Quilatoa Loop, Ecuador; a family bicycle ride.

Bus to Latacongua/Zumbahua then bike Quilatoa – Chugchillan – Isinlivi – Toacaso


Back in Ecuador…

So… despite the ride being officially ‘over’, I’ve found myself back in South America once more. It seems I can’t escape this continent. A free return air ticket, the chance to hole up on a friend’s organic farm, an invitation to bikepack through the volcanic corridor… and the opportunity to accrue some two wheeled family adventures have all lured me back to Ecuador this winter.

In the interim, work has been busy. Aside from a recent feature in Issue IX of the Ride Journal, Trailblazer’s hiking and biking guidebook to the stunning Cordillera Blanca has just been published – including the mountain biking chapter I contributed – and there’s a Bolivian travel story I wrote for Bicycle Times‘ due out next issue. Shortly after that, I’ll have some words and photos in the UK’s new Cranked magazine, followed by the US’ Adventure Cycling and, fingers crossed, a couple more in the pipeline too. Do check in on Worldwide Cycling Atlas from time to time, and learn about some of the amazing bike projects unfolding around the planet- let me know if there are any other like-minded, pedalled powered schemes we can profile and promote.

Anyways… self-promotion over… back to the blog again.

To ease our way into Andean riding – if such a thing is possible in the crumpled country of Ecuador – we bused over to Zumbahua to begin this little adventure, with the intention of spending Christmas and New Year riding the Quilatoa Loop. Popular amongst both cyclists and hikers, the area’s a perfect introduction to Ecuador’s backcountry roads and highlands. It’s relatively off-the-beaten-track, yet also features a number of comfortable and affordable places to stay en route, allowing us the chance to jettison camping gear to help tackle the country’s tremendous inclines. With the right planning, you could also visit a couple of cool local markets too, like the Saturday morning market in Zumbahua.

Toddler Tips ‘n Gear:

We segmented our ride with loads of non-bike activities, and tried to harmonise trailer time with naps to cover distance. These days (at the ripe old age of two) Sage is a voracious walker. We put his energy to good use by pushing our bikes after lunch so he could run alongside us, as well as stopping in any villages that had playgrounds. A bag of (lightweight) Duplo has been providing excellent evening entertainment, along with (water soluble) pens, and some books for bedtime. For other ideas, check out this wonderful little video from Traveling Two‘s cycling trip to Switzerland.

In terms of gear, Sage still fits into his down sleepsack, made by Milk and Honey, supplemented by a hat, gloves and a down Patagonia down jacket if needed in the mountains. Unexpectedly successful potty training means diapers are now almost a thing of the past, hallelujah. We carry a couple of re-usables for night times, and a few emergency disposables just in case. Our Chariot CX trailer is still doing the heavy lifting (note that our 2011 model has been discounted to a bargain $500 at BikeShopHub), though one of Tout Terrain’s incredible Singletrailers would have been an excellent option for Ecuador, given the roughness of the roads and a two wheeled trailer’s propensity to tip over at times. Perhaps a Weehoo is the way forward for fare-weather tour here? Trailer pulling with a Rohloffed’ Krampus is greatly eased with the addition of one of these gizmos – make sure you pick the right one, depending on if you’re running a QR or solid axle hub.

Affiliate link:

If you’re interested in getting your hands on a Thule Chariot trailer and can’t do so locally… ordering via BikeKidShop will earn me a 7% commission, and won’t cost you a penny. Right now, they’re offering a 30% discount on some of last year’s Chariot trailers, with a 40% discount on the 2011 CX model we have. The same site also offers deals on racks, panniers, bikepacking gear and all the rest. Just sayin’.

If you would like to keep up with where I am between tardy blog entries, I keep my While Out Riding Facebook page more regularly updated – along with posting extra photos and gear ponderings. You can find it here. Occasionally, I pop some pictures up on my Instagram feed. And if you haven’t overdosed by then, I’ve also started a While Out Riding Tumblr edition (links can be found throughout the site), focusing on images. 


The steeds, this time round: Sage’s Chariot trailer, my Surly Troll and Nancy’s Surly Troll. For tyre nerds, the Troll is fitted with goliath 2.75 knobblies!


Back in 2012, I spent half a day hiking round the ridge of Quilatoa crater lake. A beautiful walk.


On Christmas day, we set off in search of the Cloud Forest… but it’s lost in the clouds…


So instead we catch a ride in a pickup truck bearing moonshine and bananas.


