Just when you’re sweating, sunburned, and too short of breath from a few days of the Quilotoa Loop trek, you will wind up at a summit like you’ve never seen before. Who needs a peak when you can end up at Laguna de Quilotoa? Inside the 3km (2 mile) wide caldera is a lake, brilliant green with minerals. The crater rim climbs to 3,915 meters (12,844 feet) at its highest point, but when the clouds roll in and swallow the sides of the caldera, it is just you and the lake below (+ a llama or two). And after a few days of hiking, we’d say Laguna de Quilotoa is nothing short of a spectacular finish.
Trekking the Quilotoa Loop is easily one of the best things to do in Ecuador. The route is customizable with trekking routes taking between two days and two weeks. You will get lost, but the opportunity to explore the rarely visited parts of Ecuador is well worth the adventure. Think you are up for it? Here’s our guide for trekking the Quilotoa Loop, complete with where to stay, how to get from Quito to Quilotoa, where to leave your luggage, and suggested Quilotoa Loop routes.
What is the Quilotoa Loop?
The Quilotoa Loop is some 200km (124 miles) of Andean trails near Volcan Cotopaxi. The route is highly customizable (see suggested routes below), but “The Quilotoa Loop” most often refers to a four-day trek between Sigchos and Quilotoa. Whichever way you take, you can expect several days of intensive trekking through beautiful and remote towns, and a grand finale at Laguna de Quilotoa.
The Quilotoa Loop Trek / Quilotoa Loop Routes
Wondering which route to take? Generally speaking, the trip will be easier if you start the Loop in Quilotoa (clockwise), but I think it’s more rewarding to finish at Laguna de Quilotoa (counterclockwise). I’ve included a general outline of the four most popular routes below, all starting from Latacunga. While your guidebook might have a map, ask your hotel for a map with all the specific bends in the trail.
The Easy Way | Quilotoa > Chugchilan | 2 Days
Day 1: Catch the direct bus from Latacunga to Quilotoa (2 hours) or the bus from Latacunga to Zumbahua (1 hour) and a collectivo from Zumbahua to Quilotoa (1 hour); Day 2: Trek around the rim of Quilotoa Lake, and hike mostly downhill from Quilotoa to Chugchilan (3-4 hours). From Chugchilan, you can hire private transport back to Latacunga or Quito, or catch the very early bus the next morning.The Popular Route | Sigchos > Isinliví > Chugchilan > Quilotoa | 4 Days
Day 1: Take the bus from Latacunga to Sigchos (2 hours); Day 2: Trek the mostly easy uphill from Sigchos to Insinliví (3-4 hours) alternating between trail and paved roads; Day 3: Follow the stream from Insinliví, cross the river, take the steep climb on your right, and follow a paved road left the rest of the way to Chugchilan (4-6 hours); Day 4: Dip onto a valley and climb back up the other side. Pass through a few small towns, then take the zig-zagging road up the side of Laguna de Quilotoa (5-6 hours). Finish with a walk along the upper or inner rim of the crater (1-4 hours). Catch a bus or collectivo back to Latacunga, or stay the night and head out early the next morning.
The Reverse Route | Quilotoa > Chugchilan > Insinliví > Sigchos | 5 Days
Day 1: Catch the direct bus from Latacunga to Quilotoa (2 hours) or the bus from Latacunga to Zumbahua (1 hour) and a collectivo from Zumbahua to Quilotoa (1 hour); Day 2: Trek around the rim of Quilotoa Lake, and hike mostly downhill from Quilotoa to Chugchilan with a steep finish (3-4 hours); Day 3: Hike mostly flat and downhill to Insinliví with another steep incline at the end (3-4 hours); Day 4: Make the easy descent from Insinliví to Sigchos between trail and paved roads (3-4 hours); Day 5: Catch the bus from Sigchos back to Latacunga (3 hours)
The Full Loop | Isinliví > Malingua Pamba > Quilotoa > Chucgilan > Isinliví| 6 Days
Day 1: Get to Insinliví on a bus from Latacunga (via Sigchos); Day 2: Depart Insinliví towards Malinga Pamba (3 to 4 hours). No hotels here, so you’ll stay in an indigenous home for the night; Day 3: Hike from Malingua Pamba to Quilotoa (4 to 5 hours) and stay the night. Day 4: Trek around the rim of Quilotoa Lake, and hike mostly downhill from Quilotoa to Chugchilan (3-4 hours); Day 5: Hike mostly flat and downhill from Chugchilan to Insinliví with a steep incline at the end (3-4 hours) Day 6: Catch the early morning bus from Isinliví to Latacunga (3-4 hours)
Photos from Laguna de Quilotoa
Need convincing? Here’s what you get after a few hard days of hiking.
Quilotoa Loop Trekking FAQs
How to get to Quilotoa from Quito:
Laguna de Quilotoa and the Quilotoa Loop is just about two hours south of Quito. It’s close enough to be an easy day trip but worth spending the extra time if you have it.
Quito to Quilotoa: The trip from Quito to Quilotoa is 177.8 km (110 miles). By public bus, you will take the bus from Quito to Latacunga (~$1.50) , and hire a camioneta (~$30/car) for the remaining trip to Quilotoa. Many operators will take you to Laguna de Quilotoa on a day trip ($40-$70), but we highly recommend spending more time in the area and taking on the full Quilotoa Loop.
Quito to Latacunga: Most treks on the Quilotoa Loop will begin in Latacunga. Again, you will take the public bus from Quito to Latacunga (~$1.50). Rather than going straight for Quilotoa, you can leave your bags in Latacunga and take a bus to one of the many departure cities for the Quilotoa Loop.
Where to Stay along the Quilotoa Loop
Trying to figure out where to stay in Latacunga, Sigchos, Isinliví, Chugchilan, or Quilotoa? Check out this full post detailing where to stay along the Quilotoa Loop including hostels, hotels, and bed & breakfasts.
Should I take a Quilotoa tour or do the full Quilotoa Loop trek? In our opinion, trekking is the only way to go. The lake is something spectacular, but that much more rewarding after a rigorous hike. Anyone we met who took the lazy day trip down to the lake came back a bit disappointed. Even if you don’t do the full trek, we highly recommend spending a night in Chugchilan to fully experience the region!
What should I do with my luggage? Most hostels along the route will offer luggage storage, but leaving your bags in Latacunga makes the most sense. Hostal Tiana will hang on to your main bags for just $1/day in a secure room with cameras and offer you a small locker for your valuable items. Parts of the trek are pretty tough, and we wouldn’t recommend carrying more gear than you need in a daypack.
Do I need to bring along food and water? Almost all the hotels along the route offer full board for about $15 per person. After a long day of trekking, you’ll sit down to a legendary dinner and wake up to a lovely little breakfast at no additional charge. Many hotels will sell packed lunches for about $6, but we stocked up on hiking snacks in Latacunga and were able to keep our daily lunch cost at less than $2. Be sure to start each day with a full liter of water as it can be hard to come by stores en route.
What else should I know before hiking the Quilotoa Loop?
- Bring protection against the elements (sunscreen, hats, rain jackets, etc.)
- Bring all the cash you’ll need (there are no ATMs on the Loop)
- You will inevitably get lost. Ask directions of everyone you see, and get a good idea of the route before leaving your hostel in the morning.
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