The green of the open valley stretched as far I could see.
Broken only by the odd tree or patch of scrub, it flowed up the to the mountain ridges on each side and looked smooth and soft, like a green dustsheet that had pull over the furniture of these Andean hills to cover and protect them.
In times past, these hills would have been covered by trees, but now there were exposed, farmed – an arable landscape.
Winding through the bottom of the valley, a small stream made itself known as the sunlight caught and marked its meandering journey – a mapped struggle between the pull of gravity and the resistant objects of the rugged landscape.
In the distance clouds, sat at eye level, gave some indication of the height I was at and then, below them, a simple wooden dwelling with a tarpaulin roof.
Next to this timber hut was what looked like a small vegetable garden, cordoned off by plastic fence held in place by timber posts.
Within it, neat green crops were planted in small ordered rows – a clear labour of love and quite possibly life.
Next to the vegetable patch was a man. Wearing a typical South American male outfit of denim jeans, a t-shirt, colourful cap and wellington boots, I realised he was the first person I’d seen that day.
As I looked at him, he turned slowly and looked back at me.
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Trekking alone out in the Ecuadorian hills doesn’t bring you into contact with a lot of people.
And at that moment, seeing this man outside his home, I was suddenly reminded how vulnerable I was.
Fear is a strange thing; an emotional reaction, not an objective one and suddenly it hit me.
Here I was, a twenty-year old British woman by herself, in the middle of the South American countryside with no way of contacting anyone and not really even knowing where I was.
Suddenly, I become acutely aware of my risky position and wondered how on earth I’d got myself here.
Getting to Quilotoa Loop
In fact, I’d got myself here from Lutacunga, a fairly grey and bland city in the heart of the Ecuadorian Andes that serves as a common launching point for many of this country’s incredible surrounding attractions.
I’d stayed at Hostal Tiana there, a friendly, budget place that gave me information about hiking the loop and allowed me to store my main bag with them while I walked.
Even as I slept in Latacunga the night before hitting the loop, I felt the ground shake.
After all, this is active land.
Besot by the rumblings of the earth, it’s full of danger, but with this risk also comes the advantage of incredible beauty – the snow-peaked volcano of Cotopaxi, the glistening crater lakes of the Toachi Canyon and, of course, the etched valleys and mountain ridges of the Quilotoa Loop.
What is the Loop?
The Quilotoa Loop is a multi-day trek that takes you through the glorious countryside and villages of rural Ecuador.
It’s a bit rough and ready, it’s definitely quaint and quiet and it’s a fair bit of walking, but it’s real, real Ecuador.
Walking Quilotoa is known by tourists and is mentioned in many guidebooks, but it’s still not wildly popular or overrun by hikers in anyway.
Information can be hard to glean even when you do find it and you’ll probably only get a hand-drawn map to help navigate the twisting touring route of this dirt path through vast patches of unpopulated hillsides.
Yet what the loop does give you is stunning landscape views and a natural, tour-free, glimpse into the lives of ordinary people here in Ecuador.
As soon as I heard about it, I knew it was perfect for me!
The only problem was, I was alone.
At least, it wasn’t a problem until I was stood on the side of that hill, watching this man, watching me.
Suddenly it did feel like a problem, or a potential problem at least, and I wonder if I’d done a really stupid thing in walking Quilotoa.
Should a female foreigner be hiking this remote loop all by herself?
Solo Female Safety
I had checked you see, asked the people if I could in Latacunga, if it was safe for a solo female to walk alone and they’d all confirmed it was.
However, yes didn’t feel like a yes when I was suddenly in a potentially compromising position.
Yes, I realised, was actually just a guess, an estimate, an assumption; yes is a presumption full of “what if” holes and unforeseeable shadows.
It’s a word used to convey certainty, but never fully can.
It’s a word I rarely, but do occasionally, use to answer the question whether travelling by yourself does have its drawbacks.
As a solo female, yes travelling by yourself can sometimes have its downfalls and very often these are safety-related.
