Travel Tips: Day Hiking in Isinlivi, Ecuador

When hiking the Quilotoa Loop, it is easy to get caught up in hiking the Loop trail itself and to forget about all the other hiking in the area.  The trail network in the Quilotoa area well exceeds 200km, only 70 or so of that being part of the Loop itself.  During our time working at Isinlivi, we saw so many people come and go, staying only one night for the purpose of getting from Sigchos to Quilotoa.  Little did they know the many amazing day hiking trails right there surrounding Isinlivi. 

Llullu Llama Mountain Lodge has a whole book full of directions for different hikes in the area, in fact.  During my time there, I tried my best to do all the major ones, attempting loops that drew together several shorter hikes in order to make the most of my limited days off.  Whether hiking by myself or hiking with guests, I saw some pretty astounding sights on these hikes.  And best of all: none of them were physically killer, even despite the fact that a deep, rattling cough had settled into my chest for almost the entirety of my time at Isinlivi.  Here were a few of my favorite day hikes in the area and the ones I most recommend:

Loma Cochapamba

This was my first day hike out of Isinlivi, which I did alone on one of my full days off.  Much of the hike gives wonderful views of the Quilotoa volcano as you traverse some dry, course landscape to the top of a sloping mountain frequently roamed by bulls.  While I managed to make my ascent without running into bull trouble, I did get some pretty mean stares from them on my way down the other side.

Time: 4-6 hours

Distance: 12.3km, 7.6 miles

Elevation gained/lost: +811m, -773m

  1. At the edge of Isinlivi, just before where the road goes on to Sigchos, a small path passing some houses intersects perpendicular to the main road.  Take this path.
  2. Shortly ahead, the path splits three ways.  You will see a house on the right; the rightmost path leads to this house.  You want to center path, which is a deep path cut into the dirt.
  3. Follow this path for 400m until it intersects with a road.  Do not turn onto the road.  Instead, find where the path picks up on the other side of the road and continue along it.  If the day is clear, you cans see the Quilotoa crater on your right in the distance.
  4. About 600m later, you will pass a house with a red roof.  Take the path about 50m farther going up to the left along a row of pine and eucalyptus trees.  Warning:  Another path goes off to the left right after the red-roofed house.  This trail leads to another house so do not take it.
  5. After following the trees up the hill, the trail will intersect with a road.  Turn right onto the road.
  6. Continue along the road for 700m until it curves to the left.  Take the small, narrow path uphill exiting the road to right. Do not take another small path going downhill to right before it (though you can later take this path to go home).
  7. Continue along this steep path, following the fence lining some farm fields.  Near the top, you will pass a water tank before reaching another main road.  Turn right onto the road.
  8. Follow the road for about 1km until you reach a large left bend with a stunning view ahead.  Take the small path leading off to the right just around the corner.
  9. This path will be a wide, grassy path filled with patches of course plants and cow pies.  You’ll need to cross several barbed wire fences along here.  Just remember: If you open any gates, shut them behind you.  You might run into some cows grazing in this area.  Just be respectful of their space.  At the end of the path, 600km later, you’ll reach another road and turn right.
  10. After walking on this road for a short while, you will see Loma Cochapamba rising up immediately to your left, as well as some rocky cliffs in the distance. The path does not actually go to the summit of the mountain.  Instead, you’ll need to make your own path up there.  Due to the low, scrub grass of the area, it isn’t at all difficult.  To get to the mountain, however, you’ll need to cross the aloe plants lining the left side of the road.  If you just pass the mountain, you will see a small break in the aloe plants; this is the easiest way to cross them. From there, you’ll cross a couple fences before having a straight shot at the peak.  Warning: Bulls frequently roam this mountain, especially in the early day.  They can be mean and dangerous.  You might even run into men who tell you there is a fine for going up there (there isn’t, but be careful).  If you see any bulls, especially any lone bulls, turn back and continue along the road as it loops around the mountain.
  11. After you reach the top of the mountain, you can either go back the way you came and continue along the road looping the mountain, or you can take a shortcut.  To do this, cut down the opposite side of the mountain from which you came up.  You’ll see the road below.  Keep going until you reach the road.  Warning: The mountain ends at a steep and high embankment above the road.  If you walk along the edge of the embankment, you will see one of several small paths that make getting down this possible.
  12. Turn left onto the road as you get off the mountain and continue along it for several kilometers until you see electrical lines passing over the road.  Here, take the small path going down on the right.
  13. You’ll pass some houses in this area and a few barking dogs.  The trail intersects once where you keep going on the left path going down.
  14. Eventually, you will intersect with the second road you came up earlier, the one after you encountered the water tank.  Turn right on this road.
  15. When you reach the point where you entered this road from the water tank path, turn left back onto that path and continue down until it intersects with the first road.
  16. At the first road, you have two options: 1) Continue along the road and retrace your steps, following the same route you took earlier; 2) Take the path going left from the road right after you get back on it (this is the path to the right you passed earlier but did not take).  This path will follow a barbed wire fence until you reach a crossing.  Go straight and follow the ridge.
  17. After a short while, you will pass a building on the left and a steep (and I mean steep) field will open up on the right.  You can see the village of Isinlivi beyond this field.  There is no easy way to get back to the village from here.  This field is steep no matter where you tackle it from.  Take it nice and slow as you descend down the field.
  18. At the bottom, you will need to cross the barbed wire fence on the right and get onto the path that goes in between the field and a farmhouse.  This path will lead you to the colegio, or at least the concrete wall surrounding it. Turn right onto the path going along this wall.
  19. The path leads to the main road, on which you turn right and follow it back to Isinlivi, passing both the police station and the cemetery on the way.

