The Quilotoa Loop is a group of trails through the Andes that either start or end at the Laguna Quilotoa. The trails encompass various different landscapes and altitudes and are a tough test for even experienced hikers. That said it is also one of the most rewarding hikes we have done on the trip so far. Read below for information on what part of the Quilotoa Loop we did, how we got there, and where we stayed.
The end result of the Quilotoa Loop – The Quilotoa Lake!
2 Day Quilotoa Loop Route
We had booked our flights to Galapagos and so, for the first time in 7 months of traveling, we had a deadline to meet. This meant that we could only do 2 nights on the Quilotoa Loop. We enquired with our hostel in Latacunga, Hostal Tiana, and decided that the best route for us would be to start in Isinlivi, make our way to Chugchilan (stay the night) and then go from Chugchilan to Quilotoa. This was the best route for us and one that I recommend (although if you have an extra day, start in Sigchos and make your way to Isinlivi on Day 1). We had spoken to some travelers who had hiked the opposite direction (starting at the Quilotoa Lake) but for me this made no sense. Yes, it is easier (its mostly downhill this way), but what are you hiking for? The happiness of reaching the magical Quilotoa crater at the end of Day 2 is something that made the entire uphill journey worth it!
Walking through the clouds
3 Nights (recommended if you have the time)
Sigchos -> Isinliví -> Chugchilan -> Quilotoa
2 Nights (what we did)
Isinliví -> Chugchilan -> Quilotoa
3/2 Nights (route in reverse (why bother?!))
Quilotoa -> Chugchilan -> Isinliví-> Sigchos
Day 1: Isinliví to Chugchilan
We knew that we wanted to start in Isinliví but the only problem was that we didn’t know how to get there. The receptionist at Hostal Tiana in Latacunga told us that a bus from Latacunga to Isinliví ran on Saturdays at 11.15am. It would take 2 hours meaning we would be starting a 5-6 hour hike (still in the rainy season) at 1pm. We weren’t happy with this and wanted to find alternative ways to get there. We figured out that there was supposed to be a bus to Sigchos (a nearby town also on the Quilotoa Loop) at 6am from Latacunga. When I enquired in Hostal Tiana the woman did not seem convinced and told me to get the later bus (saying we would miss our breakfast). Still unsure about whether there was even a bus or not we set our alarms for 5am the next morning and made our way to the bus terminal.
You will need to conquer this canyon today!
After some confusion in the terminal we were told that there was actually a bus at 6am, success! So of we went to Sigchos for $2 and a 2 hour trip. When we arrived in Sigchos we had to try and find a taxi to take us to Isinliví. Thankfully one shouted at us as we got off the bus and so we made our way again. We were traveling with a German couple, Daniel and Heike, and so we could share the cost of the $10 taxi ride between us. We got dropped off at Llulu Llama in Isinliví after about 30 minutes.
Plenty of signposts mark the way to Chugchilan
Llulu Llama is THE hostel in Isinliví and if you stay in the town we can highly recommend it. Having got up so early we needed to get a proper breakfast before starting the hike and so we asked at the hostel if it would be possible to have breakfast. They served us the best breakfast we have had on our entire trip so far; eggs, amazing fruits, bread, coffee and juice. All for $5! We were so stuffed afterwards but it was a great way to start the day. The hostel itself looks amazing, great views, a friendly dog and llama and we even heard that there is a hot tub on site too!
The trail is full of amazing landscapes
Another great thing about Llulu Llama are their maps/directions. We had some from Hostal Tiana but they seemed abit inconclusive and so we asked Llulu Llama if they had any directions for the hike to Chugchilan. They gave us detailed instructions that even covered how much altitude we would be covering that day!
So finally at 10am, with directions in hand, we set off for Day 1 of the Quilotoa Loop. The day started in strange fashion as we went downhill for the first couple of hours, heading to a river that we needed to cross (via a large wooden tree trunk). We then started uphill reaching the village of Itualo where we spoke to some children (who were looking for sweets/money). After this the hike gets really hard, you have to walk uphill for 750m, moving up in altitude to 3000m.
Views of the canyon
After this lung bursting climb there is a great mirador which shows the Toachi Canyon that you just crossed and climbed over. From here it is a pretty uneventful 2.5km walk along the road until you reach the village of Chugchilan.
