Central Ecuador - Highland Adventures

Visiting central Ecuador’s highland. A short escape to the capital Quito, then to the rainy paramó in Papallacta, Laguna de Quilotoa, and finally up to the Rifugio José Ribas at Volcán Cotopaxi. A trip mostly above 2800m elevation.

Otavalo 2 Salcedo

Papallacta, 9th August

Enough of Otavalo. We head for the village of Papallacta. A famous spa resort on the Amazonian side of the Cordillera. Thus 1 of these places where weather is quite predictable: always cloudy, every day a lot of rain, and on most days some 5′ of sunshine.

On the way, we cross the equator.  Just a signboard, and a sun watch – not worth the entry fee to see it. Then we’re in the southern hemisphere. You don’t need to be afraid of that. It’s definitely not true that there the cars drive on the other side of the road – nor that you have to drive constantly reverse. Nor do you need to walk on your hands. No, it’s just as crazy as the northern hemisphere.

Nevertheless, for us, it’s the 1st time in the southern hemisphere since 2012, when we crossed the equator northwards. In Uganda.

Soon later we cross the Cordillera. The road climbs up to 4000m. And on the top, the stormy’n’rainy weather starts.

Arriving in Papallacta we’re extremely lucky. The rain stops – at least for a few minutes. We check in at our sleepery, and head for the nearby Parque Nacional Cayambe Coca. Arriving there it’s clear, that today we can’t go very far. It’s 3 pm. Just the time for a short hike to Cascada Milagrosa.

It’s just 30′ to the waterfall. Still, we’re more than happy that we bought rubber boots in Otavalo.

Pretty impressive this wetland vegetation at 3500m.

And the waterfall? Just falling water.

Then, we’re back to our sleepery. Sip a beer and listen to the rain pouring down.

Quito, 11th August

The next morning definitely the worst weather you can imagine if planning a hike up to 4000m. Gusty wind’n’pouring rain. We wait until noon for improvement. Then we finally give up and drive to Quito. Ecuador’s proud capital.

As soon as we cross Paso Papallacta weather improves considerably.

On the way, a short stop at the small town of Sangolqui – just to admire their beautiful Parque Central.

In the afternoon we arrive in Quito. We’re crazy enough to head for accommodation in the old town. Of course, perfect for the visit. Nevertheless, it takes us more than 2h to find our way thru the jungle of all these congested 1-way-alleys.

Finally, we arrive. Just in time to have a look at the famous Plaza San Francisco.

The next morning our tour thru Quito’s old town. Of course, these gothic churches – over-ornated to a degree even Mexicans could learn from.

 A stroll thru the alleys. No doubt, you feel so safe – considering how fast police may come to help you should some bad girls socialize with you.

A look at Plaza Grande and the presidency, …

… and finally, a walk to the Basilica del Voto Nacional. Well known for the possibility to climb its towers for a great view over Quito.

Then we climb the tower. Some 10 floors up – just for the view.

Well, that’s Quito’s old town in 1 day. We consider that enough time. Despite some quite nice colonial architecture, large parts look rather rundown and slightly gloomy. Especially at night. And somehow it definitely lacks atmosphere.

Surely worth a short visit, but maybe better stay in trendier Mariscal than the old town and take an Uber for sightseeing.

Especially, don’t even think about driving your car into the old town.

Quilotoa, 13th August

We leave Quito’s old town pretty early in the morning. After a couple of wrong tracks, we finally get on the highway to the north of Ecuador’s proud capital. We’re on the way to Toyota’s headquarters. Just need a small spare to get Prado more waterproof. Unfortunately, they have to order it – and as it’s a Friday they’ll only receive it by next Monday. Whatever, they promise, that we can order spare parts from any Toyota dealer in the south. 

Thus, we drive on to Mitad del Mundo. Somehow the place where tourists normally cross the equator. Probably more of a tourist trap, than a real highlight.

Definitely, the Ecuadories built quite some infrastructure to ensure that the many local and the few foreign tourists can take their ultimate selfie. An old tower exactly on the equator – provided there’s no miscalculation. A closed museum and numerous shops to buy the souvenir of your dream.

Later we’re on our way to Latacunga. A good highway with quite a lot of traffic. And most important Volcán Cotopaxi in the background.

