Updated: Aug 1, 2019
Along the famous “Route of the Volcanoes” in Ecuador, you’ll find one of the largest and most spectacular lakes on Earth. Tourists who appreciate beautiful landscapes shouldn’t leave the country without visiting Quilotoa Lagoon, which sits in a caldeira of dacito (volcanic crater) that’s 1.9-mile [3 km] wide and 820-foot [250 m] deep. The minerals dissolved in the water give it a characteristic greenish hue, especially under the sunlight. And, due to its shape, its name means “tooth of a princess” in Quechua.
I had been waiting for this moment for a long time. That day, I woke up in a tent in Lasso, between Latacunga and Cotopaxi, willing to catch two buses and travel for four hours to reach this incredible lake. While I was having breakfast at the hostel, I met a very friendly group of 10 French travelers. Speaking macaronic French, I found out that, coincidently, they were also going to Quilotoa and had rented two vans. I asked if I could join them, and they said yes without hesitation – but on one condition: that we would stop along the way to take pictures... How incredible is that? The day couldn’t have started any better, and luck was on my side again.
Our first stop was in Tigua, a small village known for its pictorial illustrations. Tigua art can express this indigenous people’s mentality and culture, just like their spiritual beliefs and everyday life. Few Quechua texts have been preserved, but here painters keep this indigenous culture alive through their illustrations.
We visited the handicraft and art gallery owned by the first Tigua artist, master Julio Toaquiza Tigasí. After dreaming of meeting a shaman, he decided to start his artistic career. Using chicken feather brushes, he decorates wood masks for ancestral ceremonies and makes paintings on sheep leather, the two main local art styles.
I took advantage of this interesting and unexpected visit to Tigua to buy a hat made of sheep wool and try to blend in with this Andean community. After, we drove straight to our objective. Twenty minutes later, we were contemplating the lake, and taking selfies, of course. The sky was cloudy; still, I can’t put into words the beauty of the place. I wasn’t expecting it to be so wonderful.
The group of French travelers said goodbye and went to the banks of the lake. I decided to stay there a little longer appreciating the view from above, taking a few pictures. My idea was to camp by the banks of the lake, this way I would have the whole day to leisurely go down the hill. After a delicious Ecuadorian lunch in the village of Quilotoa, I talked with the locals, who recommended that I go around the crater, an 8-mile [13 km] path that can be covered in approximately five hours. I decided to do it immediately. I left my backpack in the Tourist Information Center and headed off. One detail: I wasn’t completely alone along the way!
Contemplating such a Pachamama (Mother Nature in Quechua) wonder from all the possible angles at an altitude of 12,795 feet [3,900 m] takes your breath away, especially when the sun starts to set.
The sun was setting and I hadn’t finished the hike. Feeling extremely tired, I quickly grabbed my backpack and went down the hill, as the shade covered the crater. Thirty minutes later I was setting up my Nordisk ultra-lightweight tent, practically in the dark.
It’s not windy by the banks of the lake. Still, the temperature gets really low at night. Luckily, I had neighbors from Mexico and Ecuador who invited me to join them by their fire. And we laughed a lot.
On the next day, I had to face a 90-minute steep climb carrying a 40-pound [18 kg] backpack. But at least I was walking knowing that I had realized another dream: sleeping by the banks of a volcanic lake as majestic as Quilotoa.