Be mindful of the the bulls that roam Loma Cochapamba.  If locals see you, they might try to discourage you, even saying it's illegal to go there.  It's not, but if you do see a lone bull, especially, turn back.  I was lucky and didn't run into these bulls until I was back on the road on the other side of the mountain.  By then, there was a safe, ten-foot berm of dirt between me and them.

Guantualo & Laguna Tilinte

This is one of the lesser known hikes out of Isinlivi, possibly because it’s not actually in the hiking directions book at Llullu Llama.  If you ask the volunteers, however, they can still give you a printout map of this hike. It’s a great hike if you’re considering the Guantualo Loop hike or want to see the Monday Guantualo market, but want to add a little extra onto your trek.  Chris and I did this hike with two of our favorite guests at the hostel.  Lucas, a professor as Indiana State University and Rebecca, a professor at Harvard (yes, really) broke the norm from our typical guests and stayed in Isinlivi for three nights.  On their second day, we joined them for this hike.  It was quite the adventure that included a pair fluorescent pink gloves to protect Rebecca’s horribly sunburnt hands, the outrunning of a black and blue thunderstorm on the way home, the failure to outrun it completely, and some great stories shared between us all.

  1. From Isinlivi, go (direction- right from Llullu Llama). 
  2. Turn right at the college on the outskirts of town.
  3. Follow this wide, dirt road down to the river Cumjin.
  4. Pass the river and continue following the road for approximately another mile until the main road turns left.  Another road continues straight; Take that road.
  5. About 400 meters further, the road will take a sharp right hand turn.  There is a faint trail going up-hill through fields on the left of this bend.  Take that path. 
  6.  Continue uphill on this path until a four way trail intersection occurs.  The path on the right continuing uphill is the main one on which you continue.
  7. Continue following this path up hill until it becomes a larger, grassier path that curves uphill on your right.
  8. Up this path you will crest the hill and reach the village of Guantualo. Walk along the main road into town and the main square.
  9. As you are facing the main square from the direction from which you entered, turn left and take the main road leaving the village.
  10. Keep following the wide, dirt road until you come to a T-junction where you will turn right,  
  11. Almost immediately after turning, you will see a deep path cut into the earth on the left.  There are tubes passing over the road if you’re not sure.  Turn left here onto the path.
  12. Keep following this path uphill until it opens into a grassy field onto the right.  Just over the grassy bluff, you’ll see a water tank below.
  13. Follow the path passing the water tank until you can see into the valley below.  Laguna Tilinte is on the far side of it.  The paths down to the lake criss-crossing and weave around, but they all pretty much lead to the lake.  Just keep walking in the direction of the far side of the valley.  If you open any fences, as you’ll probably have to do, make sure you close the gates behind you.
  14. To get back, you can descend left out of the valley to the village of Salado and follow the road back to Isinlivi. Getting out of the valley this way can be confusing you’ll run into many fences.  If you want to avoid this, you can also go back the way you came.  As you’re descending along the path from the water tank, you’ll see the main road below you on the right.  To shave off half a mile, cut down the fields and directly onto the road.  This road will take you back to Isinlivi.

