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, we’d say Laguna Quilotoa is nothing short of a spectacular finish.
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.
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. Be sure to get a detailed Quilotoa Loop map with distances and landmarks. I also recommend asking for directions from other hikers and locals as often as possible. The hotels 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.
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.
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)
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).
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).
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