The Quilotoa loop, named after the eponymous volcano, is probably one of the most beautiful hikes in Ecuador. Within a few days, you will climb hills, cross rivers, stroll on the green canyons and stay speechless in front of the old volcano’s beauty whose collapsed crater now houses a lagoon with turquoise waters.

1. TRAVEL LIGHT.

Leave your big backpack in your hostel. Most of them – whether in Quito, Latacunga or in the village of Quilotoa – will accept to keep your bag for free, others will ask you, especially if you have not stayed at their place, a contribution of about $ 1/day. This is the case, for example, of the hostel Tiana in Latacunga.

If you do not plan to do the entire loop, but just one or two stages then return (on foot or by bus), you can also leave your backpack in your start village. Depending on your itinerary, it may be Zumbahua, Quilotoa or Sigchos. For my part, I was able to leave my backpack for free during 6 days in the Chukirawa hostel’s craft store in Quilotoa.

Take only the bare minimum in your small backpack. For example: your toiletries, underwear, one or two pairs of socks, warm clothes (jacket for cold evenings and enough to carry water (minimum 2 liters/day).

2. SEVERAL POSSIBILITIES OF ROUTES.

Whether you only have one day available or a whole week to devote to the area, there will be an itinerary that will fit you.

One day
If you only want to see the lagoon, just take a bus (Viverode company, $ 2.5/ride) from Latacunga. After a journey of about 1 hour, the bus will drop you at the entrance of the small village consisting of two roads lined on both sides of hostels and restaurants.

On site, you can contemplate the lagoon from one of the terraces overlooking the caldera. From there, a path goes down to the lagoon where you can rent kayaks.

The bravest will cross the crests of the caldera. Allow a minimum of 4 to 5 hours to go around.

If you have the opportunity and if the weather is favorable, stay one night in Quilotoa to admire the unforgettable sunrise over the lagoon (see also point # 7).

Two days
Ideal to travel the 22 km that separate Quilotoa from Chugchilàn. This one-day stage (count about eight hours walking) will take you through the crests of the caldera, before descending slowly on a high plateau. Further you’ll cross down the canyon through what was once a tumultuous river. Today, it’s rather a trickle of water making its way between the rocks. You will then slowly ascend along the opposite side until you reach your destination.

The return, although more physical, is just as beautiful as the go. Nevertheless, it is possible to reach Quilotoa by taxi or bus. The bus leaves Chugchilàn around 6 am from the main square of the village.

Three days or more
Since this is a loop, you can go both ways:

  • Latacunga> Sigchos> Isinlivi> Chugchilán> Quilotoa> Zumbahua> Latacunga
  • Latacunga> Zumbahua> Quilotoa> Chugchilán> Isinlivi> Sigchos> Latacunga

Quilotoa can be reached in three days from Sigchos (or vice versa) but for more comfort, and to take full advantage of the landscapes, it is better to give yourself at least 4 days.

3. IT IS SIMPLER TO START FROM QUILOTOA.

If you want to finish in style with Quilotoa Lagoon, start your hike with Sigchos. Be aware however that in this way, the height differences will be generally positive, and can even sometimes difficult, especially when it comes to climbing the slopes of the Quilotoa volcano.

On the other hand, starting with Quilotoa, the route will have a mostly negative elevation.
The lagoon is the highlight of the hike. Once its ridge that surrounds the caldera passed, the altitude difference will generally be rather negative.

4. IT’S RATHER CHEAP.

The hike can absolutely be done independently. As long as you do not use a guide, you’ll spend most of your time walking and admire the majestic landscapes you will pass through, giving very few opportunities to spend your money.

From Quito, it will cost you about $ 5 to reach one of the starting points of the hike. On the other hand, the hostels are more expensive than in Quito: count between 12 and 20$ the night in dormitory but a three-course dinner and a bountiful breakfast are included.

5. MAPS.ME WILL INDICATE THE PATH.

If you have a smartphone, I can only recommend that you download the free (open source) Maps.me application. This application allows you to download, always for free, maps of different parts of the world – in this case, download the West Zone of Ecuador (28.2 MB) – and then view them without internet connection. The maps are incredibly accurate and contain virtually every possible trail. In addition to showing your location and maps, the app can also calculate routes, without internet connection, on foot (this is obviously what interests us here) but also by car and bike.

6. THERE IS NO MONEY DISPENSER (ATM).

« Lost » in the middle of the Andes, you won’t find any place to withdraw money once you leave Latacunga. Leave with all the money you will need to pay for your accommodation, lunches and extras.

Some hostels nevertheless offer to pay by credit card (VISA, MasterCard, Maestro) but transactions are dependent on a cellular connection (GSM) which is often unstable.

7. IT’S COLD NIGHT

As mentioned above, bring warm clothes. As much as the days can be hot and sunny (but also rainy), as the nights in altitude are very cold. The rooms of the hostels are generally not heated. At best the common areas have a stove but even so, after dark the temperatures will drop dramatically. So that you can have a confortable warm night, your hostel will provide enough blankets. But do not hesitate to ask more if you think that despite everything you will be cold.

8. GO TO SEE THE SUNLIGHT ABOVE THE QUILOTOA CRATER.

Whether you only visit the lagoon or hike there, the sunrise will probably be one of the most beautiful moments of your visit and just for that, I can only advise you to spend the night at village of Quilotoa. Check the weather forecast to make sure the sky is not completely covered, get warm clothes (cold nights) – take one of your blankets if your hostel allows, and be there about 15 minutes before official time of sunrise (generally around 6:15AM).

9. YOUR CAMERA WILL GET AN EYEFUL (AS YOU).

With breathtaking sceneries, it will be hard not to stop every five minutes to unsheathe your camera to shoot. Nothing but the lagoon will satisfy photography lovers. On the course of the loop, the fauna and flora are breathtaking, the reliefs and perspectives change continuously and the light varies with an indecisive weather – sometimes soft, sometimes in chiaroscuro or sometimes overwhelming.

10. THE HOSTELS HAVE ALL THE WIFI.

Best of all, for the most addicted of you, all hostels that I visited or where I stayed, had a WIFI connection. You can easily share your discoveries, photos and experiences with your friends and family.