market

The market took up nearly half of the town centre. Everywhere there were stalls with women selling handicrafts, clothing and art. Sometimes many native women were making handicrafts right there in front of us. The colors of the woven bags, clothes and carpets were phenomenal. We haven’t regretted backpacking many times but this was definitely one of those days. There was so much stuff we wanted to take with us but had no space in the bag whatsoever.

Llama, Otavalo, Ecuador

A little away from the handicraft market was the fruit and veg market. There were lots of butchered pigs, fish and small eateries selling native food. There were plenty of green leafy veges, corn and spices. We wanted to try the food but almost all of it was pork based. Therefore, we did a bit of a mixture.

Otavalo Market, Ecuador

Shruti bought some mora fruits for 50 cents while I decided to try a paella like dish with rice, noodles, veges, pork, eggs and potatoes. It only cost $1 and it was very filling. Later on, we both had a fried banana cake which was fresh and sweet for 30 cents. Finally, Shruti ordered a mix of corn, beans, tomato salsa, tomato bits, onions, coriander and lemon juice. Here in Ecuador the dish is called Choclo but in India they would call it chaat. It was very very tasty!

Choclo, Otavalo Market, Ecuador

Ofcourse, the point of a market is to shop and we only had limited space. Therefore, we made a mental rule of buying only from native sellers so we are benifiting a less well off family and buying small so there’s not a problem with space. We bargained a little where we could and ended up buying some little things that we be with us for years to come.

Imbaburra Volcano

We decided to take a bus to Lago San Pablo which was one of the highlights of the area. The bus ride would have been a 15 minute uneventful ride if a native young lady hadn’t started talking to Shruti. We somehow communicated with the lady and found out a little about her home and culture. She told us a little about her town and things to do. At the end,  she told us where to get off the bus and we went our separate ways.

The view from the lake had mountains on 3 sides. All the mountains had little villages and farms up their sides mostly growing corn which is the staple of the area. Set against the lake, it was a postcard view. The Imamburra Volcano looked picturesque as the clouds rolled over the top. The dark green color of the grass on the volcano at the top, the lighter green of the farms in the middle,  the villages at the base and the lake below that was as pretty sight as we have seen on this trip.

Imbaburra Volcano, Otavalo, Ecuador

We walked around longer noticing the village life going on around us. Sheep, pigs and cows were tied up or grazing on the pastures next to the lake. As we walked, the villagers were herding the cows back and dragging the pigs and sheep back to their pens. It was heartening to see the simple life of the villagers. We asked a native man about the bus stop and he told us to wave it down. We did and that was the end of our visit to San Pablo.

Imbaburra Volcano, Otavalo, Ecuador

Cuicocha Lake

Otavalo region is famous for high mountain lakes and we decided to check out one of them, Cuicocha Lake. The lake is in a crater of a volcano which last blew up 3,000 years ago and sits at 3068 metres in altitude. We arrived there from Otavalo after taking a bus and then a collectivo. A few of the other backpackers from the hostel decided to hike the crater trail. We chose not to as my hiking shoes were wet and Shruti’s tattoo was still relatively new on the foot.

We were wowed by the lake as soon as we arrived. The mountains around it rise a few hundred metres above it making the view simply amazing. Moreover, as with the rest of Ecuador, the weather was cloudy and rainy. The clouds at the top of the mountain were moving at a rapid pace. We would see the peaks and then they would vanish again in the clouds.

Cuicocha Lake, Otavalo, Ecuador

The lake itself was circular more or less with two islands within the lake. In fact, the name of the lake derives from one of the islands which roughly resembles a guinea pig. In the information provided, it said that the lake was 200 feet deep at certain points. The water was quite clear with grasses at the bottom. We walked a small trail around the lake which showed us the inca solar calendar, lunar calendar, the offerings area and the bathing ritual area. The natives in the area continue to perform the offering rituals related to the lake from ancient times.

