Black Sheep Inn is situated just north of the town of Chugchilán, on a slope that overlooks the Rio Toachi Canyon. We are one hour by vehicle from Laguna Quilotoa, and three hours by vehicle from Cotopaxi National Park.
From the front door of the inn, several day hikes are available: canyon, the cloud forest, the plateau, and Lake Quilotoa.
Lake Quilotoa is a beautiful volcanic crater lake located at 3800 meters (12,400 feet) between the towns of Zumbahua and Chugchilán. Its emerald water spans two kilometers. Local legend claims it is connected to the ocean and is therefore salty and sulfuric. Quilotoa is an active volcano, the last major eruption was over 850 years ago.
We recommend taking a local native guide for the world famous hike from Laguna
Quilotoa, through the Rio Toachi Canyon, to the town Chugchilán (where the
Black Sheep Inn is located). This is one of the best day hikes in Ecuador.
(Quilotoa hike details)
If you are not in the mood for a big hike,
Lake Quilotoa is also accessible by car or bus. The first hour of crater
rim walk is quite gentle, and affords plenty of spectacular views of the emerald laguna below.
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, it is possible to swim in the lake, but the water is very cold (5° celcius). Coming back up from the laguna, you can hire a mule to ride for a few dollars.
One of the signature natural wonders of Ecuador and the highest active volcanoe
in the world at 5,897 meters (19,347 feet).
Cotopaxi's iconic spare outline dominates the countryside in all directions.
On clear days, Cotopaxi's snow-covered peak is visible 50 km away in Quito.
Black Sheep Inn is located in the Cotopaxi Province, but...
Cotopaxi National Park and Volcano is over a 3 hour drive away from the Inn.
We recommend planning a trip that includes a night stay near the park. You can check our recommended itinerary for a list of hotels we recommend near Cotopaxi.
Visiting Cotopaxi presents some cool options. You can take an exhilarating mountain-bike ride down the lower slopes of the mountain. The Biking Dutchman outfitters can arrange bikes and travel for this experience.
If you are healthy and fit, you might consider climbing the summit of Cotopaxi. It's a full overnight affair. Climbers get to the Cotopaxi refuge in the evening (4800 meters or 15,650 feet). Climbers prep gear, eat dinner, rest, and then start the trek to the summit at midnight. You can see more mountain climbing info at Ecuador Mountain Guides.
Ilinizas Twin Peaks
The Ilinizas are a pair of extinct volcanic peaks, about two hours northeast of Black Sheep Inn. Iliniza Norte (5,126 meters or 16,813 feet) is climbable without special gear, although a guide is recommended as the trails can be a bit confusing. Iliniza Sur (5,248 meters or 17,213 feet) is glacier covered at the peak, and requires more preparation and ice climbing equipment to summit.
If you travel to Black Sheep Inn via the Northern route, you can often get a good view of the Ilinizas. The snow-covered peak of Iliniza Sur is also visible on clear days from the Black Sheep Inn.
Rio Toachi Canyon
The headwaters of the Rio Toachi start just above the town of Zumbahua. The river cuts a dramatic canyon through loose volcanic ash east of Quilotoa. The river then winds its way down to the coastal plain, joining the Rio Esmeraldas before draining into the Pacific Ocean.
From the front door of the Black Sheep Inn you can enjoy several day hikes along and down into the canyon. 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.
Black Sheep Inn looks out over a large plateau which floats like an island in the canyon. At the edge of the plateau, cliffs descend to the Rio Toachi. The views from the plateau, surrounded on all sides by peaks and canyon dropoffs, are quite stunning.
A hike to the plateau takes only 35 minutes from the Black Sheep Inn. Once you are there, you can spend many hours navigating the edges, as the views down into arroyos and canyons keep changing.
Chinalo Furniture Workshop
About two kilometers down the road from Black Sheep Inn is the community of Chinalo, where the Don Bosco Mission is located. Italian missionaries from the Mata Grosso Aid Group have lived in this area since the late 1970s. They teach local youths a useful trade of carpentry and fine furniture making while instilling catholic morals. The graduates now work cooperatively in the Centro Artistico Don Bosco, making fine-hand carved furniture.
In addition to woodworking, the mission runs a church, a performance space, and a bakery. You can stop in at the mission and see their woodworking showroom. Their work is highly skilled and over the years they have developed their own unique style.
