For any traveller weary, tired or cold after a day's hiking on the Quilotoa Loop, Llullu Llama will feel like a home away from home. Most of you will also be shocked to find what easily ranks as one of the best hostels in Ecuador up here in, well, the middle of nowhere.
Run by an Ecuadorian-Dutch couple, and staffed with a mix of volunteer travellers and an established team of locals, there are two sides to Lllullu LLama. Housed in the original building are the dorm beds, social areas (including comfy sofas and fireplace), dining room and a few doubles, but venture outside and down some stairs, and you will find several beautifully built, luxury chalets. These are a recent addition so that all sorts of travellers hiking the Loop will find a home to suit their tastes and budget.
Based in the tiny town of Isinlivi, Llullu is likely to be your first or last stop on the Loop depending on which route you take. At just under 3,000m altitude, it enjoys some stunning views over the rolling hills which surround. The large outdoor patio is an ideal space to enjoy a cold beer or glass of wine after a long day hiking in the Andes.
There are some lovely day walks around Isinlivi and a few small attractions, like a cheese factory tour or horse riding, but not too much else - it's beautifully quiet and peaceful.
During our two-night stay, we stayed in a private double with shared bathroom ($23USD per person) and then spent the following night in a more luxurious chalet (prices starting at $30USD per person).
The private double was quite small and backed on to the shared bathroom, so sometimes suffered a little from the sounds emanating from there. However, the bed was comfy with an actual DUVET (we've never had a duvet in Latin America and this was very very welcome), proper pillows and lots of blankets, so we were both extremely cosy and content. It was absolutely fine for the one evening most people are going to spend in it.
The chalet, on the other hand, was absolutely incredible! A large beautifully designed room with elegant fixtures and fittings, an exquisitely comfy bed replete with white linen and a sumptuously thick duvet, not one but TWO balconies overlooking the hills of Isinlivi and your very own wood burning fireplace - perfect for the chilly nights.
Step into the bathroom and you will continue to be impressed. Housing not only the best shower we've had in Latin America, but also the one with the most fantastic view. Should you be brave enough to open the hand-crafted window whilst standing beneath the hot power-shower, you will be treated to uninterrupted vistas of the landscapes below.
As with the majority of toilets at Llullu Llama, the toilet is of the composting variety - a nod to the eco-ethos common throughout the hostel. These do not smell at all, and are ideal in a location where water is at a premium.
WHAT THEY DID GREAT
Lots and lots and lots of things! All prices include a delicious three-course dinner and a hearty, healthy buffet breakfast - both far exceeded our expectations given that, where the hostel is, there aren't exactly supermarkets or daily delivery trucks.
The breakfast, including huge bowls of fresh fruit, granola, yoghurt, scrambled eggs, fresh juice and homemade bread, was the highest quality we've had at any hostel in our 16 months of travelling through Latin America. The team were also very flexible to cater to the needs of vegetarians or people with allergies.
Throughout Llullus, there are signs of quality in craftsmanship and design, created by local carpenters trained at the woodwork shop Don Bosco. Creaky mahogany floors, thick alpaca blankets, remodelled church pews as dining room seats, stained-glass windows hand crafted from recycled wine bottles. The list goes on and on but, the important thing is, that all these elements come together to create a wonderfully cosy, welcoming and homey environment for travellers of all budgets. The showers were piping hot and there's a couple of fireplaces where you can gather in the evening on squashy sofas or armchairs, cup of tea in hand, cat on your lap in front of a fireplace. Heaven!
The team have also put together a comprehensive set of guides and maps to the area, including excellent step-by-step directions for the walk to Chugchilán. On other sections of the Loop, the maps given to us by hostels were next to useless, so we really appreciated the effort someone had gone to at Lllullus.
WHAT COULD BE BETTER
Hand on heart, we are both struggling to put our finger on anything substantial that we would have changed from our two-day stay. That's not because we were the guests of Lllullu Llama but rather that it really is an excellent hostel.
The cat was a bit unfriendly sometimes!
VALUE FOR MONEY
On first reading, Llullu Llama may seem a tad expensive. However, once you factor in that prices per person include an excellent dinner and breakfast (which could easily be sold separately for $10-15), then it actually ends up being fantastic value. If someone chooses to stay in a dorm for $18, then the true cost of just their bed ends up at less than $10.
The great thing about this hostel is that you can choose your own level of 'value for money'. The owners understand that every tourist coming through the door has a different budget - that not everybody wants to 'rough it'. By embracing travellers of all financial means, it allows you to interact with an entire scope of people you will not always find in a hostel, or a fancier hotel.
In other towns along the main Loop route, there are plenty of accommodation options so you can just rock up and find a room for the night. However, as Llullu's is the only real option in Insinlivi, and the Loop is only going to become a more popular route, we highly recommend booking in advance here to secure a dorm or private room for yourself - click here to make a reservation.
ROOMS, PRICES, AMENITIES AND CONTACT DETAILS
Amenities provided include breakfast and dinner, a lunch-box service, bar with snacks, hot showers, landscaped outdoor space, plenty of comfy sofas and open fires, lots of tourist and hiking information, multi-lingual staff and a bounty of pets. There is no wi-fi up here and we honestly hope it stays that way as it's a big part of the experience of hiking the Loop.
If you're heading here for a more luxurious experience, then there is also a spa with jacuzzi, sauna and turkish bath. Entry cost is in addition to your room.
As we mentioned above, Llullu Llama has a variety of room and dormitories to suit every budget.
$19 pp dormitory (shared bathroom)
$23 pp private room (shared bathroom)
Garden Cottages with balcony, private bathroom and chimney starting from
$30 pp for a double.
Our stay was provided free of charge so that we could experience Llullu Llama. As ever, all photos, opinions and spelling errors are our own. For more information on why you can trust our reviews, click here.
All photography is the property of Along Dusty Roads and must not be used, copied or manipulated without our prior permission.