A few km before reaching Latacunga the steep road up to the mountains. Yet some 60km to reach Quilotoa at an elevation of 3800m. 

And there’s exceptionally nice weather with a magnificent view of Cotopaxi most of the time.

Late afternoon we arrive in Quilotoa. A village consisting of nothing else than eateries’n’sleeperies.

Happily, we find a hostel that even provides some heating in the rooms and the common area.

Next morning, quite early to visit the market in Zumbahua. A village some 15km from Quilotoa.

Well, it needs some time to get Prado back to life. Not a technical problem, just the diesel is too cold. And it looks like the Ecuadories never heard of winter diesel despite the elevation of many parts of their country.

Whatever, we reach Zumbahua, and its market just on time.

By 9 am the market comes to an end. Time to drive back to Quilotoa and start our hike on the ridge of the volcano’s lagoon. 

1st to the viewpoint in the village. Pretty touristy. But THE place to see the lagoon and to walk down to its shore. For most tourists the ultimate challenge when visiting the area. 

Then we’re on our way. After a few 100m, there are already very few co-hikers left. 

The trail: mostly on the ridge of the volcano, high above Laguna Quilotoa. With a marvelous view of the lagoon and in the background the volcanoes Iliniza and Cotopaxi.

In the afternoon we’re back. Just in time for a fried banana with cheese from a street vendor.

Salcedo, 15th August

The next morning. Still beautiful weather. We decide to drive the northern part of the Quilotoa Loop to Latacunga. Some 2-3h on a mostly good road. 

In the afternoon we arrive in Latacunga. Some nice colonial buildings in the town center, surrounded by the worst Ecuadory architecture ever developed. You’ll hardly need more than 15′  to see it all. Especially as it’s a Sunday. And the guys are pretty strict on closing everything on this day. Even watering holes’n’eateries. What a shame.

If in Ecuador, you have to see Volcán Cotopaxi. Of course, not only from far as we did a few days ago. But from the nearest point possible. For lazy guys like us without any intention to climb its summit.

Despite the rather bad weather in the morning we decide to head for the Rifugio José Ribas at an altitude of 4860m.

So, we’re on the way to the park entrance. On the Panamericana. At the intersection to the volcano the hell a lot of travel agencies and car rentals promise everybody the adventure of their life.  Soon later the entrance. Free as usual in Ecuador, you just have to give your name, any passport number you remember, and your grandma’s birthday. And we’re on the way to the parking of the Rifugio at 4600m.

The road pretty good. A little corrugated – just to make clear how many cars are driving up. Even small cars can make it to the parking.

And the weather – the further up we go, the better it gets. Well, at least for a few minutes before changing to bad again.

A few 100m before reaching the parking the road gets slightly worse. Looks like Prado still enjoys climbing. It’s never been so high since it left Tibet some 5 years ago. 

Now we have to hike up to the hut. Just some 250 m up, but about 1h at this altitude. In the beginning Cotopaxi in front of us. In the brightest sunshine. A few minutes later the clouds are back with gusty winds, snow, and icy rain.

Finally, we’re approaching the mountain hut. Time for hot chocolate milk to warm up a little – before ascending to the glacier.

Just another 150m to climb. To reach an elevation of 5000m, and the glacier.

When we start it’s pretty cloudy, just a few minutes later we admire Cotopaxi’s summit in the sun – just to get cloudy again.

1h later we’re on our way back to the parking. We don’t want to be too late to make sure that Prado will not get too cold – and refuses to start.

Driving down weather clears up again …

… thus, the opportunity for a stroll around Laguna de Limpiopungo.

Finally, we drive to nearby Salcedo. To have our well-deserved beer. And to stay in a hosteria we’ve been nearly 35 years ago. At that time rather new’n’posh surrounded by agricultural lands. Nowadays, in the middle of the town’s rather ugly suburbs. The lodge – slightly rundown.

Whatever, it’s just to remember the good old days not being any better than today.

Guys, we’re convinced by now you’re tired of reading all this boring stuff about our adventures in Ecuador. Therefore, have your well-deserved beer and a nice sleep to be ready when the next post will be released. And just remain jealous.



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