The Quilotoa Loop: Ecuador’s Best Hike
The Quilotoa Loop is a 3-day hike through small villages in the Ecuadorian highlands that ends at the Laguna de Quilotoa. It’s the best hike in Ecuador, not just for the landscape but also for the amazing hostels along the way. The villages are not touristy and most only have a few houses, a tiny church, and a schoolhouse. You will meet adorable kids on the hike with some selling fruit while others ask for chocolate. You will be blown away by the elderly who walk the rugged trails to the market everyday with their rucksacks.
There’s no need to worry about food along the way because the hostels sell boxed lunches and have family breakfasts and dinners. The hostels make sure the hikers eat very well both in quantity and quality. Honestly, I enjoyed the incredible views of the valley, the homely hostels, and interactions with the villagers more than the hike around the lake. If you only make the day trip to Laguna de Quilotoa, I think you will be disappointed.
The stray dogs in the villages aren’t out for blood, but they might get too close for comfort. Carry a rock in your pocket and if any aggressive stray dogs get too close, pretend like you are going to throw it at them. This will scare them off.
The temperature is very mild and the toughest challenge is ascending in the high altitude. The trail starts at 2,830 meters and the highest point is 3,920 meters. On the second and third day, there are 600-meter ascents that will exhaust you. Laguna Cuicocha near Otavalo is the perfect acclimation hike at a high altitude.
Where to Stay in Latacunga
Latacunga is where you spend the night before the hike and it’s only an hour from Quito’s Terminal Quitumbe. Hostel Cafe Tiana is where many hikers spend the night before starting the Quilotoa Loop. They offer luggage storage for $1 and the hostel has hot water and a delicious breakfast.
Navigating the Quilotoa Loop
You can use maps.me for directions and be sure to download the regional map before the hike. The directions are unbelievably accurate for the duration of the Quilotoa Loop.
Sigchos is where you start the hike and buses from Latacunga leave every morning at 6:00, 7:00, 8:00, 9:30, and 10:00 AM and the journey is 2.5 hours. I recommend taking the 9:30 AM bus and eating lunch in Sigchos, which will leave enough time to arrive in Isinlivi between 4-5 PM. Llullu Llama Mountain Lodge is a fantastic hostel in Isinlivi. The views are stunning and the amenities are high quality for a hostel. Instead of buying the $6 box lunch from the hostel, walk down the street and buy a sandwich from the mini-market for $1.
The second day of the hike ends in the village of Chugchilan. Most hikers take a direct route which is a 4-5 hour day with an easy morning and a 600-meter afternoon ascent. I took an alternate route to the village of Guantualo to see an authentic market, which added 2 hours to the day. Guantualo is off the radar for most hikers and the locals assumed we were lost. It was well worth the detour to see the fresh pig heads for sale and an intense midday volleyball game that had the whole village in attendance.
The 4-5 hour route seemed a bit boring as you’d arrive in Chugchilan at 1 PM. Plus, the road to Guantualo has picturesque views. In Chugchilan, Hostel El Vaquero has a very homely vibe. You can relax in front of the old-fashioned fireplace and the beds are very comfy. They offer a sauna for $3 and a boxed lunch for $3.50.
The last day is the most difficult one as you climb up to 3,920 meters. It’s best to leave by 7 AM to get to the lake before the afternoon clouds roll in. From Chugchilan, it will take about 3 hours. Once you get to the lake you have two options. If you turn right, it will take 1.5 hours to reach the bus stop and if you go left, it will take 3 hours. The path to the left takes you to the trail’s highest point at 3,920 meters. The bus ride back to Latacunga is nearly 2 hours and the last one departs at 5:30 PM.
What to Pack
- Hiking boots
- Hiking pants
- Long sleeve shirt
- Heavy jacket
- Pants, t-shirt, and shoes to change into at night
- Ibuprofen, Bandaids, Imodium
- Power bank
- At least $75 per person
Where to Next
Quito (1 hour by bus) – Ecuador’s charming capital has stunning churches and the largest historic center in South America.
Baños (2 hours) – A scenic town with Incredible landscapes, a biking adventure, waterfalls, and short hikes.
Cuenca (9 hours) – The country’s prettiest city has delicious international food and is the gateway to the beautiful Cajas National Park.