From front door of the Black Sheep Inn you can choose a ton of hiking trails, with a huge variety of scenery and environment. Within two hours walk you can reach 4 distinct climate zones.
The plateau and ridge hike offer shorter jaunts that let you get acclimated to the altitude (3200 meters) while affording fantastic views.
Once you are comfortable, you can tackle longer journeys to the cloud forest, through the Rio Toachi canyon and up to Lake Quilotoa.
Laguna Quilotoa hike is considered one of the best day hikes in Ecuador.
Guests generally hire a truck to make the 45 minute drive up to the lake, and then
follow a mostly downhill course from the lake back to the Black Sheep Inn.
This route takes about 4 to 6 hours, starting at an altitude of 3800 meters, traveling about a quarter of the rim around the lake, then down off the crater to the town of Guayama. From Guayama the trail leads to the top of dramatic cliffs above Rio Sihui. You then take a trail down to the river (altitude 2800 meters), and up the other side of the canyon, eventually climbing to Chugchilán and Black Sheep Inn at 3200 meters elevation.
Going the other way (from the inn to the crater lake) is certainly possible, but because the hike is mostly uphill, you should budget a couple of extra hours.
We recommend taking a local native guide for this hike, which we can arrange for you
at the inn.
If you are not in the mood for a big hike, you can also arrange for a truck to bring you to the lake, wait for you, and bring you back. The first hour of crater rim walk is quite gentle, and affords plenty of spectacular views of the lake.
Hiking down from the crater rim to the lakeside is also an option. Descent takes 30 minutes, an climbing back up takes about an hour. Yes, you can swim in the lake, but the water is very cold (5° celcius). Coming back up from the lake, you can hire a mule to ride for a few dollars.
Rio Toachi Canyon
Exploring the canyon presents a couple options. Hikes begin by following road and trails
from Black Sheep Inn down to
the Rio Toachi river. Then at the town of
Itualo, you can choose to go left (downstream) or right (upstream).
The downstream trail makes for an easier hike (3-5 hours total) that leads to the suspension bridge. From the bridge you can connect with a road that leads back upwards to the Mission Workshop at Chinalo, where you can check out their showroom of hand-carved furniture. This round trip trail is also a good choice to do on horseback.
The upstream trail is a bit more challenging (4 -6 hours total). It follows the Rio Toachi upstream to the tributary river, Rio Sihui. From there the trail follows Rio Sihui upstream through a lovely uninhabited stretch (a bit of bushwacking and river crossing is sometimes necessary) and emerge at the base of the farmland hills that lead back to Chugchilán and the Black Sheep Inn.
The land rising from the canyon features four distinct climates in a ten kilometer radius.
Climate 1 -- At the bottom of the canyon (2600 meters, 8500 feet elevation), tropical trees such as avocado and citrus grow.
Climate 2 -- The Black Sheep Inn (3200 meters, 10,500 feet elevation) still has a large variety of trees, lush grassy areas and we can grow leafy greens for organic salads.
Climate 3 -- The high paramó (3500 meters, 11,500 feet elevation & above) is an exposed alpine grassland, mostly above the tree line.
Climate 4 -- on the other side of the paramó, as the elevation drops off 3000 meters or 10,000 feet, there is dense jungle and Cloud Forest.
Walking to the plateau from Black Sheep Inn only takes about 35 minutes. Once you're on the plateau, you can spend hours following the edge, with views into arroyos and down cliffsides into the Rio Toachi Canyon.
Since this hike is mostly on level ground, it's a good first hike, to see how your body is adjusting to the high altitude. You can also enjoy the plateau on horseback.
Black Sheep Inn is located part way up a mountain ridge. Hiking up to the top of the ridge above the inn takes about 25 minutes. From the top, you can follow the ridgeline trail with stunning views on both sides. The whole loop around the ridge and back to the inn takes from one hour to 90 minutes.
The ridge hike is not long, but it involves a serious little climb at the outset. It's a good way to gauge how you feel with uphill treks in the high altitude.
Iliniza Cloud Forest
Hiking to the cloud forest from Black Sheep Inn takes about 2 hours. On the way,
the road climbs into the paramó - high altitude grasslands above the tree line.
Up in the paramó, you have the option to visit a locally run cheese factory that was started 30 years ago by a Swiss Aid Project. Over the Western edge of the paramo, the cloud forest begins. You can delve into the clouds and hike in the high altitude rain forest. A local guide can be hired for this hike, who will be able to show you paths through the jungle, and give some explanation of medicinal plants, bird life, waterfalls, and other points of interest.
You can hike a loop that takes in the cloud forest, traveling along dirt roads that
wind their way up to the small town of Chinalo-Alto, along the upper edge of the cloud forest,
and eventually back down to Chugchilán and the Black Sheep Inn. This
hike takes about 5 hours total. You can also enjoy this route
We have a reasonably complete Bird List for our local cloud forest.
The cloud forest is part of the Iliniza Ecological Reserve, a vast area of land that receives very little ecological protection. more about the reserve.
Guantualo Market and Isinlivi
Guantualo is a small village that sits on the other side of the Rio Toachi canyon
from Black Sheep Inn. Their market happens every Monday. It's a low-key affair,
a fairly extensive market but definitely not geared towards tourists -- think rubber boots and
cooking pots for sale, not so much indigenous handicrafts.
The hike to Guantualo takes about 3 hours each way, traveling down to the river and then up the other side of the canyon.
Guantualo is only a few hours hike from the town of Isinlivi. You can plan a
one way hike from Black Sheep Inn to Guantualo, onward to Isinlivi, and then stay overnight at the
Llullu Llama hostal.