|Start Point:||Cloud Forest Hostel, Chugchilan, Ecuador|
|Height of Ascent:||450 metres|
This is a hike that we did while staying at Chugchilan when we were walking around the Quilotoa Loop in Ecuador. It is not well documented anywhere, but is a pleasant hike to do on a "rest-day". We recommend that you do it in the morning when the skies are clear. By midday, the clouds will have started to roll across the top of the hill which is one of the objectives of this hike. Also, if you want to visit the cheese factory, they are closed in the afternoon. The hike takes 4 hours including a short stop at the Cheese Factory.
Turn right out of the Cloud Forest Hostal and walk up through the village. The road soon splits, so take the right hand fork sign posted “Bosques Nublado”, which means Cloud Forest. The dirt road meanders up the hill and at the third (or maybe fourth) right hand bend, there's an obvious footpath leading up to the left.
The footpath goes up steeply, occasionally in a steep sided gulley, but also giving fine views of the countryside all the way across to the snow covered Iliniza Sud. (There are a couple of small homes on this path and the dogs can be a nuisance. The locals throw big stones at them, but we found that just continuing to walk slowly worked as well.) As you ascend, the vegetation starts to thin out and eventually you will see that the path is about to rejoin the road. About 100 metres before you reach the road, there's a faint path leading off to the left and up towards the round hill, which is your first objective.
The path fizzles out, but keep walking up towards the top of the hill through tussocks of grass. At the top you will be rewarded by a view of thick clouds stretching below you off to the western horizon. These are formed by the warm, humid air coming from the Pacific coast and hitting the Andes mountains. Below the thick cloud cover is the Cloud Forest which consists of plants that rely on the humidity of the air rather than heavy rain as in a Rain Forest. The contrast of the thick clouds to the west and the clear air to the east is impressive.
Continue the hike by walking down the hill, heading north east to rejoin the road. Follow the road for about a kilometre to a small village, continue through the village and after another kilometre, you will see a sign for the “Quesera Quilatoa”. It is likely that the gate into the Cheese Factory will be shut and the place looks like it is closed, but go and knock on the door and the single employee of the cooperative will show you around.
It costs $1 per person and it's only a small place, but he will give you a sample of the cheeses that they make. They produce local fresh soft cheese, Mozzarella and Emmental cheese. The Emmental is particularly tasty and was only $12 per kilo in 2013.
From the Cheese Factory, return to the village, passing through it and down a small hill where the road splits. You originally came from the right hand fork, so now take the left hand fork, which will take you back down to Chugchilan. The views down to Chugchilan from the road are fabulous.
After a few kilometres, you will come across a house on the left hand side of the road, on a right hand bend, with a small sign saying Casa No. 20. Just past it is an obvious, if steep, path down. From this point, you can see down to the outskirts of Chugchilan. You can either continue along the road or take this steep path down – it leads back to the road.
At the point where the path reaches the road, there is another path 10 metres up the road, which leads down towards Chugchilan.
Take this path which cuts out a lot of road and is interesting. The path eventually leads to the road, where you should turn right, walking through a cutting in a small hill. After 400 metres, take a dirt road to the right past some buildings.
This road leads to a T-junction, where you should turn right and walk up the road for a kilometre back to Cloud Forest Hostal.