Quilitoa Loop 1 - Isinlivi to Chugchilan, Ecuador

Start Point: Isinlivi, Ecuador
Duration: 4-5 hours
Difficulty (1-5): 2
Height of Ascent: 450 metres

The normal route follows the river at a low level.  This route takes a higher path and gives some spectacular views.  It’s probably better to do it from Isinlivi, I think that the reverse route would be very tough climbing up from the river valley.

Starting from Lulu Llama Hostal, turn right out of the front door and walk down the steep hill, turn right and then follow the well used path down.  After 10-15 minutes, you will arrive at a sturdy concrete bridge. (The normal route turns right just before the bridge.) Cross over the bridge and follow the dirt road, which does an s-bend climbing away from the river. Approximately 100 metres after the s-bend, the road bends slightly to the left.  At this point follow a faint path straight on, which climbs up a meadow.

Start of Footpath

A little further on, the path becomes more pronounced when it zigzags up a short, but steep slope.  At the top you will come across another meadow.  We carried on up the meadow and then climbed steeply up to the right to join a well used path, which runs along the side of the hill.  (I think that the path actually starts at the right hand side at the beginning of the meadow and we missed it.)

Follow the well used path to the left, heading up to a dirt road – there are spectacular views to the right.  At the road, turn right and follow it for a mile past farm land, until you come to what appears to be a t-junction.  

Path goes straight ahead down a gulley

Continue walking straight on and you will see a well worn path leading steeply down.  Take this path which leads down to a lovely valley high above the Rio Toachi Valley.  Follow the path which goes past several small subsistence farms.  The path is lovely going between hedges of rhododendrons.  The dogs can be a nuisance but, despite barking enthusiastically, none gave us any trouble.

After about a mile, the path leads up steeply through a cutting with light coloured rock.  After another 200 metres, the path turns right and you will see a clearing on the edge of the cliff with a strange 10 metre diameter circle.  The path splits into two at this point – the left one follows the edge of the plateau and the right one descends down to the river valley.

Path down to Rio Toachi Valley

Before going down the right hand path, go over to the circle and enjoy the fabulous views down to the River Valley.  From here, you can see your route which will go down to the river, across the suspension bridge, along the far side of the river to a village and then up some zigzags to the plateau on the other side of the valley.

Rio Toachi Valley

Having taken your spectacular photographs, take the right hand path which descends very steeply inside a three metre high gully for the first couple of hundred metres.  The path soon starts zigzagging down a more open slope, with fine views of the river as you descend.

The path leads to a small suspension bridge across the River Toachi.  Walk carefully across the bridge, which is very wobbly and has some missing and suspect wooden planks.  On the other side of the river, turn left and follow the path, which slowly climbs up from the river until it reaches a dirt road.  Turn left on the dirt road and follow it to the small village of Itualo. Walk through the centre of the village, past the brightly coloured school and after 100 metres take a road that leads off to the right.

Road Leading to Zigzags

This dirt road goes up to a long series of zigzags that take you up to the plateau leading to Chugchilan. I estimate that it’s 300 metres of ascent and took us about 25 minutes.

At the top of the zigzags, there is a small road junction and a few houses.  Your route to Chugchilan is straight on, but first turn left and walk up the short track to a lookout point with spectacular views back down the valley.

Path to Chugchilan

From the lookout, return to the junction and turn left along a dirt track which leads you through a lovely little canyon and after 10 minutes joins a dirt road.  At the road, turn left and follow it all the way to the village of Chugchilan.  

There are two junctions on the way – take the left hand road at both.  It will take 30-40 minutes to walk along the road to the village.  It’s a steady uphill slog, which is a little harsh on your tired legs.  There are three hostels on the right hand side of the road before you get to the village centre.