Given the absence of turkey in the Ecuadorian highland village of Chugchillan, I gnaw on a roast chicken foot as part our Christmas day lunch. It comes served in a piece of paper and garnished with a squirt of mayonnaise. There isn’t much to it, not that I was surprised at 15 cents a pop…


Colour coordinated daughter comes home to visit sharp-looking mum for the holidays


This is about as much as there is to see in Chugchilan.


It keeps Sage entertained for hours though.




By Boxing Day, the clouds have listed, so we take to the road, destination Isinlivi, on a track our first followed on my journey south.


A dirt road descends steeply through the deep folds of the valley. It’s completely traffic-free.





Then, it climbs back up again, steeply, on the other side. Ecuador’s climbs are all but unrivalled in their ferocity.



We’ve filled our framebag with organic veggies from Finca Palugo, so our picnic is a nutritional treat.



In the afternoon, Sage runs alongside the bikes in an attempt to burn some of his limitless toddler energy.



Throwing stones in the rivers is always a good entertainment too. As you can see, we’ve updated the original fork from Nancy’s orange Troll with last year’s purple model, featuring all the eyelets you could possibly want. Surly Dirt Wizards are shod on Sun Rhyno Lites for extra comfort and grip.


It’s all kicking off in Isinlivi.




I want me a poncho…


And some fur riding chaps…


Swapping hats and making (drunken) friends…


And watching the local bull fight…


… before a bizarre troupe of little people in wheelbarrows take to the enclosure, to much crowd hilarity.


The band are ruthless. Volume levels are close to those of Peru – which is saying something.


The Llullu Loma hostel is a holiday treat. $20 per head gets us a room, a delicious 3 course dinner, and a breakfast to match.


Our room even comes complete with a windowsill for Sage…


The following day, it’s all set for a 1000m+ climb to a 4000m pass.

Back up into the clouds.

Back up into the clouds.


I’m trying out some of Salsa’s new Anything Cage HDs. So far, so great.


One of those moments that makes all the effort worthwhile…


And another…


The top of the pass is a little shy of 4000m, as routed by the excellent Gaia GPS App – Thunderforest OSM seems best for Ecuador.


Lunch on the brow of the hill.


Before pedalling back down, down, down again.


All the way to Toacaso, where we stay with Rene and his family on his organic farm.



Part 2 coming soon – the mega-family ride with the Dammers!


We caught the bus from Pifo to Latacunga ($2), then transferred onto the colourful, people-packed local bus to Quilatoa ($2). No charge for bikes or the trailer. This takes 4 or 5 hours in total, which left us time to enjoy Quilatoa, before the easy ride to Chugchilan. It was a half day’s ride to Isinlivi, then a full days’ ride to Toacaso. From there, we met up with our Ecuadorian friends for a few more days camping – but you could easily cross the Panam at Lasso and climb up into Cotopaxi National Park from there.

Ecuador makes for challenging family terrain – but the advantage is that it’s home to a myriad of pickup trucks and a good local bus network. It’s rarely an issue to get some motorised help up a climb if you need it for a dollar or two.

Most of the loop is dirt, though Quilatoa to Chugchilan has recently been paved.


A helping hand for beers and bikes.


Chugchilan offers several lovely hostels but not much else, if truth be told. We stayed in the budget-orientated Cloud Forest Hostel ($15pp, inc food). There’s the beautiful but spendier Mama Hilda next door if you have some extra cash, or the award winning Black Sheep Inn (complete with yoga studio and fabulous views) just down the road.

I prefer Isinlivi, where the Llulu Lama comes highly recommended. There are rooms, dorms and cabins – all include delicious, locally sourced meals for around $20pp and upwards.

Toacaso, a few kilometres shy of Lasso, makes a good stopover before crossing the Panamerican and climbing into Cotopaxi National Park. We stayed with Rene and his family, one one of Ecuador’s first organic farms. They’re currently finishing work on a half dozen rooms and a camping area for travellers. I’ll post up more details when I have them.


18 thoughts on “Quilatoa Loop, Ecuador; a family bicycle ride.

  1. David

    Glad to hear that you are back to riding. I enjoy reading of your travels. why the change in bikes ? How are the DW ‘s working out?


    1. Cass Gilbert Post author


      I hummed and hawed about which bike to bring away for until the day before the flight… I’d have most likely stuck with the Pugs, but for the fact that it’s a/ hard work pulling a trailer, b/the trailer puts a cap on true off-grid travel, and c/ I’d planned some unladen mountain bike rides too – and the Krampus rides better for that. But to be honest, if I didn’t have both at my disposal, I’d be happily riding the Pugs.

      The DWs are heavy, but roll surprisingly well. Again, a last minute decision as they were leant to us by a friend. With more time and money, a Rabbit Hole wheelset would have given them a better raison d’être. But they fit fine on the Sun Rhyno Lites, and definitely add some grip and comfort at low pressures.

