As the bus turned another windy corner, I felt my heart race and my breath become deeper. I was climbing altitude and fast. Reminders of the day I had arrived in Cusco 12 years before came flooding back. It was the same feelings as I had felt when I stepped off the plane into an altitude of 3,399 metres, I had forgotten the effects that altitude could be. Praying that we wouldn’t get any higher, it soon stopped and the driver pointed me to a sign.
Walking incredibly slowly and panting for breath, I climbed the path up the hill to my destination.
I was staying at Black Sheep Inn, an award winning ecolodge. I was about to experience composting toilets for the next 4 nights but most importantly I was here to visit one of the most photographed icons in Ecuador – Quilotoa Lagoon.
The views from the ecolodge are just as stunning. Even the view from the top of the bunkhouse was enough to make me want to stay for 4 nights.
This eco property oozes tranquility and has an amazing yoga deck which I visited each morning to practice my sun salutations as the sun rose, before breakfast at 7am. Fit for a yoga queen with muesli, fruit juice, toast, eggs and coffee.
What makes this place so eco? Apart from the composting toilets which are decorated with lush plants as you admit the mountain view, this lodge focuses on permaculture, alternative energy and water collection and is beyond sustainable being 100% community-owned supporting local conservation projects.
Just 20 years ago, this small village of Chugchilan wasn’t really on the map. Now you can explore the region’s eco charm by horseback or on foot along one of the hiking trails. The altitude here is high at approx 3200 metres elevation so if you do suffer from the altitude (like me) then give yourself a couple of days to acclimatise when you get there.
All the food here is vegetarian and lunch was wrapped in a brown paper bag so that you could take it on any hikes or excursions that you wanted to do. In the afternoons there was a choice of brownies, cake and cookies amongst free tea and coffee.
Dinner was really sociable and was a three-course meal sat around the table with couples, families and other solo travellers. I met many Europeans here, who at night either played one of the board games found in the communal area or paid extra to sit in the sauna after a heavy day of trekking. There was also a gym with weights which you could use if you wanted to be more active than chilling in a hammock in the yoga room.
After three nights of resting, working and acclimatising, I was ready to see the famous lagoon.
Quilotoa has a huge crater measuring 3km in diameter and a lagoon 240m deep which appears to change different hues of blue, silver and even green as you walk around.
To walk around it takes approx 4-6 hours with magnificent views from so many angles. Along with a really nice Belgium family I met at the Ecolodge, I spent 2 hours hiking around as the driver waited in the jeep to take us back. The transport was $25 plus an extra $5 for each hour he waited.
If you are feeling really adventurous you can hike the six hours return from the lagoon, but the lagoon isn’t the only hiking route here.
There are maps of other walking trails in the common area that you can take with you so that you don’t get lost. You can horseback ride if you don’t feel like walking and there are excursions to a cloud forest called Iliniza Ecological Reserve, or the Rio Toachi Canyon.
The area is really safe for solo females and Edmundo, the manager is very knowledgable and can help you figure out your onward bus journeys.
With images this amazing, it’s easy to see why this spot is popular with hikers. A word of warning though, it can get cold with the chill in the wind so take plenty of layers.
You can stay in Quilotoa but with this amazing eco lodge less than 30 minutes down the road – why wouldn’t you stay here!
Black Sheep Inn Ecolodge has been voted one of the Top 10 Eco-Lodges in the World by Outside Magazine. It has also been named one of the World’s Best Hotels according to National Geographic.
How to get to Black Sheep Inn
Black Sheep Inn has detailed directions on their website. I was staying in Banos so I took the bus from Banos then changed in Latacunga before taking Cooperative Transportes La Iliniza for 3 hours to Chugchilan.
Staying at Black Sheep Inn
Find out more here or book your stay through this link. The property is really popular so book ahed if you are travelling there during high season (June to September).
It costs $35 per night to stay in the bunkhouse including your 3 daily meals. There is also the option to stay in a private room from $70 with your own wood stove (meals also included).
N.b. My stay was discounted but as always each opinion is my own and I wouldn’t recommend anywhere which I didn’t think was good for solo females.