There are quite a few hostels in the town but we stayed with, and recommend, Hostel Cloud Forest. The room rate includes a delicious communal dinner and breakfast. Our private room was huge, we had 3 beds, an upstairs, and even a balcony with a great view! They also heat the rooms at night and you get a ton of blankets so you don’t feel too cold!
The mirador when you reach the top!
All in all we covered a distance of about 12.5km on this day, taking us 5 hours.
Day 2: Chugchilan to Quilotoa
This is the hardest and longest day of the hike, so make sure you start early. Hostal Cloud Forest had explained to us before we set out that there are two possible routes for the day; the “easy” route (note: not easy) and the adventure route. We were told that the “easy” route was safer as there was a slight risk of landslides (in the rainy season) so we went that way. We had a 30 minute uphill hike to contend with first before reaching a small village where we got the chance to spot some llamas. After this we had to go down and back up the canyon from yesterday (wasn’t once enough?).
Pointing the right way!
It is at this point that we got our first glimpse of the Laguna Crater. We had to traverse through another village before walking (relatively flat) for about 40 minutes. Even the small hills on this part of the trek are abit of a struggle due to the altitude.
At altitude the clouds come in quick!
After this there is a long and windy ascent from the bottom of the craters edge to the top. Take plenty of breaks here as it is tough to deal with the altitude. Eventually you reach the top and you see the most incredible image waiting for you. The magical Quilotoa Lake! There is a little shop up here with a lovely family where you can buy anything from water to beer and snacks. Take some photo’s but keep in mind that you still need to walk along the edge to get to the town of Quilotoa.
Spot the local wildlife on the way!
Turn right to take the easier route walking along the craters edge. It is amazing but also extremely tough. Your legs are weak and tired but still you need to ascend and descend along the rim for another hour and a half. The route gives you ample more opportunities to get pictures of the lake and also the countryside surrounding it. There is even a section of the path that is a massive sand dune – how did all that sand get there? Eventually you reach the town of Quilotoa.
Making it to the lake!
Quilotoa is a prime tourist hub and as such it has quite a few hostels and restaurants (for its size). We stayed at Hostel Chukirawa but to be honest im not sure that I can recommend it. The room rate includes dinner and breakfast but unlike Hostel Cloud Forest the food quality was poor. The WiFi connection was also pretty dreadful, not normally a problem in these situations but when it was so good in Chugchilan I struggle to figure out how it is worse in the more built up Quilotoa. Finally the biggest problem with this hostel – no hot water! After a long, long day hiking, to have no hot water is a nightmare. Especially when at 3,800m it is cold outside also!
The lake really is amazing!
This day of hiking covered 13 mainly uphill kilometers which took us about 6 hours in total. There was alot of stops for pictures however!
- Get directions from Llulu Llama in Isinliví , even if you dont stay there. Get the directions for all the days of the hike you will be doing too, we only got them from Isinliví to Chugchilan but they also have them from Chugchilan to Quilotoa.
- Despite what we had read beforehand the trails were actually pretty well marked (especially on Day 1). It seems like Cloud Forest Hostel in Chughchilan were responsible for this, so kudos!
- You will meet quite alot of children along the trail and despite how you feel don’t give them anything! It may seem mean and/or rude but its being a responsible traveler. For a start giving the children cookies or sweets is not good for their health, and giving them money is not good for their future. If they get money everyday from gringos they are never going to worry about getting an education or a job because they can get money so easy from travelers! We also saw two children who had just received crisps off other travelers and they threw the empty wrapper on the floor, think before you give!
A shy dog!
- We read alot about stray dogs and the possibility that they would attack you before the hike. Thankfully we didn’t come across any but we feel that it is something hikers should take into consideration (carry a stick near villages).
- We did this in May, just at the tail end of the rainy season, and bar a shower or two we didn’t have any rain to deal with. It did rain in the evening time however, when we were inside and cozy, so if you do it this time of year then we recommend you start early!
- Take plenty of warm clothes, the temperatures at altitude are chilly, especially in Quilotoa!
- But still remember to take and use sunscreen, the sun is alot stronger at higher altitudes and you can burn easy.
- Stock up on snacks before each day, visit the local panaderia and fruit shop, get some chocolate, anything for an energy burst!
- Make sure to refill your water bottle at each hostel too you will need it!
- To get back to Latacunga from Quilotoa – take a taxi to Zumbahua for $1 per person. From here a bus leaves to Latacunga every 20 minutes. From Quilotoa to Latacunga there is a bus every 2 hours but it also takes alot longer than the bus from Zumbahua.