Ecuador highlands: Cotopaxi, Quilotoa, falling in love with alpacas

As mentioned in my previous post– altitude had not been my best friend. Regardless, I was determined to overcome it and enjoy the raw and wild nature the Ecuador highlands has to offer.

Having said so, spontaneously signing up to a tour to the volcanic region of Cotopaxi leaving on day 2 was probably also not quite the “taking it slow” recommended for altitude!

Secret Garden runs tours through their affiliate location in Cotopaxi, a super cute oasis in the middle of wildness and mountains, very much closed off from the world (no wifi or any network – except staff use and emergencies). Awareness goes a long way to be prepared to be cut off a few days! Which was not the case for me and my Swiss friend, but oh well. What do you do 🤷‍♀️.

The location was at least beautifully peaceful and our room “hobbit house” was super cute:

We ventured on our first activity, a waterfall hike. Here is where one realizes there’s a need to be super careful and look out for yourself on tours and activities in South America! Low cost tours are cheap for a reason, and safety standards are not always a given. And in the case of Secret Garden, the guides were young volunteers. Hiking in slightly dangerous slippery and wet conditions on rocks, and in inadequate gum boots provided, I managed to have a small accident aggravating an old shoulder injury. Luckily not overly serious but meant I would need to limit a bit activities the next couple weeks- and I resolved to myself to be more aware in future.

Here was that waterfall:

A few brave souls ventured in for a swim (or rather quick dip for a photo and run back out!!) in the 7 degree celsius water!!

Scaling the first waterfall:

The second day was more successful. Still feeling the effects of altitude, I decided to skip the volcano hike and opt instead for the more chilled out option (or at least I thought!) of horse riding through the Andean plains!

Spoiler alert. It was NOT relaxing! After a 5 minute crash course in horse riding we were off at a solid trotting pace set by the impatient and still young stallion of our Andean guide. My horse – a sweet stubborn thing, had a tendency to do the exact opposite of what I wanted it to do! Which made for an interesting ride of 2.5 hours, first half mostly consisting of me trying to not fall off, especially when he started galloping with me urgently saying “Whoa whoa! Despacio!”

Horses are amazing creatures with a mind of their own, they sense immediately your anxiousness and it makes them only more difficult to control. Eventually I managed to calm myself and him, and we got back on track. I certainly felt my whole body though for several days, from the effort to stay balanced and upright (surely odd given the horse was doing all the work ?!)

The scenery along the way was absolutely breathtaking! In my holding on for dear life, I could not get in too many shots, but did get a few along the way:

The stubborn one:

After we became friends, sort of!:

Quilotoa

My South America adventure was into full swing! After a night of rest back in Quito, I joined a tour to see and hike Quilotoa.

Quilotoa is often referred to as the most beautiful lake in Ecuador, formed by a volcanic eruption 800 years ago, the crater slowly started to fill with water, and the lake was born. The unique scenery is characterized by the turquoise shade of the water, due to minerals in the water.

The hike itself involves a downhill trek to the lake, where you can kayak or simply enjoy the scenery, then a 1-2 hour 2km climb back up the steep and sandy path. Our group moved a bit faster and made it up in 45-50 mins.

Here is where you end up:

This little doggy decided to adopt me and followed me for about a quarter of the way down! 😍

Pre- hike back up, enjoying the scene:

The huffing and puffing climbers we saw on the way down were not exaggerating! As we experienced ourselves!!

Almost back at the top:

This adorable pair were waiting for us at the top. The sweet faced alpaca and the slightly grumpy but still cute llama that let out a disgruntled spit when a little kid went to sit on him. The moment I fell in love with these adorably fluffy South America creatures!