Perched high in the rural Andes of Ecuador and overlooking the Rio Toachi Canyon, Black Sheep Inn is a 10-room eco lodge with a difference. As well as offering comfortable accommodation, the lodge promises an education on the local area and customs, and demonstrations on its 10-acre permaculture site to show visitors how design and nature can work as one.
The lodge and its facilities are in harmony with the land – from the wood-fired sauna and ‘ecological airline’ (a zipline) right down to the composting toilets – and have been designed to contribute to biodiversity and sustainability.
‘Neither people nor the planet should be exploited to create successful tourism. Tourism can be an educational experience for all – local communities and foreign tourists.’
Black Sheep Inn
The owners’ philosophy is that ‘neither people nor the planet should be exploited to create successful tourism. Tourism can be an educational experience for all – local community and foreign tourists.’ Guests learn about ecotourism, enjoy fantastic scenery and experience intercultural exchanges while day hiking, horseback riding or cycling in the area.
Black Sheep Inn’s founders moved to Chugchilán in 1994 with the goal of creating an affordable sustainable tourist destination. Before 1994, the untouched village of Chugchilán was unknown by tourists, travellers and agencies.
Still retaining all of its cultural charm, the village now has several small community businesses, including horseback riding tours, a women’s knitting cooperative, local native guides, four locally-owned hostels, a transportation cooperative and a public library with a Computer Learning Center – all of which profit from sustainable tourism.
As a result, Chugchilán is now on the tourist map and known as a sustainable destination in the High Andes, with all operations 100% run by local community members.
From the cooks, cleaners and ground crew all the way to the management, all jobs go to the local community. The same employees have been working for the Black Sheep Inn for over 10 years, and say sustainable tourism in the area has given the community an economic boost.
The Black Sheep Inn’s ‘attractive, educational and productive’ composting toilets are one its proudest achievements. Flowers and vegetables fertilised with the finished compost grow inside each of the rooms, which take advantage of the spectacular views out over the canyon. The transparent roofs make the most of natural light, and funnel rainwater to small tanks that supply the hand basin. According to staff at the inn, the local community is always impressed with the finished fertiliser.
There’s a reason why Black Sheep Inn is known as a ‘day hiker’s paradise’. Several day hikes are available from the inn, which is a one-hour drive from Laguna Quilotoa and three hours from Cotopaxi National Park.
This stunning lake fills an active volcanic crater, which last erupted 850 years ago. Legend has it that the 2km emerald lake is connected to the ocean, and the water is salty and sulfuric. The world-famous hike from Laguna Quilotoa through the Rio Canyon to the town of Chugchilán (where the Black Sheep Inn is located) is one of the best day hikes in Ecuador.
The lake is also accessible by car or bus if you’re not in the mood for a long hike. Once there, you’ll get spectacular views of the laguna below during the gentle walk around the crater rim. You can also hike down to the lake itself, which will take around half an hour, and swim in the 5°C sparkling waters. For a few dollars you can hire a mule to bring you back up to the top.
The 149,900-hectare Iliniza Ecological Reserve is home to the Iliniza Twin Peaks, Laguna Quilotoa and a huge tract of Andean Humid Forest: the Iliniza Cloud Forest. This high altitude jungle is a unique ecosystem and home to diverse fauna and flora; the western cordillera is the last mountain range before the Andes unfold, dropping over 10,000 feet to the Pacific lowlands. The Cloud Forest is about a two-hour hike or horseback ride from the inn, and the stunning route weaves over the high paramó to the top of the sea of clouds.
The Ecuadorian National Park Service (INEFAN) declared the area an Ecological Reserve, yet any education programme, publicity, signs or controls are absent. Many who live in this area don’t even know that it’s a reserve. There are large tracts of old growth, but deforestation in Ecuador stretches further and further. The inn hopes that with some outside help, this Cloud Forest can be preserved for future generations.
The large plateau seen from the Black Sheep Inn floats like an island in the canyon. It’s just a 35-minute hike from the inn, but once you’re there you can spend hours exploring the edges and admiring the constantly changing view of the surrounding peaks and cliffs that descend to the Rio Toachi.
This is a good first hike to get you acclimatised to the high altitude as the route trails along level ground. Alternatively, there’s the option to travel on horseback with an experienced native guide.
The local Andean markets are a great insight into trading techniques that stretch back thousands of years, and reveal many of the rich Andean traditions. Markets take place on every day of the week but vary in size and atmosphere.
It’s unlikely you’ll find any tourists at Monday’s Guantualo market as it’s a very small and rural affair. On the other hand, head over to Saquisilí market (on Thursdays) and you’ll find the entire community abuzz with the sale of all conceivable local produce.
Black Sheep Inn is three hours from the Pan American highway on rural roads, about four hours from Quito. Public buses arrive daily or private transportation can be arranged. Prices range from $35-$100 per day per person, and include three vegetarian meals, unlimited tea, coffee and purified water. All local taxes and service are included. For further information, visit www.blacksheepinn.com.
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