      1. Chris

        Really enjoying the family orientated reports. I’m trying to convince my girlfriend and our 10 months old baby to such trips in the summer here in Norway. First step is a bike for my GF with the Troll being a solid candidate. I was wondering which size Nancy is riding? Her own height?

        Would Nancy pick the same ride again? Alternatives? – perhaps the Genesis Longitude?


        1. Cass Gilbert Post author

          I wouldn’t hesitate recommending the Troll or Ogre. Nancy is around 5’5″ or so, and rides a 16in. As with all Surlys (and many steel bikes at the more affordable end of the price spectrum), it’s not a light frameset – but it’s tough, versatile and fun to ride. It’s a bike we’re happy throwing in a bus, onto a plane etc… without undue concerns.

          The Longitude looks like a really cool bike too. I couldn’t really comment on whether it’s a better option or not as I’ve never ridden one. But on paper, it seems really nicely thought out.

          Given her height, Nancy’s been perfectly happy with 26in wheels, but if we had the opportunity, I’d love to get her on a 29er to see if it’s ‘too much bike’ or not. There’s definitely something to be said for the two of you riding the same wheel size, in terms of simplicity of spares.

          1. Chris

            My GF is also 5’5, so I compared the geometries of the Troll and the Longitude. All pretty close, but the Longitude is a bit more stretched out and the standover hight is higher as well. Meaning the Troll would probably be a safer bet for relaxed riding. Also, I have two 26ers – a Pugs and an old school Specialized MTB – so some tires could be interchangeable.

            The parts list on the Longitude with super nice wheel set, TRP Spyke brakes, Jagdwire etc. looks great though. One sunny day, I’ll probably have to look into 29+ or 27.5+ but for now I am happy playing with my Rohloff Pugs.

  2. Neil

    Not sure about Christmas dinner, but the rest looks fantastic! Did you buy a striped poncho to match your legwarmer collection?

    Keep the posts coming,

    ps Are you ever going to drag yourself away from the Andes?!

    1. Cass Gilbert Post author

      That I’m hankering after the striped poncho I won’t deny…

      Looks like I’m UK-bound in a couple of months. See you then!

  3. Nathan

    Hardest working man in bikepacking! Great to have you back in the blogesphere. I can’t tell you how excited I am for those volcanic corridor posts to start rolling out. Just hope Don Miguel hasn’t been slowing you down too much! I’m just thankful my Krampus envy is getting leveled by the beautiful DRY sunny days down here in the Chilean Lake District…

    1. Cass Gilbert Post author

      I’d take some dry lake district right now, what a treat! Have fun down there. And so much good stuff to come too!

  4. Erik

    You are reaching out to Thule and asking if they want to pay you to use some of these images in their next advertising campaign, right? Because these photos are gorgeous, and they need them even if they don’t realize it yet!

    What a great trip, Cass! I am so stoked you got the entire family out to share in your adventures! Good for you!!!

    – Erik

  5. Pilar Lindo

    Hi, it just looks like we have found exactly the contact we needed!!! We are a family made up by two adults and two children, and we are planning to make a bike tour from Alaska to Patagonia starting on May, 2016. We are currently living in Ecuador and would LOVE to have the chance to have your e-mail, Facebook or any other more direct way to communicate with you. We have and will have tons of questions!!!! Could you help us answer some of them little by little? Thank you very much!!!!

    1. Cass Gilbert Post author

      Sounds like an amazing trip you have planned! My only experience with family riding is relatively short undertakings – generally a few days at a time. I know there’s a few like-minded families out there you have traversed the Americas. But by all means, contact me via Facebook – the link is on the website – and we can chat.
      I’m in Ecuador for another week or two (visa is running out). Hopefully I’ll make it the Ciclovia in Quito before leaving. Perhaps we could meet there?

  6. James

    Hi Cass, great photos and love your write ups! Your trips are truly inspiring! Just wondering if you could clarify: The troll fitted the Dirt Wizards ok with rhyno lite rims… Are they the welded ‘XL’ version? Or the standard (slightly narrower) pinned version? I have the pinned version built up with xt hubs (currently gathering dust in the shed) and wanting to try Dirt Wizards on my own troll but was thinking I’d need to build a wider wheelset first?

    1. Cass Gilbert Post author

      I’m not too sure, as they came from a second hand wheelset we picked up on Craiglist – and I don’t have them to hand to check. We used them just because it was what we had. Something like Velocity P35s would probably be better bet. Or even wider, especially if you’re running a Rohloff.


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