For pictures and my thoughts on the loop, please check out this pst!
The Quilotoa loop is a 3-5 day hike through the Latacunga canton in Ecuador, either starting or ending with a visit to the Quilotoa crater lake. Many choose to skip the hike and opt to simply see the lake on a day trip.
However, for me, these three days were an absolute highlight of my entire trip, so if you can spare a few days I would highly suggest you attempt to do the entire loop!
Before jumping into the logistics of embarking on the hike, I'd like to address a common question I got:
Isn't it dangerous to do the loop on your own?
Well...first of all, I ended up not really being alone (see here). When I started hiking, at least twenty other people did. Therefore, it was easy to join togethernand avoid being lost alone in the wilderness.
This aside, you can get detailed instructions from hostels and it seemed as though most paths converged in the end. Google offline maps or maps.me can be useful tools when (cause you will at least once) you have taken a wrong turn.
The trail in general felt safe and manageable, so I would not let your solitude get in the way of having this experience!
Want to embark on the route? Here's everything you need to know.
1. Which way to do it?
I chose to leave the crater lake to the end of the hike, as a highlight to look forward to. This means I ascended a total of about 1200 meters from the lowest to the highest point.
Now, doing it in the opposite direction might seem easier, but the constant downhill is bound to take a toll on your knees. Furthermore, seeing the lake after 5 hours of mostly uphill hiking was incredibly rewarding to me and I wouldn't have wanted to get the best views on the first day.
Therefore, I recommend the following schedule:
Day 1: bus from Latacunga to Sigchos -> walk to Isinlivi
Day 2: walk from Isinlivi to Chugchilán
Day 3: walk from Chugchilán to the Quilotoa lake -> walk to Quilotoa -> bus to Latacunga
2. How to get there?
First, you have to make your way to Latacunga. Buses from Quito and Banos leave regularily:
To get to Latacunga, you catch the bus to Quito, which drops you off on the Highway.
Buses leave every 30 minutes from 4am to 6:40pm, take 2 hours and cost $2,25.
From there you can catch a cab into gthe centre of Latacunga for around $5.
Buses to Latacunga leave roughly every 30 minutes from Terminal Quitumbe.
The journey takes a little over an hour and costs about $1,50.
In Latacunga, I suggest you stay the night at Hostal Tiana. Despite some bad reviews on the internet, I found the service to be friendly, the beds comfortable and the included breakfast was one of the best ones I've had.
For $1/day, you can leave your big backpack in a video-monitored room with lockers for your valuables.
From Latacunga, you then catch a bus to Sigchos the next morning, at the main bus terminal.
For early birds, there's the 6am option, which will probably allow you to escape the rain. For those of us that want to have a bit of a slower morning (inculding breakfast at the hostel), the next bus leaves at 9:30am, every half hour until 12pm and then every hour until 6pm.
I would definitely take the 9:30 or 10am bus, the earlier you leave the less likely it is that you will get caught in the rain. The bus takes about 2 hours and costs no more than $3.
3. The actual hike
quick tip: downloading maps.me for the area can be extremely helpful to know if you're heading in the right direction!
Day 1: Latacunga -> Sigchos -> Isinlivi
If you stayed at Hostal Tiana, you will have gotten thorough instructions for the walk to Isinlivi. Now, sometimes you might not find the landmarks described - this is where maps.me comes in handy, as well as asking locals. However, we simply followed whatever path most closely resembled the one we were looking for (going downhill, to the river, etc...) and found our way just fine!
duration: 3-4 hours
difficulty: easy, short climb at the end
where I stayed:
Llullu Llama: best hostel on the loop! comfy beds, delicious dinner and breakfast, cozy interior.
$19/night, recommend 5/5
Important: you need to reserve your stay as it fills up quickly, through their website.
Day 2: Sigchos -> Chugchilán
On this day, the only difficulty we encountered was at the very beginning. The instructions say to ignore all paths going left or right, but we found you had to actually take a path going steeply downhill to the left less than 5 minutes after starting the hike. From there on, the trail is well marked by yellow, red or orange spray paint.
duration: 4-5 hours
difficulty: medium; some tricky downhill parts and a steep uphill towards the end. what got me were the 2 kilometers of slight incline on the road at the very end.
where I stayed:
Cloud forest: once again, I was really happy with this place! hammocks galore, tons of cozy blankets and a cute interior make it a nice place to relax after a day's hike. The only minus for me was the food, which was uncreative and the breakfast a little too small for my liking.
price: $16 recommend 4/5
Day 3: Chugchilán -> Quilotoa lake -> Quilotoa -> Latacunga
Here your instructions come in handy once again. We chose to follow the path to La Moya/Quilotoa which is supposedly more safe. It was about an 11km hike to the lake.
From the crater lake, we walked towards the right (counter-clockwise) along the rim and once we got to the top of the crater, walked left until we made it to Quilotoa (the town).
From there, just ask for the bus to Latacunga which should take around 2 hours.
duration: 5-6 hours
difficulty: this was by far the toughest day, while also the most rewarding. The trail goes mostly uphill the entire time, but if you take it slow anyone should be able to do it. The hardest part for me was walking up the crater...though there really is no other way out so you'll just have to push through it.