QUILOTOA LOOP TREK GUIDE
Itinerary, route, budget, hostels and packing lists
Fast making a name for itself as one of the best hikes in South America is Ecuador's Quilotoa Loop. Ecuador is a country full of hidden gems and the Quilotoa Loop may well be the star of the show.
This self-guided hike takes you through the luscious landscapes of the Ecuadorian Andes and is a must for any outdoor loving adventurer. Make no mistake about it, the Quilotoa Loop is challenging, but the reward is so worth it. The 3 day hike culminates at a indescribably beautiful lagoon inside an old, inactive volcano. You do have the option of just taking a bus to the lagoon, but where would be the fun in that?
Your adventure will begin in the town of Latacunga. Most of the hostels here allow you to store your big backpack there for the duration of the hike. Remeber, you'll want to pack only the essentials as you'll be carrying everything yourself. We'll include a full packing list at the end of this article because we're nice like that.
Hostel recommendation for Latacunga 🌟 Hostel Latacunga 🌟
Great hostel in the centre of town, not too far from the bus station and they looked after our bags for free (some hostels charge). A dorm bed costs $16.20 (£12).
Quilotoa Loop Day 1 - 3.5 hours walking, 10 km
The start of the hike begins in the small town of Sigchos. Buses run from Latacunga as early as 5 A.M and the 2 hour journey will cost $2.30 (£1.70). Once in Sigchos head to the south east corner of the town where a yellow and red sign will indicate the starting point of the trail.
Good news is that, for the most part, the route is clearly marked in one way or another. The clear, yellow and red signposts will guide you most of the way on the first day. Although the third sign that you'll encounter may cause you to question it's authenticity, we can assure you it's legit. It's handwritten and directs you off to the left down a narrow overgrown path. You may think you are being duped into a murderer's lair but it takes you where you need to go.
After about 2 hours of gently strolling through the picturesque countryside, you will turn off the path to the left and make your way down to the river alongside a farmhouse. Here is where we came across a lady half-heartedly attempting to enforce a $3 entrance fee. Now, I'm not suggesting accusing her of being dishonest but..........
When you reach the river you'll cross over to the other side via a bridge. Turn right, follow the fence along and round to the left before a short albeit steep climb to the path. Here is a good point for a break because the nice easy walk you've been enjoying up until now is about to kick it up a gear or two.
The path you're on will begin to incline a little and then bend round to the right. Shortly after the bend you need to climb up on to field to your left. This turning had no signage when we did the trek and is very easy to miss. If you crane your neck up to the left and think to yourself "surely that can't be the way? That's impossible to climb!" Then you're in the right place.
What you are looking at is a climb which will take you about an hour to make it to the top. It's steep and tough but once at the top you've only a 30 minute walk (on flat ground) to Isinlivi. As you pass the first couple of houses into Isinlivi, you have two choices. You can either follow the road round into town or follow a little footpath which takes you down off the road and through a series of fields and small rivers. This path brings you out by the only two hostels in town.
** Note – You also have the option to take a bus directly to Isinlivi from Latacunga if you do not feel like hiking on the first day.
** Note - All hostels along the Quilotoa Loop include dinner and breakfast in the price for a bed. You can even buy a packed lunch from some of them for around $3
Hostel recommendation for Isinlivi 🌟 SAN CRISTOBAL 🌟
Cute and relaxing hostel with great WiFi and a nice garden area to chill out in. $30 (£23) for a double room and delicious dinner and breakfast.
Quilotoa Loop day 2 - 4.5 hours walking, 15 km
If you were hoping for an easy start to the today then I'm afraid you're fresh out of luck. First task of the day is to navigate a steep descent through a narrow, muddy passage flanked by trees. Once you reach flat ground, after 20/25 mins, continue to follow the yellow and red signs (which at times are replaced by rocks spray-painted yellow and red instead) to the left. If you're using maps.me do not be tempted to follow its suggested route which tells you to go right instead. You have been warned.
A short distance after the turning you will find yourself in a beautiful green valley where you will follow the river for about 90 minutes until you see a river crossing made up of a fallen tree. Cross over and turn left. After 30 minutes you'll see another bridge made out of wooden planks and a rather ambiguous sign which could be interpreted as instructing you to cross back over to other side. Stay on the side you are on and continue for another 15 minutes. When the path turns into an incline you'll know you're close to Itualo.
Itualo is a tiny community made up off half a dozen buildings including a church and a school. The kids are beginning to get use to hikers passing through and most will approach you ask for candy. Now at this point you'll find yourself eclipsed by enormous hills either side. Look up to your right. I have bad new and good news. Bad news is that you have to climb that mother fluffer. Good news is that you should make it in about 30 mins. It's the final big hurdle of the day so dig deep and power through.
Atop of this behemoth is Mirador Canon del Toachi. You'll want to stop here for a while to take in the to incredible views of the river and the valley you've hiked. From here you can see for miles. If you can tear yourself away from the viewing point, you only have a 30 minute walk to the main road where you'll turn left and follow up a gentle incline for best part an hour (this part is pretty boring) until you arrive in Chugchilan.