Less of a lake and more of a mud muddle, but a beautiful hike nonetheless.

Cochalo Loop

This was another day hike I completed on my own.  If you’re not planning on hiking from Sighcos to Isinlivi, this is a great option to see some of the same sights as half of the hikes overlap.  I ran into several Isinlivi bound hikers on my way and was able to give them some directions to the hostel and make their trek a bit easier.  The Cochalo Loop is a great option for those who want to switch up the scenery a bit.  Since this hike takes you down by a large river, a lot of it is a lot more lush than some of the drier area along the rest of the trails.  Once again, I got stuck in an absolute downpour about half a kilometer outside Isinlivi on my way back.  I returned to the hostel sopping wet.

Time: 3-5 hours

Distance: 9.4km, 5.9miles

Elevation gained/lost: +523m, -518m

  1. Turn down the grassy road to the right of the Llullu Llama door (looking out).  Continue along the main trail down to the right, not the trail to the left leading to the other hostel.
  2. After 300m, turn left onto a smaller trail leading down hill.
  3. Continue down this trail until you see a concrete bridge over the river below.  Shortly before reaching the bridge itself, a trail will cut off to the right, running over a gravel mound and around a dirt bank.
  4. This trail will take you over several crude, log bridges over the stream.
  5. Continue along this trail for 500m until it intersects with a small farmhouse directly in front of you.  The trail curves along the side of this property, signified by a tree-lined “fence”.  There should be a small, grassy field to your left.  At the end of this fence on the right, the trail splits.  Take the trail to the right.
  6. Shortly after you turn, the trail will split again.  Take the left fork until you cross a small stream and take the trail to the right.
  7. After 100m, you will reach yet another fork with a wooden cross in the middle.  Take the trail to the right.
  8. Continue along the path for 150m.  You will pass under some power lines overhead and the trail will split again.  Take the trail leading downhill to the right.
  9. This is the most confusing part of the hike: Continue for 750m along this path.  It will lead you downhill toward a small stream.  If it had rained recently or is currently raining, this section of trail gets very swampy and you might find your feet a little wet.  The path fades out through this area, but due to the thick underbrush on both sides, it’s pretty clear which way you need to continue walking.  Eventually the trail will pick back up and lead you right down to the Cumjin river, a large, rapidly flowing river with old tires lining the bank.
  10. The now grassy path will curve to the right along a barbed wire fence.  Follow this path to the right for 750m until you reach a wooden bridge.
  11. After you cross the bridge, walk for 200m uphill until you come to a main road.  Looking down the road, you’ll see a wooden archway.  Walk under the archway.  Beware: They may be free-range cattle here.  Keep your distance, especially if they have babies.
  12. Keep walking along this main road for 750m until you reach the village of Cochalo.  After walking through the village, you will come to a T-junction, with the church and school to your left.  Take the road going right.
  13. Just ahead, you will immediately see another split.  The main road turns left and a path going uphill will go right.  Take the right path.
  14. Hike uphill for 1km.  Smaller trails will intersect here, but make sure you stick to the main path.  At one point (about 500m along), you will see a large trail intersecting from the right, but again, make sure you stay left on the main path.  After another 500m, you will come to a gate across the trail.  Cross this gate and continue up.
  15. About 400m after the gate, the trail will intersect with the main road.  Turn right onto the road, where you will stay for 1km.
  16. After 1km, you should be able to see Isinlivi across the valley to your right.  At this point, there are multiple ways to get there.  As long as you keep going that direction, it doesn’t matter which you take.  The easiest is this: When the main road curved around to the right, a small trail will split off downhill to the right of the main road.  This trail will closely pass a handful of houses until it leads you right back to the village.