1. Visit South America’s biggest day market at Otavalo.
Located a short 2 hour trip North of Quito, Otavalo can be reached via bus from
Carcelen Bus Terminal. The bus ticket will cost approximately $2.50 each way and will drop you at the Otavolo bus terminal (Blue pin on map). A short 5/10 min walk from the station and the market begins, centred in the main square (Green pin on map) but sprawling outwards engulfing the adjoining streets. Although the market is open every day, Saturdays are when it truly shows its colours and are the best day to visit.
No trip to Otavolo is complete without a pit stop at Shenandoah ‘Pie Shop.’ (Red pin on map) Not a big pie fan myself I was dragged along by my girlfriend, but once I’d finished tucking into mine and half of hers I can’t sing their praises highly enough!
2. Hike up the snowy Cotapaxi Volcano.
Now the route you take up to Cotapaxi can be somewhat convoluted. Start by catching a bus from Quitumbe Bus Terminal, you will need the bus headed for Latacunga. Make sure when purchasing your ticket you say you are getting off at Cotapaxi National Park (Blue pin on map), tickets should cost $1.50 one way. Ask the bus driver when boarding to let you know when you are there.
Once you arrive you have a few options, firstly you will be swamped by Park guides. They will offer to take you to the lagoon view point and then up to the volcano on a tour costing $60 for 2 people. Now this post is about trips you can do without a guide, and I’m way too stingy to cough up $60… so the second option and the one I opted for, is to walk the first leg of the journey to the National Park entrance (Red pin on map). This takes roughly 1/1.5 hrs. You may be able to have a guide drop you at the entrance for $3. However, we had come to hike and didn’t mind the extra walk.
Once at the entrance the route gets a bit hazy… if you are without guide you will need to ask someone for a lift to the starting point of the hike. It’s a 45 minute drive so I wouldn’t recommend walking this leg.
I appreciate ‘hitch a ride’ isn’t much of a guide… however, we visited on a rainy Sunday in low season and had no trouble getting a free ride up and back down. After the entrance there is only one road and everyone is going to the same place so you shouldn’t have any issues. If you really don’t want to do this, it’s possible to pay a guide for a one way transfer, roughly $10.
You pass the lagoon (Green pin on map) en route where you can snap some pictures of the volcano. Once you arrive you have a short walk uphill before deciding whether to take the steep 40 minute route or the slightly longer (and easier) 60 minute zig zagging route. Both are well-trodden and easy to follow, ending at the refuge point where you can enjoy a well deserved hot cocoa for $1.50.
The hike starts at an altitude above 4000 metres, so take it steady if you want to taste that sweet cocoa. Also on offer at the refuge point are a number of snacks and cold meals. Would not recommend the empanada, tasted like flip flop.
Upon realising your triumph, you have a choice to make. Continue onwards along the ‘glacier trail’ or head back down to your oxygen heavy homes. I highly recommend venturing on, the trail is very obvious and you enter a winter wonderland you couldn’t have imagined existed in a country lieing on the equator.
All that’s left to do is snap some snowy pictures and head back down. Descending from altitude is a welcomed treat and 100x easier than your ascent. You can now retrace your steps, hitching a lift back to the main road where the bus dropped you. Catch a bus heading the opposite direction, bus signs to Quitumbe or Quito are both okay and will bring you back to Quitumbe terminal.
3. Kayak in a volcano crater at the stunning Quilotoa Loop.
The Quilotoa Loop is a hike that can be undertaken round a beautiful lake nestled in the Quilotoa Volcano. The walk takes roughly 7 hours and many hikers choose to take more than one day completing it, camping along the way.
However, day trippers will do the shorter walk down to the lake itself. Here you can hire kayaks and paddle out into the beautifully still waters. The walk down and back up takes roughly 2 hours.
Getting to Quilotoa is fairly simple, you start by catching a bus from Quitumbe Bus Terminal. You will want a bus to Latacunga costing $2.35. This journey takes 1/1.5 hours.
You can then catch a bus to Quilotoa, these buses are a bit disorderly but run roughly every hour passing through Zumbahua en route. The bus takes 1.5/2 hours and tickets cost $2.
This day-trip has slightly more travelling involved, which is often unavoidable in a large country like Ecuador. So we suggest an early start in order to make the most of your time in Quilotoa!
The last return bus from Quilotoa to Latacunga departs at 5:30pm, the bus driver will give you a card with return times on. It leaves from where you are dropped, ignore the locals offering to drive you to the bus terminal for $1.
And that completes our Top 3 Day-Trips from Quito! If you have any questions or want to tell us what a great time you had, leave a comment below!
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