Off the Grid South America

An Outlandish Guide to the Quilotoa Loop | Ecuador

Just when you’re sweating, sunburned, and too short of breath a few days into your 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 a crater lake?

Inside the 3km wide caldera is a lake, brilliant green with minerals. The crater rim climbs to 3,915 meters 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 (and maybe a llama or two). And after a few days of hiking, I’d say Laguna Quilotoa is nothing short of a spectacular finish.

Llamas at Laguna Quilotoa

Trekking the Quilotoa Loop is easily one of the most memorable things you’ll do in Ecuador. It’s a relatively easy introduction to trekking in South America with comfy bed & breakfasts along the way and routes as short as two days. You will get lost, but the opportunity to explore the rarely visited parts of Ecuador is well worth it.

Think you are up for the challenge? Here’s our guide for trekking the Quilotoa Loop, complete with suggested routes, where to stay, how to get from Quito to Quilotoa, and more.

At a Glance

The Quilotoa Loop is some 200km 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 route 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

Quilotoa Loop Routes

While you can visit Laguna de Quilotoa on a day trip from Quito ($70), you’ll get the most from the experience if you hike the Quiltoa Loop.

Wondering which route to take? The hike may be easier starting Quilotoa (clockwise), but it’s more rewarding to start in Insinliví or Sigchos finish at Laguna de Quilotoa (counterclockwise). Below you’ll find hiking instructions of the four most popular routes.

Important Note: The Quilotoa Loop isn’t very well marked, so be sure to get a Quilotoa Loop map with distances and landmarks. I also recommend asking for directions from other hikers and locals as often as possible! The hotel staff on the Loop are also a great resource! Most staff should be able to answer questions about your hiking route and give you a detailed map.

Laguna Quilotoa

Quilotoa Loop

Laguna Quilotoa

The Easy Way | Quilotoa > Chugchilan | 2 Days

Start Day 1 by catching 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).

On 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 Routes

The Popular Route | Sigchos > Isinliví > Chugchilan > Quilotoa | 4 Days

Day 1 begins by taking the bus from Latacunga to Sigchos (2 hours). On day Day 2, trek the mostly easy uphill from Sigchos to Insinliví (3-4 hours). The hike will alternate between trail and paved roads.

Start off Day 3 following 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). And on 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

On Day 1, catch the direct bus from Latacunga to Quilotoa (2 hours). You can also catch the bus from Latacunga to Zumbahua (1 hour) and a collectivo from Zumbahua to Quilotoa (1 hour). You can start Day 2 with a trek around the rim of Quilotoa Lake, and hike mostly downhill from Quilotoa to Chugchilan with a steep finish (3-4 hours).

Day 3 is a mostly flat and downhill hike to Insinliví with a steep incline at the end (3-4 hours). And on Day 4, just make the easy descent from Insinliví to Sigchos between trail and paved roads (3-4 hours).

All you’ve got to do on Day 5 is catch the bus from Sigchos back to Latacunga (3 hours)
Llamas in Insinliví

The Full Loop | Isinliví > Malingua Pamba > Quilotoa > Chucgilan > Isinliví|  6 Days

Day 1 starts with catching the bus from Latacunga to Insinliví (via Sigchos). On Day 2, depart Insinliví towards Malinga Pamba (3 to 4 hours). There are no hotels here, so you’ll stay in an indigenous home for the night.

Day 3 is the hike from Malingua Pamba to Quilotoa (4 to 5 hours) where you’ll stay the night. On Day 4, trek around the rim of Quilotoa Lake, and hike mostly downhill from Quilotoa to Chugchilan (3-4 hours). And Day 5, you’ll hike the mostly flat and downhill path from Chugchilan to Insinliví with a steep incline at the end (3-4 hours.

On your final day, Day 6, catch the early morning bus from Isinliví to Latacunga (3-4 hours).


WHERE TO STAY ALONG THE QUILOTOA LOOP

Where to Stay Along the Quilotoa Loop


 

How to Get to Quilotoa

Quito to Latacunga: Most treks on the Quilotoa Loop will begin from Latacunga, a city two hours south of Quito. From Latacunga, there are regular buses or camionetas on to Insinliví, Sigchos, Chugchilan, and Quilotoa.