Local Indigenous Markets
Andean tradition thrives in this area and local markets provide many opportunities to observe how people have been trading for thousands of years. You may be bargaining for a poncho, fresh fruit and produce, fried bread, or a rope to tie your brand new llama, or better yet buy two!
Local markets only happen on specific days of the week. Below you can see which markets might coincide with your visit to the area.
|day||town||notes||distance from Black Sheep Inn|
|Monday||Guantualo||A very small, non-touristy, rural community market.||No direct road, but a lovely 3 hour hike.|
|Tuesday||Latacunga||A large market spreading across two plazas in the center of town. Very colorful. Visit the slaughter house and meat market for a close up view.||3 hours by car|
|Wednesday||Pujilí||Smaller than the Pujilí Sunday market.||2½ hours by car|
|Thursday||Saquisilí||Economically one of the most important markets in Cotopaxi Province. The entire community comes alive with vendors on every street corner selling everything imaginable throughout the village.||2½ hours by car|
|Friday||No Market||Vendors preparing for Saturday Market fill the plazas in Latacunga.|
|Saturday||Zumbahua||A morning market surrounded by rocky peaks. Very indigenous and colorful. Lots of llamas. Market ends by 1-2 pm.||2 hours by car|
|Saturday||Latacunga||Much bigger than Tuesday's market.||3 hours by car|
|Sunday||Chugchilán, Sigchos & Pujilí||Local markets add life to the otherwise sleepy villages of Chugchilán, Sigchos & Pujilí||5 minute walk to Chugchilán,
1 hour to Sigchos.
Iliniza Cloud Forest
The cloud forest near Black Sheep Inn is part of The Iliniza Ecological Reserve.
The reserve was declared by INEFAN in 1996. Within its 149,900 hectares are
the Iliniza Twin Peaks, Laguna Quilotoa and a huge tract of Cloud Forest (Andean Humid Forest).
The western cordillera is the last mountain range before the Andes unfold, dropping over
10,000 feet to the Pacific lowlands. This high altitude jungle is a unique
eco-system and home to diverse flora and fauna.
We have a reasonably complete
Bird List for our local cloud forest.
You can hike or horseback ride to the cloud forest from Black Sheep Inn in about two hours, a beautiful route that takes you over the high paramó and puts you at the top of the sea of clouds.
The Ecuadorian National Park Service (INEFAN) declared the area an Ecological Reserve,
yet there is still no education program, no publicity, no signs and no controls.
Many people who own property or live in this area don't even know that it is a reserve.
There are large tracts of old growth, but deforestation here in Ecuador, as well as
globally, stretches further and further. We hope that with some outside help this
Cloud Forest can be preserved for future generations.
We have written an open letter to help preserve the cloud forest. Please feel free to copy and forward this letter.
Cheese Factory - in the high paramó
Swiss Aid came to this area 32 years ago. Because the local people were unable to transport fresh milk to the larger cities, the project built a cheese factory using Swiss techniques. This added a higher value to the dairy products. Nowadays, the cheese factory is cooperatively owned. The factory sits just down the road from the community of Chinalo-Alto, high in the paramó. (Paramó means high grassy alpine area, generally above the treeline). Because of its high location, the cheese factory does not require refrigeration while aging cheeses.
Hiking or riding horses to the paramo and cheese factory takes about two hours from the Black Sheep Inn. The views along the way are stunning. At the factory, they will give you a tour and let you taste some of the cheeses. You can combine a trip to the cheese factory with a visit to the cloud forest, which starts just on the east side of the paramó.
In the area around Black Sheep Inn, indigenous culture survives. Traditional techniques of farming, building and animal husbandry are still in use. Because of the terrain, virtually no machinery is used in farming the land. Many communities speak Quichua, instead of or in addition to Spanish. Local culture certainly adapts to the modern world (many families now have mobile phones), but traditional ways of life are still thriving in the region.
Visiting the local markets is a great way of to catch a slice of local life. And you will inevitably pass many farms, impossible slopes of potato cultivation, grazing cows, herds of sheep and flocks of schoolkids as you hike through the countryside.
Views from the Inn
Besides being close to amazing hiking trails, the Black Sheep Inn lodge itself is situated in a fantastic location. If you are interested in a day of pure relaxation, we have just the spot to chill and watch the clouds go by.
We call the Black Sheep Inn a "day hiker's paradise"
because, well, it is.
The Quilotoa Cicuit is chock full of fantastic sites to visit.