Volcanic Landscapes of Northern Ecuador

Our first time in Ecuador ended up having a very specific theme: Volcanoes. Ecuador consists of three different climate zones: The coastal lowlands to the west down to the pacific coast, the mountainous highlands in the middle, and the Amazon area to the east. The highland is dominated by a number of active and inactive volcanoes, as well as remains of former volcanoes creating an amazing landscape of mountains, lakes, and volcanic craters.

As suckers for amazing landscapes we of course had to explore all these volcanic creations! 🙂

We started by going to the Pululahua Geobotanical Reserve, a collapsed volcano forming a huge crater with three lava domes inside. Hard to imagine? Check out the picture. 🙂

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Pululahua is special because there is actually a village inside the crater taking advantage of the fertile volcanic soil to grow maize, beans and the like. Also, there is a campsite, so we off course brought our tent to try sleep in a volcanic crater! 😄 We can now reveal that it is not very different from sleeping anywhere else in a tent — but definitely a good story. 😉

Also, the camping made it easy to do an early hike to the top of the highest lava dome in the crater: Pondoña. It turned out that this dome/volcano has also somehow collapsed and left a crater, so suddenly we found ourselves at the rim of a crater at a volcano inside a volcanic crater… Which is also mainly a good story, and provided some beautiful views of the main crater. 😉

It all seemed less idyllic, though, when we had to carry all our stuff out of the crater following the extremely steep path up the rim. 😛

Pululahua was a great spot of volcanic nature, but the main reason to go to the area for many tourists seems to be Mitad del Mundo (The Middle of the World). As the name of the country indicates Ecuador is located right on equator, and they have chosen to mark this with a 30 meter high tower with a globe on top, and a “tourist city” full of souvenir stalls, restaurants and museums surrounding it. All centred around a long yellow line indicating the dividing line between the northern and southern hemisphere.

It is definitely one of the worst tourist traps we have yet encountered, but why not get a few pictures when we were there. 😉

This also served as a helpful reminder that the sun is now again going to move north around us as the day passes by, a fact which continually caused confusion to us in Africa. 😁

We escaped the tourist trap and went to Otavalo, a few hours by bus north of Quito. Here we had found a refuge for worn-out travellers in the middle of nature: Hostería Rose Cottage. Our plan was to chill out, have long walks in nature, and explore the volcanic lakes in the area. We did not chill out much, but we got to see plenty of nature. 😉

Our first explorative mission was targeted on the Mojanda Lakes. There are loads of confusion about what is what in the area, but as far as we can figure out it is a volcanic crater after a volcano named Mojanda, and in that crater there are three different lakes, a number of lava domes, and at the edge the sister volcano Fuya Fuya.

Most tourists and locals seems to go there by car (taxi) to take pictures of the biggest lake right at the entrance of the area and/or climb Fuya Fuya, and then take a taxi back. But as the stubborn nature lovers we are, we decided that we wanted to circulate the biggest lake, hike to the viewpoint, camp at the shore of one of the smaller lakes, and then walk the 15 kilometres back down to our beloved Hostería Rose Cottage.

The first day started okay: We found the path around the lake and started walking. The path was pretty overgrown, but in the beginning it just added to the adventurous feeling of being alone in nature. However, we soon lost the path and ended up on a tiny animal trail mistakingly taking us up towards the rim of the crater. Making our way back down to the path took some sliding, and included a few passages requiring us to take off the backpacks and send them down first. Kind of unexpected. 😉

But from then it only got worse: The path disappeared into a swampy area with tall reeds, which we only got though with Ulrik’s GPS at hand. Then a small lava dome (admittedly with a nice lunch view), and after that a wilderness of a jungle-like passage climbing on all four with our backpacks on to get under/over/in between trees, branches, hanging tree things and what not. After that followed another swampy area only possible to follow via the path marked on our GPS. At three in the afternoon we had only completed half of the days hike. 😲

Stubborn as we are we concluded that we could still do the last six kilometres before sunset less than three hours later, and we started to climb towards the viewpoint gaining some 300 meters in altitude. It took forever as we were absolutely worn out after the crawling around with our backpacks, and when we hit the top it was all misty. We got some great pictures of the “black lake” along the way though. 🙂

The last 3.5 kilometres were an easy descent, and we tried to move as fast as we could to get to an appropriate place to camp before darkness. We succeeded, but the minute we put down our backpacks it started raining.

We managed to make dinner inside the tent leaving only the stove outside in the rain. And when we brushed our teeth a 7.30 pm we had a clear view of the amazing stars. Totally beaten by the exhausting adventures of the day we were deep asleep around 7.45 pm 😉

You may wonder why we put ourselves through this kind of experiences, and at some points we did too. However, all doubts were erased with the morning views in bright sunshine all alone in the reserve!

At the entrance we welcomed the many “day tour tourists” to a new round of clouds and mist, and told them about the amazing views they would have seen if they had been there a few hours earlier. 😛

Saturday is market day in Otavalo, which means that everything and everyone finds their way to the famous handicrafts and/or animal market in town. Apparently, Friday afternoon/evening you will have to wait for hours to get on a bus from Quito to Otavalo!

We headed for the handicrafts market to learn that they sell all types of textile made from alpaca wool — at irresistible low prices! We are never going to admit how much stuff we bought at that market, but at least a nice woollen sweater each. 😄

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We spent our last day in the area trekking around the Cuicocha Lake, another volcanic lake nearby. This time we did check upfront that there actually is a path all the way around it 😉. There is, and we had an almost easy day — compared to our former adventures — hiking the 12 kilometres around the lake getting a picture from every possible angle of the two islands in the middle. 😛

This trek was our last adventure north of Quito, and apparently the first day of the rainy season in the Ecuadorian highlands. We are definitely not done with volcanic landscapes, and cannot wait for our friends Tine and Frederik to arrive tonight, so we can go explore Ecuador south of Quito as well!

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