The Quilotoa Loop: A Backpacker’s Guide to Ecuador

The Quilotoa Loop: A Backpacker’s Guide to Ecuador

The Quilotoa Loop is a 3-5 day trek in the Ecuadorian Andes between villages around the Quilotoa crater lake.

Originally, we got to Latacunga (the nearest big city) thinking that we would do a simple day trip to the crater, but after realizing we had a few days to kill before our flight to the Galápagos we spontaneously decided to assess how badly in shape we really are.

You can choose to do the loop the supposedly easier way and start in Quilotoa, but we decided to go the traditional route and have a grandiose finish at the crater.

Day 1: Latacunga – Sigchos – Isinliví

After leaving our big backpacks at Hostel Tiana in Latacunga ($1.50/day for storage) and getting a map and directions for the loop from their reception desk, we headed to the Latacunga bus terminal to catch the two-hour bus to the small town of Sigchos.

From Sigchos, we hiked about 12 km to Isinliví. It was a relatively painless three hours of passing easy-to-miss trails, avoiding a charging cow, cutting through unplowed farms, and pushing aside a barbed wire fence blocking the trail.

Hiking the Quilotoa Loop
Quilotoa Loop

In Isinliví we stayed at the much recommended Llulu Llama Hostel. It set us back $19/person, but dinner and breakfast were included and they were incredible, as were the high pressure hot showers. They also have a spa with a steam room and a jacuzzi (although you have to pay extra for it), and there’s a fireplace in every cabin (which we got upgraded to for free because of the construction in the dorms). Don’t forget to refill your water bottles and ask for the directions to Chugchilan on your way out.

Day 2: Isinliví – Chugchilan

After a satisfying breakfast, we started the 15 km hike to Chugchilan. We trekked through a beautiful backdrop of green hills and valleys and crossed a wide river. The landscape looked as though someone had cranked up its color saturation dial. We avoided a massive mud slide on an improvised bridge made of wooden planks, and had to run away from a ferocious dog. Finally, after about 5 hours, a steep uphill climb, and a 45 minute walk along an uphill road, we reached the Cloud Forest Hostel in Chugchilan.

Hiking the Quilotoa Loop
Quilotoa Loop

For $15/person, we got a private room, dinner, and breakfast. After a beer and a game of cards with our fellow backpackers whom we picked up in hostels and on the bus along the way, we all passed out around 8:30 pm.

Day 3: Chugchilan – Quilotoa – Latacunga

We set off early on the last day, knowing that it would be the longest and hardest. For four hours we trekked an intense, mostly uphill route. In several spots we were unsure of the path, and our little group had to put in some team work to help each other climb up a few rocks and jump over some questionable areas with few handholds. We had to endure some nettle stings and 3.5 km up a winding, sandy road before we finally reached the top of the crater.

I’ll be honest, as I trudged slowly up the last stretch before the crater, with everyone else seemingly miles in front of me, I thought I might cry. I was exhausted, and the only thought I still had enough energy for was, “left foot, right foot, left foot,” and then just, “left, right, left…”

As I came up the last bend and saw the crater lake stretch out in front of me, I’m pretty sure tears actually did come out of my eyes. I immediately dropped my bag, collapsed on the ground, and didn’t move for the next half hour, taking in the view I had worked for for three days.

Quilotoa Crater Lake
Quilotoa Crater Lake

It took us another 2-3 hours (with several very long stops to enjoy the scenery) to make it around the crater to the town, but we took the flat path circling the middle of the crater rather than the rim, and it was much easier going than the route to the lake.

From the town of Quilotoa we took the bus back to Latacunga ($2/person), all of us exhausted but giddy at having finished the loop.

People that know Roi and I well, and therefore know how little physical activity we do at home after sitting in an office all day, have asked me how we’re managing to do this.

Here’s the secret: you just do it. Once you start, there’s no turning back. You have to keep going, and you would be amazed at how much your body can accomplish when it has to.

Worth it? Yes. If you’re not sure you can do it, just do it. You won’t die alone in the hills, you’ll make it because you have to, and the reward is so much sweeter when you’ve worked so hard for it. You’ll savor every gust of wind, sip of water, and 10 minute snack break like it’s a luxury vacation, and the views will be breathtaking (literally). If you’re looking for the non-touristic way, this is definitely it.

What to bring: small bag, SUNSCREEN, hat, snacks, water (1-2 liters/day), hiking shoes, change of clothes, pajamas, toiletries, money, camera, something warm (it’s very windy next to the crater).

*We had nice weather, but we heard that sometimes it rains, so maybe a rain jacket.

What to leave: big backpack, towel (the hostels on the route provide towels).

– Iris & Roi

Have you hiked the Quilotoa Loop? Do you have questions about the trek? We’d love to help you out, just comment below 🙂

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