Hostel recommendation for Chugchilan - 🌟 Cloud Forest Hostel 🌟
Super cool hostel with the hottest and most powerful showers we've experienced in South America. Comfy beds, good WiFi, great atmosphere and delicious food. Again, dinner and breakfast included in the price. $15 (£11.10) for a dorm bed or $20 (£14.80) per person for a private double. The staff are very helpful and will give you a map to help you through the final part of the trek and talk you through it also.
Quilotoa Loop day 3 - 4.5 hours walking, 14 km
You'll kick the third and final day off following the same road you finished on yesterday. After a few minutes you're going to take the left turn by the biblioteca (library) and go down and back up the small hill. Shortly after passing El Vaquero hostel on your left hand side you'll take the left turn at the sign for the Quilotoa Loop. From here make your way down along the edge of the cliff whilst admiring the panoramic beauty before your eyes.
After 10 minutes there will be a sign for Quilotoa Loop pointing to the left which is also the route maps.me will suggest you use. However, this route is dangerous as it is prone to rockslides and it's suggested that you avoid this route. Instead, continue straight down the dirt road for another 10 minutes until the road doubles back on itself, crosses a tiny stream and turns into an incline.
Head up the hill for 10/15 minutes and you'll notice the dirt road become very narrow and dusty until you are single file. Here you are faced with 2 options. In front of you there will be a path as steep a ski jump and looks like it was formed when an Indiana Jones style boulder came tearing through the mountainside. Alternatively, you can head off to the right along the edge of what looks like cabbage crops and take a more gentle 30 minute climb to the top that way. If you opt for the first route and actually manage to make it then let us know.
Another spectacular view point will meet you at the top and from here you proceed through what is someone's garden. There was a small boy here who guided us through for 50 cents. Out the other side and welcome to the cute little town of La Moya. Stay on the road through the town for 15 minutes until you get to a Quilotoa Loop sign pointing yo to the left. From here you'll climb along a very narrow path which you'll want to be very careful on as one slip will most likely spell the end of you.
As I'm sure you would have noticed by this point, the theme of the day is endless ascending and descending. 30 minutes along the path and you'll in the bottom of the valley at the river bed. You need to cross the river to the other side but unfortunately there was no obvious way across that we could see so you're going to get a little bit wet.
You've only one way to go from here and that's back up. It'll take you about 15 mins to reach the road. Turn left and follow the road until you see a footpath which you'll follow uphill for 30 minutes. It's pretty obvious from this point where you need to go. You will see the lip of the crater at the top of the hill in front of you. There are a few ways to get there. You can follow the winding road up, climb straight up through the fields or take one of the footpaths. Bottom line is, no matter what choice you make, they all suck and will take you about an hour to make it to the top. But this it what is waiting for you up there...
Laguna Quilotoa, sits at 3,900 metres above sea level. Once a volcano, its last eruption was back in the year 1280 which resulted in the 3km wide caldera you see now. Only these days it's filled with water rather than magma. Whilst I'm certain that you'll be pretty exhausted at this point, the finishing point is the town of Quilotoa itself.....on the other side of the caldera.....2 hours away. Don't shoot the messenger.
The town of Quilotoa has dozens of restaraunts if you want to grab yourself something to eat. There are also a bunch of hotels if you're starting the hike from here instead or if you just want to spend an extra day here to make the most of it. From the town side of the lagoon you can go down to the water and rent kayaks for $4 (£3) per hour.
Hotel recommendation for Quilotoa - 🌟 Samay Kirutoa Lodge 🌟
Beautiful luxury lodge, perfect for resting your weary body after a tough hike. The lodge's restaurant is one of the best in Quilotoa and serves up an incredible dinner and breakfast.
Congratulations. You've completed the Quilotoa Loop. As mentioned at the beginning, if you don't fancy the hike you can just take a bus to Quilotoa to view the lagoon. Some people do the hike the opposite way to us and finish in Sigchos instead. This way is less intense as it involves more downhill than uphill. We chose to do the Quilotoa Loop over 3 days so we had plenty of time to enjoy our surroundings but it's doable in 2 days if you're pressed for time. Buses back to Latacunga run from outside Samay Kirutoa Lodge and cost $2 (£1.50).
⇒ Quilotoa Loop packing list
As promised, here is what we packed for our 3 day Quilotoa Loop hike. Remember, only pack the essentials as you will carrying everything with you the whole time.
- Hiking boots (wouldn't recommend doing this in trainers)
- Warm clothes (very cold at night)
- Light clothes (warm and sweaty during the day)
- Sun cream
- Candy (for the local kids)
- Snacks (chocolate and power bars )
- Cash (no ATMs and cards not accepted)
Dinners and breakfasts will be included at the hostels and they all have shops if you want to buy some snacks and water there instead. All in all the 3 day Quilotoa Loop hike cost us $80 (£59.25) per person including accommodation, buses and snacks. We hope our guide to Quilotoa Loop has been helpful for you. We'd love to hear your thoughts.