Do not recommend.
Here’s the thing about my day trip to Quilotoa Lagoon in Ecuador: it was not a pleasant experience.
Our group reached the site and started the hike down to the crater lake. The guide said the hike down would take about 40 minutes to an hour, and I got down in about 45 minutes. This hike down wasn’t difficult, but some areas sloped more than others. I had to keep my knees bent while walking, and I was so worried about falling despite wearing hiking boots. There were a lot of people walking in both directions, and we also had to share the path with several stubborn mules and their poop.
The landscape during the hike down was stunning despite it being a hazy day at the site. Quilotoa is a dormant volcano in the Andes Mountains that had eight major eruptions in the past 200,000 years. The last eruption was over 700 years ago and created the impressive caldera that is now filled with greenish water.
Once I reached the bottom of the lagoon, I was able to see more of the lake’s greenish color. A few people were jumping into the lake, while some others were kayaking. The water was cold, so only the wild and crazy teenaged boys were jumping into the lake. I took a seat on the bench to absorb it all, but not much time passed before I needed to head back up. One of the unfortunate points about booking a tour is that I didn’t have the time to explore at my own leisure, so I felt rushed. There wasn’t enough time for me to let it all sink in.
Now, one could hike back up to the meeting point, but that steep hike would be exhausting for the average person who hadn’t adjusted to Ecuador’s high altitude, and it would take much longer than the hike down. The tour guide recommended that we all purchase a ride on a mule, which I planned to do. I approached the men to get a mule up to the meeting point, but the man told me I needed one more person because they only rent the mules in twos and I was solo. So, I waited for another single person to show up or a group of three so that I could be the fourth.
And I waited.
Apparently everyone was traveling as a couple that day. I got the man’s attention again, and he told me the same thing again. So I started walking up the crater hoping to find the another vendor renting out mule rides, but I didn’t make it far because the altitude slowed me down tremendously. As I was catching my breath, an angel from heaven – my tour guide – walked up to me and asked if I enjoyed the views. I told him yes, and proceeded to tell him about my issue getting a mule. He approached the men with the mules, and an argument in Spanish ensued. Eventually, I got a mule with another woman on the second mule, and owner on a third mule. A teenaged boy was going to walk alongside us and lead the mules in the right direction.
Now, I grew up in rural Louisiana where one could find people riding their horses in the neighborhood on any given day. Still, I had never ridden one, and I had no idea how to even get on one. No one gave me any instructions about the mule on that day either, and there were no introductions between the mule and me. Don’t ask how I got on. Just know that it happened, and I held on for dear life.
The mule was stubborn, of course, and didn’t want to walk. I understood. I’m a heavy girl and that was a long and steep journey. Every time the mule would stop, the teenaged boy would hit it violently, and the mule would take off in fear. There I was, praying to God that I didn’t get thrown off a mule, but also upset at the animal cruelty, but also not willing to get off the mule and refuse the owner’s services because I couldn’t make it back to the top of the crater in time if I hiked.
The trip on the mule was about 35 minutes, but it felt like eternity. I frowned the entire time, and questioned every decision that lead me to that point. A part of me wanted to cry as I asked myself why I thought this tour was a good idea in the first place. The mule was walking in any direction it felt like walking, and didn’t care that people were along the same path. Another man got into an argument with the owner of the mules because of this, and I thought a physical altercation would occur.
When we made it close to the top, my mule stopped walking again. This time, the teenaged boy and the man kept going and abandoned me. I had no idea how to get off the mule. Luckily, my guide saw me and came to assist me in getting off. I reached the meeting point right on time, and as our group headed to the bus, we all agreed that we would never do this tour again. Many of them didn’t even walk down because the altitude had them too sick.
Yes, Quilotoa Lake was beautiful, but it was not worth the hassle. The experience getting back to the meeting point on the mule was the number one reason for me to never return again. Animal cruelty has never been an issue that I was passionate about. Sure, it shouldn’t happen, but it’s at the bottom of a long list of things that are wrong about the world. Still, my heart crumbled at how those mules were treated, and the arguments that ensued because of them.