Leather Products Village

We arrived in Cotacachi from Cuicocha Lake. The town itself is quite lower than the lake and the surrounding mountains. Our first impression of the town wasn’t significant, it looked like any other native village in the area just bigger. However, we then started noticing all the Americans around. We asked around for the center and were pointed to the leather shops street.

Fancy our surprise when we saw over 30-40 shops selling all types of fashion products made from leather. Some even resembled like high-end shops selling leather fashion in the west. Shruti fell head over heels for the jackets and I admit even I liked the quality for the price. The price was a bargain at around USD 110. I found some nice shoes I could use back in Australia, but we soon realised we didn’t have our debit card on us. What a shame!

Hike Around Otavalo

On our final day, we decided to do some walking around Otavalo. Our first stop was El Lechero for which we had to walk literally to the top of the town. Our hostel owner had told us to walk a trail along the farms but at some point we lost our way. After asking a few native people, we figured we were on an alternate path.

Hiking around Otavalo, Ecuador

However, being lost allowed us to enjoy amazing scenery in the area with corn farms high above the city and the cloudy mountains in the background. Finally, we made it to the Lechero which is a lone tree on a hill meant to be holy for the locals in the area. We spent some more time taking in the view and then headed towards the waterfall.

El Lechero, Otavalo, Ecuador

Our hostel owner had drawn us a map of the whole area but that was proving to be useless. Maybe we just can’t read maps! He drew a little trail next to the Parque de Condor which was supposed to lead to the waterfalls. But when we got there, we couldn’t find any trail.

We investigated the area a bit and then Shruti spotted a dirt road at the bottom of the hill. So we carefully started our descend down the side of a hill. Once on the dirt road, we walked for an hour up and down hills to La Cascada de Peguche.

The waterfall was quite high and had been worked on by the government so some of the water goes to the villages nearby. On the return, we saw an Inca Museum and holy site set up by a couple. We couldn’t spend much time there as we had a bus to catch to Quito but it was a nice conversation.

On the way back, we couldn’t find a bus or collectivo so ended up walking back to Otavalo. We had a Colombian bandeja for lunch and took a bus to Quito. That ended our 3 day trip in Otavalo!

PS: sorry about not posting plenty of photos. In the next post you will know why.

Colombia to Ecuador Land Crossing

Our trip in Colombia finally came to an end in Salento. The rest of the way involved heading South, sleeping in small towns and doing the Colombia to Ecuador land crossing. In all, this leg was an adventure upon itself.

First Stop – Popayan

We left Salento at 11am to arrive in Armenia, the nearest city and take a bus to Popayan. We reached Popayan at 7pm without any issues and the bus cost was 44,500 pesos (about USD 14.60) per person. Our hotel, Hotel Alcala was a stone’s throwaway from Popayan’s colonial white city. The cab ride from the terminal was about 10 mins.

Popayan, Colombia

To be honest, we knew little about the city and only used it as a stopover. However, the centre of the city, the white colonial buildings were beautiful. There are plenty of churches around as well. Though we never spent much time there, the city had amazing food and was unique due to its colour and architecture. There are some good day trips in the area as well.

Popayan, Colombia

First Bus Blues

We called up various bus companies to find out what time was the first bus to Ipiales. One company told us the earliest at 5:30am. When we got to the terminal at 5:00am, the bus company failed to recognize any such bus.

Another group of travelers talked to another company and they were quoted 30,000 pesos (USD 10) per person for a bus that may arrive between 5:30am and 6am. We opted for the safer option of using a bigger company with a confirmed bus at 6:30am for 35,000 pesos (USD 12) per person. As it turned out, we were shoved in the same bus but I managed to recovered our 10,000 pesos after protesting. The ride was crazy as we went through several high mountains, foggy roads and tunnels. It was also some of the most beautiful bus rides in Colombia.

