Happy to have left the noisy capital with Hanna, we arrived in the region of Otavalo, mainly to know the wonderful volcanic Cuicocha lagoon. We then wanted to go the Cayambe volcano, but the adventure turned up being more complicated than expected… but still pretty funny!
On our way to San Juan de Ilumán
Wednesday 6th March 2019
We left Quito in the morning. Crossing the capital wasn’t easy and we needed about two hours to arrive at Carcelen Terminal, located at the north of the city.
As soon as we arrived, we took a bus to Otavalo, a town about 2h north of the capital. From there, we jumped straight away into another bus to get to a very close village, San Juan de Ilumán, where we had found a hostel / camping with excellent reviews.
We immediately liked the village of Ilumán. Located at the feet of Imbabura volcano, it mainly has indigenous people living, all wearing the traditional clothes (white shirt with coloured embroideries, long skirt and hat for the women, poncho and hat for the men).
We finally found the Tio Hostel, where we felt good as soon as we arrived. It is located in the middle of nature, with nice views over the Imbabura volcano. We were very well received and were told we could help ourselves in the various medicinal herbs growing there.
I set up my tent with joy, especially after the non-stopping squeaks of the buses breaks passing in the street of our hostel in Quito.
Thursday 7th March 2019
After a good night sleep for me, less for Hanna (she was in the dormitory located close to the common area and had to endure the cigarette smokes and noises of her not so discreet neighbours), we left to Cuicocha Lagoon.
We took a bus to go the village of Cuicocha and had to finish with a taxi to get to the lagoon, as there was no other means of transport.
Once at the long expected lagoon, we were not disappointed. It is a lake formed in a volcanic crater, with two islands in its centre. One can walk all around it in about 4h, during a beautiful loop offering amazing views over the lake.
We were delighted during the whole hike. The sun was shining, there were flowers all around (lupines, orchids and so many others which name I ignore), the vegetation was changing all along the path, it was always going up and down, and all of this in a perfectly quiet environment.
We spent about 5h there, including one hour enjoying our lunch with a view over the lagoon. This hike was just amazing; the vegetation is very diverse, the flowers full of colours, there are many orchids… I can only recommend it.
We came back at the end of the day in Ilumán, enjoyed an artisanal ice cream and then went back to our hostel.
A last minute change of plan
Friday 8th March 2019
We had planned to hike up to Imbabura volcano, which sounded like a challenging walk (8h climbing to the summit), but we really wanted to try it.
I shared my tent with Hanna to avoid being annoyed by her neighbours but this time it was the music in the nearby village that disturbed our night.
Therefore as the alarm rang at 5 a.m., we preferred to sleep a bit more and decide on our program once awaken.
We finally chose to pack our bags and leave this campsite even though we liked it so much. We head to Otavalo and then Cayambe. However we went down half way, so as to look for an hacienda that we had found on the internet, where the accommodation looked very nice.
The region of Cayambe is known for its bizcochos; some small cakes which are the specialty of the area. There were several bakeries selling them around the roundabout where we had got down, which was the perfect occasion to try them.
We entered in the closest one, where we were very nicely received. We had some free tasting of some bizcochos with dulce de lece, cheese and coffee; all of this while chatting with the friendly owner; which was pretty cool and unexpected! The bizcochos are a kind of biscuit with the shape of a big match, without a special taste (the taste is mainly brought by the dulce de leche or any other jam you add to it).
It was tasty but not enough to buy some. However, we fell for some arepas (corn based pancakes), anise biscuits and dulce de lece. We couldn’t resist!
After spoking for a long while with the owner and enjoying the view from his restaurant terrace, we started to look for our accommodation.
When Maps.me drives you crazy
According to Maps.me, the hacienda where we wanted to go was close by. We first followed a path going deeper and deeper in the fields. We eventually reached some high bushes and fences; it was getting complicated!
We finally found a way to pass the fence and continue on the path, but to the point that we passed the place indicated on Maps.me… and we could still not find any hacienda! The few farmers that we met around had not even any idea about it, which did not smell good.
As we went back to the main road, thinking about giving up, we asked for help to the last people we met. They told us that the hacienda was actually on the other side of the roundabout, about 3 km further!
Thanks Maps.me for the mistake, that happens… but we abandoned our quest; we would not do these kilometres along this noisy and dangerous road.
Cayambe and its charming hostels
We then took a bus to Cayambe, the next town where we could sleep. It was getting late with all of this and it was about time to find a place to spend the night.
Once in Cayambe, we started to look for an accommodation. The choice was limited and expensive, which was really not appealing. We were finally better in Ilúman!
The second hostel where we asked for information was offering two prices: 10$ for a few hours, 12$ for the whole night… it took me a while to understand why, but we finally got the point. It was obviously not for us and it would probably be very noisy!
I let Hanna wait with our bags and looked for another accommodation a few blocks away. This one was not attractive either but looked a bit more correct so I went back to look for Hanna. She actually confirmed that she had seen a couple entering and paying just for a few hours; we definitely had to leave this place!
Once finally settled, after having asked to change for a more quiet room (there was music out loud in the street), we could at least get some rest. It was small, there was no window and we also heard a couple making love in another room; but it would do the job for one night, and the situation was actually comic in the end.
We did some laundry by hand, had our picnic dinner on our sleeping table and planned the rest of our adventure. The point of going to this town was to go to Cayambe volcano (the third highest in the country) but we would lack of time to do all the things we wanted and it was not easy to go there on our own.
We then decided to leave straight away on the following morning and head south, to Cotopaxi and Quilotoa, which would be our last steps together.
To be continued…
Bus inside Quito: 0,25$ per trip
Bus Quito – Otavalo: 2.7$
Bus Otavalo – Ilumán: 0.30$
Bus Ilumán – Cotacachi: 0.30$
Taxi from Cuicocha to the lagoon (no other way to go): 5$ per car, so the more you are, the better to reduce the price!
Bus Otavalo – Cayambe: 1$
Tio Hostal in Ilumán: 5$ in dormitory, 2,50$ in a tent. Kitchen and shower included, medicinal herbs available. The WIFI is only at the reception in the village. The hostel is out of the village, in the middle of nature. The owners are lovely and the atmosphere very friendly, it’s a real crush!
Cristal Hostel in Cayambe : 15$ per night in a double-bed room, with a private bathroom. We could get some hot water in the morning (for a tea) but there was no kitchen available. Noisy and very basic hostel but the choice is limited in Cayambe.
Cuicocha Lagoon: Free entrance, about 4h hiking to walk all around the lagoon.