Quito to Quilotoa: At the time of writing, La Illinizas is the only company offering direct departures to Quilotoa ($3). Their busses depart daily at 5pm. Another option for getting from Quito to Quilotoa is to catch the bus from Quito to Latacunga ($1.50), then hire a camioneta ($30/car) for the remaining trip to Quilotoa. Day trips to Quilotoa should also include round-trip, direct transfer ($70).

Collectivo from Quilotoa to Latacunga

Where to Stay on the Quilotoa Loop

The hotels along the Quilotoa Loop are some of the best in all of Ecuador. Latacunga, Sigchos, Isinliví, Chugchilan, and Quilotoa all have a small selection of hostels, hotels, bed & breakfasts, and campsites where you can stay the night.

Camping on the Quilotoa Loop is also quite easy since most hotels also have campsites. It’s common for hotels to offer board, which includes a surprisingly delicious homemade dinner and hearty breakfast for about $15. You can buy snacks, drinks, and bagged lunch for around $6 more, but you can save money by buying your lunch or hiking snacks in Latacunga.

Typically, hikers will leave their main luggage at a hotel in Latacunga. In 2017, Hostal Café Tiana ($12) would hang onto guest luggage for $1/day. Luggage is stored in a secure room with cameras, and there’s also a small locker where you can stash valuables.

Read More: Where to Stay Along the Quilotoa Loop

View of Quilotoa, Ecuador

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!

Laguna Quilotoa

Have any questions about visiting Laguna Quilotoa? And if you’re visiting South America…

29 Comments

  • Reply
    Laurie
    December 1, 2016 at 4:53 am

    Beautiful!

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    Travelers Choice for Best Hiking Trails in the Americas - Live Dream Discover
    January 17, 2017 at 11:37 pm

    […] can be visited on a short day trip from Quito, the real fun is in trekking the full Quilotoa Loop. The Quilotoa Loop is a bit like a choose-your-own-adventure with more than two weeks worth of hiking trails available […]

  • 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
        Markus
        February 8, 2018 at 3:32 pm

        Hi,

        sorry for my late reply, i didn’t see the answer (notifcation doesn’t work)

        Thanks a lot for your answer. The more I read about Quilotoa the more I want to start now =)

        The last plan was to skip Cotopaxi and just do the Quilotoa Loop (luggage will be left in Quito). But there is a lot of time to change the plan =)

        NG
        Markus

        • Reply
          Cody
          January 17, 2019 at 5:59 pm

          Hey Taylor, what would you think about taking the bus to Sigchos from Latacunga and doing the hike to Insinlivi all in day 1(popular route)? Great article! Thank you for taking the time to help and share for the rest of us.

          • Taylor
            February 2, 2019 at 3:43 am

            Hey Cody. Super glad you found the post helpful! The Quilotoa Loop is gaining popularity, but information was still hard to come by when we went a couple years ago! To answer your question, this is super possible. The hike from Sigchos to Insinliví only takes 3-4 hours and is along a well defined road. Hope you enjoy your trek!

  • 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.

  • Reply
    Alex
    January 10, 2018 at 11:42 pm

    Hi Taylor!

    This post helped inspire us to make the Quilotoa Loop a must see on our backpacking trip through South America. It was 100% worth it! We made a step-by-step guide to help direct anyone hiking the loop, if you want to check it out! https://whirlwindtravellers.com/2018/01/07/complete-step-by-step-guide-to-hiking-the-quilotoa-loop/

    • Reply
      Taylor Record
      January 15, 2018 at 7:15 pm

      Super informative, Alex! Glad you guys were able to make the trip 🙂

  • Reply
    Tess Andrade
    April 12, 2018 at 9:12 pm

    Can this trek be done as a solo female traveler? Would you consider it to be safe enough? Or would you recommend hiring a tour company?

