If you are going to travel to Ecuador, you owe it to yourself to take the time to ascend into the higher altitudes where you will find the high mountain villages and the indigenous people that in many respects seem to harken back to a time that no longer exists in much of the modern world.
Some of the most popular Ecuadorian mountain-top destinations can be found along the Quilotoa Loop, a series of small, picturesque Andean villages that frame the crater-made Lake Quilotoa.
Lake Quilotoa is a destination in-and-of-itself – a crisp, clean lake settled below the picturesque Andean peaks – but the chief attraction between the mountain passes are the high mountain shepherds and other traditional village denizens, who I found surprisingly welcoming and hospitable during my Quilotoan getaway.
While the Quilotoa Loop is full of traditional mountain folk who live off the land and pay homage to their agrarian ancestors, they’ve also gotten savvy to the allure their charming hamlets have on the sophisticated tourist set. For this reason, you’ll find — interspersed between the wandering flocks of sheep and their tenders – cozy bed and breakfasts, travel-friendly restaurants and quaint little shops that cater captivated travelers.
I spent several months in Ecuador, experiencing the wide array of adventure travel that the country offers, but few experiences are as memorable as my stay with an Ecuadorian family in the tiny village of Zumbahua in the heart of the Quilotoa Loop.
I stayed in what was termed a hostel, but in actuality was a lot closer to our American understanding of a bed-in-breakfast. I was basically staying, along with a handful of other travelers, in the home of a Andean family and though they certainly did their best to cater to our needs, in other respects their normal family lives continued unimpeded by their guests. And for this reason, the experience was amazing.
A village ceremony was taking place that night, and while I have no doubt that it was somewhat orchestrated to appeal to us tourists, at the very least they did a good job of tricking me into thinking that the whole production was genuine and little different than it might have appeared two centuries ago.
I tried to immerse myself into as much of the local customs as I could stomach, but there was one in particular that I had to pass on for stomach, or perhaps brain, related reasons. The cuy was roasting on many open fire pits and locals and tourists alike dug into the Andean delicacy. But as a guy that once cried when I buried my beloved pet Horace as a nine-year-old, I just couldn’t bring myself to eat fire-roasted guinea pig. But I will say that many of my traveling brethren did take that plunge, and they reported that it was palatable, if not delicious, and unsurprisingly the notion “it tastes like chicken” was repeated frequently.
The next day, we took a native guided hiking tour around the Laguna Quilotoa, down through the daunting Rio Toachi Canyon to Chugchilan. The six-hour hike was one of the most scenic and picturesque of the many Ecuadorian foot jaunts that I took during my stay there, and was also characterized by the pleasant fact that this particular hike was almost entirely downhill.
I met some fascinating people in Ecuador, many on the cobblestone city streets in Quito, others along the spectacular beaches of the Galapagos Islands, but I look back most fondly on the brief, but meaningful relationships I built with the indigenous people of the Quilotoa Loop.