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#23 Quilotoa & Cotopaxi – I wanna get high!

Nah, not what you’re thinking. I’m talking serious altitude, or at least higher than I have ever been in my life so far.
About 70km south of Quito lies a less than beautiful city called Latacunga. While not a place worth visiting itself, it is perfectly located between the two places I wanted to see: the Quilotoa crater lake and Cotopaxi, Ecuador’s second highest mountain and one of the world’s highest active volcanoes. Staying in Latacunga allowed me to explore these places without paying USD 50 or more each for a guided tour. Instead, I was able to use public transport.

In order to get there, I headed out of my Quito hostel at 6am in order to catch an early city bus to Quitumbe, the city’s main transport terminal. My plan was to get another bus there which should have taken me straight to Latacunga. Unfortunately though, I didn’t account for the public holiday that was going on. The queue in front of the ticket booth for my destination was bizarrely long and would have meant that I had to wait for a later departure. But it didn’t take long until I got approached by a man hauling passengers for his taxi. About fifteen minutes later, me and three Peruvians sat in the guy’s car and were headed for Latacunga. The USD 10 for the ride were more than I would have paid for the bus, but at least I would be able to keep up with my timetable. Another two hours later I left my hotel in Latacunga and walked to the local bus terminal.

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Latacunga

The trip up to Quilotoa took approximately two hours and cost me USD 2.50.
A short walk goes from the dropoff point straight to the crater rim. The rest you better see by yourself.

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After taking in these stunning views I started my descent to the lake. A dusty and steep path which pedestrians share with mules carrying exhausted or simply lazy visitors back up leads down the crater. At the bottom you could rent kayaks to paddle around for a bit. I didn’t do that. The way back up wasn’t as hard as advertised; it took me a little under 40 minutes, although the official guidance was between one and a half and two hours.

For the really keen hikers there is a trail around the whole crater. It takes around six hours to get back to where you started. I didn’t quite understand the appeal of the hike which basically offers the same view onto the same lake. For six hours! As in most situations in life, sitting down and drinking a beer seemed like the better thing to do.

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The next morning I once again showed up at the bus terminal in Latacunga and caught a bus towards Quito. I asked the bus driver to drop me off at the entrance of Cotopaxi National Park. The weather wasn’t good and the volcano itself was temporarily closed due to its recent activity. Nevertheless, I got a ride up to the trailhead. From there we started our hike up to the refuge at 4’864masl. That high up, hiking becomes quite a challenge. The views were totally not worth it as everything was wrapped in thick fog. I didn’t see the slightest bit of Cotopaxi. But hey, I got a coca leaf tea to warm me up and a souvenir stamp in my passport. Additionally, it was the highest point I have reached so far. Great success!

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Not so much volcano there…

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After these cold heights I was ready for a change of climate zone. I headed to Montañita and Olón for some surfing an relaxing. And before leaving Ecuador to Peru, I also spent a few das in Cuenca; a lovely colonial style city.

While I had a good time in all of these places, my next post will take you to Peru.

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#22 Quito – The Journey to Middle Earth

While the trip from Salento, Colombia to Quito, Ecuador was exhausting and long, it was also a nice experience. And it was cheap, too. Almost 24 hours of travelling cost me less than 40 USD.

So I finally arrived at my hostel in the Mariscal neighbourhood of Quito, the world’s second highest capital (2’850masl) after La Paz, Bolivia.
I wasn’t a fan of the hostel nor the neighbourhood, so I moved to the historical centre in the morning. The new place was great and perfectly located. Against the common notion that Mariscal is the place to be as a tourist, I would disagree.

If you follow our blog you might even guess what I did next. Give yourself a point if you mumbled “walking tour”. In Quito, the tour starts at the Community Hostel and takes a total of about three hours. Our guide, an Ecuadorian with a mix of a Spanish and Scottish(!!) accent, did a nice job and led us through the local food market and the historic centre. It was a Monday, and in Quito that means that the country’s current president, Rafael Correa, would personally appear on the terrace of the government palace (Palacio de Carondelet) at the top of Plaza de la Independencia together with some of his ministers to greet the people and attend the festive change of the guards.

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Carondelet Palace
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Rafael Correa (right below the guard in the top of the image)

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Plaza de la Independencia

Back at the hostel I met a small group of German and French travellers and decided to join them to visit the equator line or La Mitad del Mundo. Instead of an organized tour we got there by public transport for a fraction of the costs. The trip took about two hours and two different buses, but at least we got dropped off right in front of the site. After getting our entrance tickets ($3.50) we headed straight to the central monument with the official equator line. Funnily enough, it’s not the actual, geographically correct line. The real one is 240 meters north and there is a museum about it. Unfortunately, it was already closed when we got there. Nevertheless, it was fun shooting a few pictures with one foot on the northern and the other one on the southern hemisphere.

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And when I thought that I was already past the highlights of the day during which I was greeted by the president and walked the equator line, I entered this little souvenir shop and found what is possibly the most random postcard that was ever printed. Ever. I bought it. It simply made my day.

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Oh, hello there, strangers…

There were two more things I wanted to do in Quito, so the next morning I took a taxi and let the driver bring me to the station of the cable car that leads up to Pichincha, the 4’784m high volcano just outside Quito which offers nice views of the surrounding mountains and the city itself.

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View towards Quito from Pichincha

The last thing on my list was a visit to the Basilica del Voto Nacional. The climb up the last flights of stairs are not for the faint hearted and considering that the whole building looks like it is in desperate need of structural refurbishment, looking down the outside walls onto the busy street can give you a little chill. Towering high above the rest of the city, its outlook platforms make for a great panorama of Quito, including the Virgin of Quito Statue on El Panecillo.

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El Panecillo with the Virgin of Quito statue

As in every city, you could spend more time there. But I had other plans. The next post should take me to new heights.