After being dropped off by the bus that had bumped and woven its way along the unpaved road from Latacunga via Sigchos, we followed the sign of the black sheep, still a little uncertain if we were in the right place.
At the top of the hill from the main road, we saw a door with bienvenido written above it and passed through, noticing the stain glass image of a black sheep in the window. On the other side, Edmundo, the manager, welcomed us warmly into the cozy common area and began to show us around the Black Sheep Inn.
One of the many things that Black Sheep Inn does well is cater to a wide range of travellers; from the backpacker to the luxury traveller. From beds in a shared bunk house with shared bathroom to private cabins with their own bathrooms, there really is something for everyone. We stayed in a private room with bathroom shared with just two other rooms.
The bed was comfortable, though perhaps a little narrow for two people, and the sheets and blankets were plenty to keep us warm. Though in the evenings, when the temperature would drop to around 8 or 10C, there was also a small wood burner already set up with with chopped wood, twigs and newspaper, which just required a flick of a match. Outside our room there was a supply of purified drinking water which we could help ourselves to at any time of day, and towels were of course provided.
The shared bathroom facilities, with outdoor urinal (hidden by a curtain) that flushed with rain water, outdoor sink (with only cold water), composting toilet (keep reading for more on that!) and shower (which was always hot and had great pressure) were very clean, and there was always plenty of soap, shampoo and 100% recycled toilet paper provided.
Since the Black Sheep Inn is really nowhere near any restaurants, it seemed necessary to attract customers that the price include all meals, and not only are all the ingredients organic, but everything is vegetarian, and I’m sure with some forewarning, they could also easily accommodate a vegan diet.
Breakfast and dinner were served in the common area on a long wooden table with benches either side. This way, we got to know our fellow guests in much the same way we would in a hostel, though to me, it felt even more relaxed and somewhat more intimate.
Breakfast included fruit salad, fresh juice and muesli that you could help yourself to, as well as two eggs to order (though I’d highly recommend the default of scrambled with a mix of vegetables and fresh, locally made cheese) with fresh bread.
So that guests could go off into the surrounding countryside and do one of the many hiking options available, a packed lunch was provided including a sandwich, carrot slices, popcorn (neither sweet nor salty and actually more pleasant than it sounds), an apple and a homemade cookie. This was left out at breakfast with each guest’s name written on a paper bag, and no plastic involved whatsoever.
Dinner, served at 7pm sharp, was certainly the most sociable meal, and the food was delicious. Each night we were treated to a soup (quinoa, pea or pasta), main (egg-fried rice, vegetable lasagne, vegetable hamburger) and small desert.
In addition to all this, there was a large range of teas, infusions and coffee available for free all day, as well as homemade cakes, brownies, cookies, beer, wine and spirits at an extra cost, run on an honour system: you simply write down each time you take one of the extras, and you’ll be charged accordingly at the end of your stay.
Black Sheep Inn is located somewhere we probably wouldn’t otherwise have gone. On the edge of the tiny village of Chugchilán on the Quilotoa loop, a circular route of roughly 230km of partly paved road to the west of the Panamerican highway from Latacunga that connects several remote villages that still retain much of their indigenous culture, it is somewhat out of the way. A bus from Latacunga via Sigchos (travelling the northern route from Latacunga) takes around 3.5 hours but costs just $2.50 (contrary to the rule of thumb that buses in Ecuador cost $1 per hour travelled).
But this remote locations means that it is surrounded by some gorgeous countryside, much of it used for agricultural purposes, and so there are many great hiking options, from all-day hikes to circular routes of just an hour or two. There is plenty of information at hand, including hand drawn maps, which Edmundo will not hesitate to explain.
One of the most popular natural attractions nearby is at Quilotoa, 6km south of the Black Sheep Inn where a lake has formed in the crater of a still active volcano. A good option for visiting the lake is to organise a truck to drive you to the town of Quilotoa ($25 per truck) and then walk the 10km hiking trail back to the Black Sheep Inn. We unfortunately didn’t do the hike, but we did stop off at Quilotoa on our way back to Latacunga in a truck which Edmundo organised for us, which cost $50 including waiting time at the lake and the market town of Zumbahua.
If hiking isn’t your thing, fear not: there is a plethora of things to do at the Black Sheep Inn to relax and enjoy the beautiful surroundings. One of them is a large, bright and well equipped yoga studio with plenty of yoga mats, posters and books explaining different yoga poses and routines, an iPod dock with speakers and even tea and coffee making facilities. The space was so inviting and easily accessible that even we were encouraged to get up at 7am and organise a yoga session with some of our fellow guests before breakfast.
There’s also an outdoor gym with weights made from repurposed breeze blocks, recycled pieces of metal and handmade wooden benches. And to just sit and enjoy the incredible views, there's even a tree house with a retractable bridge.
Inside the main common area where the meals are taken, there’s also a cozy space upstairs with a small but comprehensive library of travel guides and other books. A laptop computer is also available in the same space for those who don’t travel with their own. The common area is also the only area where wifi is available.
For an extra cost, you can use the Finnish sauna, traditional sweat lodge or even have Edmundo organise for a masseur to come to the inn.
What we loved
There is a real and obvious commitment to not producing excess waste and recycling at the Black Sheep Inn that is apparent right down to the smallest details. General paper is reused as fuel for the fires, paper teabag cases are collected as scrap paper for making notes, glass, plastic and metals are all recycled and there are separate bins for all of these in each room as well as in the common areas.
The views in every direction are gorgeous, the peace and quiet is sublime and the atmosphere is relaxed and welcoming, in no small part due to Edmundo’s charming and helpful but laid-back attitude, making himself available at all times without being in your face.
What might put you off
This was in no way a problem or unpleasant surprise to us, but some people may be apprehensive about using the composting toilets that are the only option for disposing of your solid bodily waste. In stead of contaminating clean water with human excrement, the composting toilets collect the waste underground, and is eventually used to as fertiliser.
After each use, you deposit toilet paper in the toilet (a novelty in South America where a separate bin is usually provided), and add a scoop of sawdust to cover the waste. There is even a sign on the back of the door by the seat thanking you for your contribution! The overall experience of using the composting toilet is not really any different than the conventional water dilution system (and in fact there's no smell at all), except that since there is no water involved, there’s no risk of unpleasant splash back and no flushing is required.
We absolutely loved the Black Sheep Inn and really can’t recommend it highly enough to anyone interested in staying somewhere truly unique, peaceful and eco-conscious. What we'd love to see added though, is a system of solar powered water heaters to truly make this place as environmentally friendly as possible. That said, if you’re considering a trip to the Ecuadorean Andes, want to get away from civilisation and enjoy the countryside while still having many creature comforts and excellent food, go here.
Indefinite Adventure Eco Rating: 5/5
- Location: Chugchilán, Cotopaxi Province
- Amenities: wifi, hot water showers, fully equipped yoga studio, outdoor gym, extensive information about the surrounding area and all meals are included in the price. For an extra cost, there is a sauna and sweat lodge, laundry can be done for you as well as massages and transport arranged
- Price: From US$35-100 per person including all meals. For our private room with shared bathroom, we paid US$60 (including tax and service) per person
- Foursquare; Facebook; Website
Many thanks to Edmundo who kindly gave us a discount on our stay. He did not request that we write a favorable review, and our opinions are, and always will be, our own.