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A Get Outside Guide: Trekking the Quilotoa Loop | Ecuador

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 the 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.  Trekking the Quilotoa Loop

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 we think it’s more rewarding to finish at Laguna de Quilotoa (counterclockwise).We’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.Quilotoa Loop RoutesThe 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)

Llamas in InsinlivíThe 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.

Laguna QuilotoaLlamas at Laguna Quilotoa

Quilotoa Loop

Laguna Quilotoa

Laguna Quilotoa

where to stay along the Quilotoa Loop

Below is an [almost] complete list of Quilotoa Loop hostels and hotels. We’d recommend Hostal Taita Cristobol and Llullu Llama (in Insinliví) and Cloud and El Vaquero (in Chugchilan) based on personal experience or the positive experience of friends. The hotels we stayed at in Quilotoa and Latacunga we weren’t crazy about, but the accommodation and amenities will do for a night.

Latacunga: Hotel Central ($) or Hostal Tiana ($)
Sigchos: Hostal Dinos ($), Hosteria San Jose de Sigchos ($$$)
Isinliví: Hostal Taita Cristobol ($) or Hostal Llullu Llama ($)
Chugchilan: El Vaquero ($), Cloud Forest ($), Mama Hilda ($$), or Black Sheep Inn ($$)
Quilotoa: Hosteria Quilotoa Runa Wasi ($), Hostal Pachamama ($), Hosteria Alpaka Quilotoa ($$), Hostal Chukirawa ($$)

You should book ahead during high season, but prices are often lower when you book locally.

 

View of Quilotoa, Ecuador

where is Laguna de Quilotoa / the Quilotoa Loop?

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.

How to get to Quilotoa from Quito:

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.

Collectivo from Quilotoa to Latacunga

Quilotoa Loop Trekking FAQs

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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Want to experience Laguna de Quilotoa in a completely different way? A guide to the Quilotoa Loop -- where to stay, what to expect, and suggested routes!

Did you hike the Quilotoa Loop? Have any questions about visiting Laguna de Quilotoa? Let us know in the comments below so we can add them into our FAQs!

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12 Comments

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    Laurie
    December 1, 2016 at 4:53 am

    Beautiful!

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  • Reply
    Jen
    August 4, 2017 at 1:00 am

    I’ve been looking for information on camping through the loop but not finding anything. Does the difficulty of the hike make it challenging to bring a large pack with hiking gear? Thanks!

  • Reply
    Markus
    September 27, 2017 at 3:17 pm

    Hi,

    Congrats for this useful post, great job. Maybe you can help me.

    I am planning to visit Ecuador in Aug. 2018 and I want to spend some time at Quilotoa Loop and Cotopaxi.

    How can I combine these to attraction at best? My idea was:
    Day 1: Travel to Latacunga, leave our luggage in a hotel and afterwards start hiking to Cotopaxi (Refugee House). How are the bus connections between Quito and Latacunga? And how can I reach the Cotopaxi from Latacunga? Is it possible to to that all in one day? Or should I book a tour for that?
    Day 2: From Latacunga travel to Sigchos or Isinliví and start hiking towards Chugchilan.
    Day 3-x: Hiking to the crater.
    Day x: Transfer to Quito. Is it possible to catch a truck or bus without speaking Spanish (I know only basic words).

    It would be great if you can give me some recommondations.

    Greetings
    Markus

    • Reply
      Taylor Record
      November 19, 2017 at 3:10 pm

      Hi Markus, I’m just realizing I never replied to this! To answer your questions:
      1. Busses leave from Terminal Quitumbe to Latacunga almost constantly. I don’t believe there are any direct busses to Cotopaxi, but if you hop on a bus from Quito to Latacunga, you can get off at “la entrada de Parque Nacional Cotopaxi”. It’s only a few hours, so while it is possible for one day, you’d be backtracking. Your hotel in Latacunga should be able to recommend transport times and hire a driver for you if you prefer!
      2-3. Sounds like a good plan!
      4. Yes, definitely! If I’m not mistaken, the busses only pass twice a day, so it’s likely you might end up hiring a little truck (like the one pictured) and hopping in the back for your ride home. The drivers won’t likely speak English, but if you can communicate your destination, they’re used to tourists traveling along that route.

      Best of luck with your trip planning, and please let me know how it goes!
      Taylor

  • Reply
    Crystal Le
    October 28, 2017 at 3:54 pm

    Hey Taylor! Coming across your blog while searching about the Quilotoa trek makes me so happy. I’m headed here at the end of November with my best friend. Thanks for all of the great information!

    • Reply
      Taylor Record
      November 1, 2017 at 11:19 pm

      Hi Crystal. I still get nerdy excited when Travel Outlandish comes up on Google 🙂 You guys will have the best time! Let me know if you have any questions that come up, will you?

      • Reply
        Crystal Le
        November 1, 2017 at 11:33 pm

        YOU SHOULD BE NERDY EXCITED! Your win is our win for the travel community <3. Yes, I'll absolutely message you if things come up. Right now I'm DEEP in Amazon tour research and have finally narrowed it down to two places. Phew. Next up will be Galapagos planning and then back to Quilotoa stuff.

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