    • Reply
      Taylor Record
      April 13, 2018 at 5:44 am

      Hey Tess. I’d say definitely yes! Do you speak a bit of Spanish? The only concern is that the trails are hard to follow, so you might need to ask locals from time to time to send you in the right direction. It’s a high traffic route, so it will also be easy to meet people at one of the hostels that you can join. Good luck out there!

  • Reply
    Ursula
    August 8, 2018 at 7:44 pm

    Wouh! Super post! Thank you for sharing your experience! I have just returned from Ecuador and loved it! The lagoon Quilotoa is amazing and there are so many beautiful landscapes to discover in this country! I had the chance to stay long enough to discover everything! Also, I especially had the chance to meet a perfect Quito travel agency! She organized a great trip and gave me good advice! I recommend it to you!
    It’s Gulliver Expeditions if you want a great time go!

  • Reply
    ananya
    August 9, 2018 at 10:15 pm

    Hi , Thanks for the informative post. I have a question. I won’t doing the entire trek due to less time. I would be only going the quilota to chugchillan hike . I am confused where to store the luggage . I heard hostels to transfer luggage from quilota to chugchillan while you hike. is that right? Also I think its just a 1 day hike , could you confirm?

    • Reply
      Taylor
      August 16, 2018 at 3:55 pm

      Hi Ananya. It’s only 3-4 hours from Quilotoa to Chugchilan, so this should be doable! Check out “The Easy Way | Quilotoa > Chugchilan | 2 Days” for more details. As for left luggage, I’d leave your stuff in Latacunga and pick it up after your trek. If you’re only doing a day hike, you should be able to get by with just a day pack. Good luck and let me know how it goes!

  • Reply
    Jay
    August 13, 2018 at 12:56 pm

    Hello! What a great site. Thanks for all the info. Heading for Ecuador next July/Aug for a 3-week trip. Not long enough, but perhaps able to sample a bit of backpacking in the mountains and the coast. Had a question maybe you can help with: If I had 3-4 days for hiking – would you recommend the Quiltoa loop or Iliniza Norte? How would you say the two are different? Thanks!

    • Reply
      Taylor
      August 16, 2018 at 3:46 pm

      Hey Jay. I’m so glad you’ve found it helpful! While the bus rides can get long, 3 weeks isn’t so bad for Ecuador. I only hiked Quilotoa, but from my understanding Illiniza Norte is high altitude and more of a proper mountain climb. Quilotoa is nice because you’re passing through meadows and local communities, but it feels more like a strenuous walk than a nature hike. Hope this helps a bit with your decision making, and let me know how you go!

  • Reply
    Cherry
    August 18, 2018 at 9:59 pm

    Hi Taylor I will be hiking from Quilotoa to Chugchilan in early November this year but am worried seeing people’s blogs about not being able to find the route by the rim and describing the walk as a trail of death? Is this true and do you know where to start walking from if I catch the morning bus from chugchilan ? Are there any maps or walking guides I can get hold of?

    • Reply
      Taylor
      August 19, 2018 at 10:00 am

      Hi Cherry. The trails really aren’t well marked, but I wouldn’t call it a trail of death! For the most part, the hike is pretty gradual. You may make a wrong turn, but you won’t ever wander off the edge of a cliff. Your best bet is to stop at one of the hostels in Chugchilan (like Cloud Forest) or the information center in Quilotoa before starting your trek. They’ll give you a free map and can also describe in some detail how you make your way from Quilotoa back to Chugchilan without wandering off along the way. Hope this helps and let me know if any other questions come up!

  • Reply
    Jay
    May 27, 2019 at 3:29 pm

    Hello again! Heading to Ecuador next week! Am trying to figure out what warm gear to pack for the Quilotoa hike in 2nd week of July. I hear it gets cold. But I live and hike in NH so trying to gauge the clothing in comparison. Longjohns+fleece+down puffy? inner and outer gloves? Or is that overkill?

    • Reply
      Kim
      June 19, 2019 at 12:22 am

      Hi Jay, we are doing the trek at the same time. We are from Colorado and also trying to figure out clothing. Maybe we’ll cross paths along the trail!

  • Reply
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