Pit Stop – Ipiales

We arrived at Ipiales at 3pm. There is not much there except the most beautiful church, Las Lojas Sanctuary Church. Virgin de Las Lojas is popular in Colombia, Ecuador and many other parts of the world for helping people in need. We thought of doing a quick trip to the church before crossing the border.

There are collectivos from the bus terminal that drive people for 2500 pesos (less than USD 1) to the sanctuary. Upon getting there we left our backpacks at a shop for 2000 pesos each as we had to walk down to the valley.

The church is incredibly beautiful. Not only is it built on a ravine between two mountains, the glasses, the bricks and the architecture of the church is remarkable. We saw lots of churches and cathedrals in Colombia and this was by far the prettiest. A must do in Colombia!

Las Lojas Sanctuary Church, Ipiales, Colombia

We took another collectivo back to the terminal for same price. Now, we were ready to cross the border.

At the border

We changed our leftover Colombian money into USD, yes USD is used in Ecuador, at the bus terminal itself. We then hopped into a collectivo from the terminal to the border along with our locals.

Unfortunately, the driver never asked and we never told him that we needed an exit stamp from Colombia. He drove across the border and rest of the locals hopped into another collectivo. Clearly they didn’t need any stamps! We had to walk back over the bridge to the Colombian side and get an exit stamp. A great waste of time.

Tip: The border is open and it is very easy to make this mistake. Remember to get your exit stamp before going to Ecuador immigration. Get off the taxi before the bridge.

Entering Ecuador

Due to the confusion about the immigration, the long queue and Shruti’s Indian Passport took us around an hour to get the entry stamp for Ecuador. While we knew that Indians get Visa On Arrival for Ecuador, the officee in charge took longer than usual around 15 minutes. As a comparison, it took me less than 5 minutes.

We took a collectivo to Tulcan Terminal from Ecuador border for 75 cents each. The ride took about 15 minutes. While the border is open, many tourists visit Ecuador from Colombia making it busy. Please allow enough time to cross.

Tulcan to Otavalo

We took a bus as soon as we arrived in Tulcan at 7pm. The bus ticket was USD 3.50 per person. Our hostel had a check in till 10pm and we emailed them to not lock us out. The bus started at 7pm and it usually takes 3 hours to Otavalo. We thought we will get there just in time.

Unfortunately, the Ecuador police work opposite to Colombia. The bus was stopped twice, once closer to the terminal and second somewhere half way. The first police check involved going through our bags thoughroughly, every zip, every pocket. They made Australian customs look like amateurs. Strangely though, only we were checked. In Colombia, before the bus left the terminal, police officers would check IDs of most locals.

This of course delayed us and we didn’t get to Otavalo until 11pm. Luckily, the hostel received our email and a guy checked us in. Phew!

Long Day

In total, it took us 18.5 hours from Popayan, Colombia to Otavalo, Ecuador. Around an hour of that time in Colombia and at the border was avoidable. We are sure there are better ways of doing the land crossing and below is our suggestion so you do not exert yourself as we did.

Recommended Way for Colombia to Ecuador Land Crossing

We realized later that staying 2 nights in Popayan was a mistake. The highlights of Popayan can be done in couple of hours during the day.

Pasto should have been our second stopover. Ipiales is only 2 hours away from Pasto making the journey to Otavalo 5.5 hours and Quito 7.5 hours. Much better way for bus rides!


We practically crossed the border in two days.

Day 1 – Arrive at Popayan with plan to spend night there.

Day 2 – Leave at 5am in morning from Popayan and get to Otavalo by 11pm. Long day!

We recommend spanning the journey to three days if you have the time.

Day 1 – Arrive at Popayan with plan to spend night there.

Day 2 – Explore Popayan in the morning and catch bus to Pasto around 1pm. Spend the night in Pasto.

Day 3 – Leave from Pasto in the morning towards Ipiales. Spend 2 hours at Ipiales visiting the Sanctuary. Then cross border to Ecuador. You are likely to arrive in the evening at Otavalo or Quito, without exerti g yourself.