In many ways however, safety on the Quilotoa Loop is tiptop.
It’s perfect walking territory, with fun hills to climb and lovely undulating descents.
There are bridges built across streams and you’re mostly walking at around 2000m above sea level, which means it is generally warm and sunny but never unbearably hot.
Kit and Gear
My advice concerning luggage for solo female walkers would be to take as little as possible and to pack layers that you can shed.
You’ll also need a map to guide you. I managed to obtain one in Latacunga, albeit a rudimentary one as I said, and this does help when the path is occasionally unclear.
A map is also a good idea because there are few to no signposts on the Quilotoa Loop.
Not a problem in my eyes however, this only added to the joyful sense of the loop being slightly untouched, slightly under the radar and slightly more real-feeling than many of the other tourist treks available in South America.
Almost like an everyday stroll through the countryside, you’ll pass smallholdings of corn, meadows of flowers and a few fluffy, grazing llamas just going about their everyday business.
The whole thing is very unassuming and uncontrived.
You can walk the loop in either direction, starting either from Isinlivi or Quilotoa.
Both are easily and cheaply via bus from Latacunga.
Most people start the loop from Quilotoa and hike the loop from South to North, generally because this is considered to be the less strenuous.
Due to bus times and limited days however, I hiked the loop in the opposite direction.
Nobody seemed to have much information about this way round things and I was concerned a little about the steep hike up to Quilotoa on the final day.
No need to worry however, the loop was very accessible this way and no struggle for a solo female at all, beyond the fact that it was perhaps a little quieter.
For, as I said, I met no one else walking during the daytime at all!
There are a number of small villages that dot the circuit however and here you’ll find small stalls, basic restaurants and welcoming local communities.
As such, these small villages do provide a level of safety for solo female walkers, because they grant you an opportunity to at least interact with other people at the end of the day.
The hamlets also provide simple accommodation lodgings with evening meals.
Both were perfectly suitable and you can book before you set off on the hike via Hostal Tiana in Latacunga.
This does mean that for solo walkers at least, someone somewhere on the Quilotoa Loop is expecting you.
Providing you with food and a bed as they do also means that, for those of us with less strength, carrying all supplies and bedding gear round the loop is not necessary.
As a solo female traveller, I definitely found this a bonus!
What these villages also provide is a unique view into a traditional way of life that many tourists who come to Ecuador would not get to see.
These small communities are the faces behind the market produce you buy in the larger cities.
These are the hard-working, indigenous people of Ecuador, many of whom still wear local, traditional dress and employ traditional farming methods to cultivate crops such as quinoa and cacao, that we devour with great fervour in the west.
Without any sense of idealism, life here is simple, quiet and inextricably tied to the land.
Walking the Quilotoa loop alone, gave me the chance to feel this peacefulness away from the noisy chatter of conversation, to hear the sounds of nature around me away from the rush of traffic, to observe the simpleness of the day passing as I walked from village to village, one foot in front of the next.
One day, I also passed some even smaller settlements on the Loop, miniature hamlets compromising of one beautiful church and few corrugated iron buildings around, seemingly without even road access.
Another day I met a few, young local girls running home from school, dashing out of the fields from nowhere then past me with a quick “Hola” before vanishing off into the distance.
Mostly, however, I was alone; just me and the map, walking, walking, to where I needed to get to that evening.
If you struggle to spend time alone, then perhaps the Quilotoa Loop is not the hike for you, but if you revel in a few days of solitude, then I can’t recommend this walk enough for solo female travellers.
Safety wise, I’m sure you’ll be fine!
After all, the man that I was initially fearful of, well he only looked up and then waved at me.
As I said, fear is an emotional response, not an objective one and we can’t let it control us.
I’m glad to say that when walking the Quilotoa Loop as a solo female in Ecuador fear, unfounded as it was, didn’t stop me from enjoying this incredible South American experience.
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Hope you liked my solo female guide to walking Quilotoa in Ecuador.
Have you hiked the loop?
What are your tips and advice?