We left the jungle early Monday morning to take a van back to Baños so we could then get on another bus to Latacunga, our next stop. After a few hours of travel we arrived in a medium sized town and navigated our way to our AirBnB. Our hosts were an older couple who had converted their longtime (100+ years) family home into a bed and breakfast and they could not have been nicer people. Clearly thrilled to finally host guests during the pandemic, they were perhaps the nicest hosts on our trip (despite some miscommunication about how much it cost to use their washer and dryer).
Our first and only excursion in Latacunga, and the main reason we stopped in this town, was a trip to to an incredible crater lake, Laguna Quilotoa (aka Quilotoa Lake). The two mile wide lake was formed when the top of a volcano collapsed following an eruption hundreds of years ago. Our bus, which took about two hours, drove us along a windy road through the Andes mountains and dropped us off at the edge of town. I suppose “town” is a relative term here, as the area surrounding the lake was clearly built up as a result of tourism and quite small in the grand scheme of things. It was also pretty quiet and there weren’t many tourists around.
It took us about 10 minutes to reach the edge of the crater at which point we were greeted with an absolutely breathtaking view of the volcanic crater lake a few hundred meters below us. We stopped for a quick lunch at one of the small restaurants in town before beginning the day’s hike down to the lake’s edge. There’s a multi-day loop you can walk around the entire lake, but we opted for the shorter version down and back.
The next hour or so was spent heading down to the lake via some of the steepest switchback paths we’ve been on. We took a few minutes at the bottom for a photo and a short rest and then started the return trip back up the same path. On our way down we passed plenty of mules you could pay for to carry you back up to the top, but we were determined to make it on our own. It’s no surprise the climb back up was rough, and even though we’d spent some time at high altitudes by this point, being at over 12,000 ft still makes everything more difficult.
Our return bus back to Latacunga departed at 4 pm so we pushed ourselves up the hill to make sure we didn’t miss it. We made the bus and, interestingly enough, while driving back through the mountains we passed snow on the ground which was a stark contrast to the day’s weather.
The next day happened to be May 5th so we decided to take a rest day and celebrate Cinco de Mayo. After some quick research we ended up at a local Mexican restaurant and enjoyed some nachos while, unfortunately, struggling through some pretty bad margaritas. After a second stop at another Mexican restaurant that didn’t serve alcohol, we stumbled upon a great spot on a side street with a hidden courtyard out back that served great mojitos. No luck with margaritas but fresh and delicious mojitos would do.
On the way back to our Airbnb that evening we stopped at a small bodega around the corner to grab a six pack. There wasn’t anyone there initially, so we rang the bell. Funny enough, out came the sweet older man who was hosting us at his AirBnB. Turns out they also owned the shops downstairs. We then enjoyed our beers over our usual nighttime routine: watching a movie until one or all of us eventually falls asleep.