Hiking the Quilotoa Loop, one of Ecuador´s best self guided trek

This is a trek that should be on any hiker´s bucket list!

Just 3 hours from Quito, the splendid “Quilotoa Loop” has gained the heart of many travellers. During your time over there (from a day to 2 weeks), you will get close to rural indigenious life and enjoy a variety of landscapes with majestic canyons, lagunas and volcanoes. And, ice on the cake for independant travellers, you can do it 100% self-guided! Get inspired by the pictures and start planning your trek with this article.

 

Highlights of Quilotoa Loop

Check out the diaporama and discover why you have to trek Quilotoa Loop.

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Itineraries suggestions

 

Most of people start their loop in Quilotoa and then walk their way up to the north. I don´t get why. The beauty of the trek is to end up with the most grandiose part, the laguna itself. What a reward to discover it after a few hours (or a few days, depending) of hike! Trust me, start from the north.

indigenous_quilotoa

One really good thing about this trek is its flexibility. There is no official route to follow, the appelation “Quilotoa loop” covers more than 200km around the Quilotoa Lake. So you can decide which parts you want to explore. Also, the distance to cover between each village is about around 15km, with 600m elevation during the day, which is reasonnable. And it´s always possible to find an alternative motorized way to get to the next village (or even to end it and go back to town) if you are too tired from the previous day´s effort.

You can spend from a day to 2 weeks hiking around the Quilotoa Loop, depending on your condition and your schedule. The segment between Chugchillan to Quilotoa -ending with the famous crater- is the most grandiose so make sure you don´t skip it (day 3 of the below itinerary)

llama_quilotoa

Day 1: From Latacunga, take the bus to Sigchos. Hike Sigchos – Insinlivi. Night in Insinlivi

Day 2: Hike Insinlivi – Chugchilan. Night in Chugchilan

Day 3: Hike Chugchillan – Quilotoa. Night in Quilotoa

Day 4: Hike down (and up!) the laguna in early morning, off the crowds. Have lunch and head off to Tigua by bus to take a look at the paintings, before returning to Latacunga.

Have more time?

You can spend an extra night in Chugchilan or Insinlivi, both are good base for daily hikes. If you are around on Monday, don´t miss the Guantualo animal market (read more about it here).

The 16km between Quilotoa and Tigua offer fantastic views and you could fit it with an extra day. However, the path is tricky to find so I would highly recommend you hire a guide for that day if you wish to trek that part (ask at your hotel at least one night before how to arrange that).

quilotoa_loop_elevation

Our trek, with a visit to the Guantualo market on our second day (green).
Do not miss the section from Chugchillan to Quilotoa (in red).

Tips for self-guided trekking around Quilotoa

The area is considered as really safe, that´s why it´s not necessary to go in a tour to trek Quilotoa. Bulls or dogs are the main hazards you will notice on the road. Make sure you leave early enough to reach your destination before dark.

Your hostel is the best ressource to get directions to your next point and a map of the area will probably help (if you manage to find one, we didn´t). Trails on the most popular sections are marked by hostels themselves, which helps a lot. And remember, in case of doubt, always ask the locals :-).

 

Lodging around Quilotoa Loop

There are many hostels around the loop. Convenient and cheap, they include dinner and breakfast in the price of the bed and can prepare a lunch box for you.

Insinlivi: if you need one more reason to start the trek in Insinlivi, it has to be Llullu llama. Excellent food, fantastic views from the dining room, cosy fireplace and even a hot tub will make you forget you are in the middle of nowhere. ($25 with dinner and brekfast included)

Chugchillan: Opened in July 2014, El vaquero offers good value for money rooms and the ecuadorian dinner cooked with love is included ($15). It´s the last hostel of the village when you come from Insinlivi.

Quilotoa: You can find a bed for as cheap as $10, dinner and breakfast included. Don´t expect high confort though.

Tigua: You will have an awesome time staying at La Posada de Tigua for $25 (read more about it here).

 

Getting around in the area

There are buses to Sigchos or Insinilivi -where you can start the trek- every day. Note that there is not a unique, unified bus line going around the all loop. But there is always an option, either with a local bus, a milk truck or a neighbour that will drive you/rent you a mule for a few dollars. Once again, your hostel is the best place to get the latest updated schedule or to find you an alternative. You can also hitch-hike.

Equipment: what to bring, what to leave

cold_quilotoa

Leave your heavy bag in storage somewhere before starting the trip. and just carry a day pack. Here is a list of useful items for this trek: a good windproof jacket, a long sleeve shirt, hiking pants, hiking shoes/ trainers with ankle support, water bottle and a warm change for evenings.

Don´t pack this bulky sleeping bag: hostels have blankets and cosy fire places to keep you warm.

 

Planning your trip to Ecuador? Inspire yourself from my Highlights of Ecuador itineraries, adapted for a 2 or 3 weeks trip.

36 thoughts on “Hiking the Quilotoa Loop, one of Ecuador´s best self guided trek

  1. Andrew says:

    Really useful post guys – I’m just starting our own research into the loop and this was what we needed to get our heads around it! Your route looks very sensible and, we totally agree, save the best bit for the last day – you need some incentive to keep on walking after all!

    The main thing I hope you can help with is info on bags – did you leave them at a hostel in Latacunga? Any recommendations on somewhere where it’s cheap and secure to do that?

    • Amandine says:

      Hi Andrew,
      Glad you found this useful.
      We left our big bags in the hostel we stayed in at Latacunga (www.hostaltiana.com). It is a “ok hostel” -i.e. not the best staff but it’s clean, walking distance from bus terminal and $10 per room and they have a secure place for the bags. The first day was for free and then you had to pay a small fee for each additionnal night ($1 i think). It’s decent value for money if you stay there, especially because if it’s practical. They say on the website you can also leave your bag at their place if you don’t stay there but for a higher fee.
      Hope it helps!
      Amandine

  2. Andrew says:

    Awesome post, guys ..You mention it briefly above, but how difficult do you finding it getting from one town to another? Were the trails somewhat marked? Or was it a bit of adventure of finding your way from one place to another?

    • amandine.durey@gmail.com says:

      Hi Andrew,

      It depends on the parts of the hike

      Hike Sigchos – Insinlivi. We followed indications of the hostel LLullu llama, it was kind of ok but we had to ask our way a few time (once we were totally off, it’s the picture where the guy is pointing ;-)). So allow extra time.
      Hike Insinlivi – Chugchilan. Easy
      Hike Chugchillan – Quilotoa. Really easy, it’s the part that is the most hiked.

      In general the hostel can provide you with directions. We were unable to find a good map to buy unfortunately 🙁

      Have fun!

  3. Nikita says:

    Thank you for your very useful article! I am going to Ecuador in October and wanted to do some hiking, but not in an organised tour. Sometimes the information you find on internet can be a bit overwhelming, but your tips and experiences are exactly what I wanted to find. Quilotoa loop, here I come! Thank you very much!

    • amandine.durey@gmail.com says:

      Hi Nikita, thank you so much for these kind words, it made my day. It’s the kind of feedback that keep me going to try to share more tips and reliable info based on first hand experience. Have a wonderful trek!

  4. Christine says:

    Thanks for the great info, we are planning to hike the loop in a few weeks and weren’t sure about all the details – this is super helpful!

  5. Helen Greyh says:

    Keep up the great work. We are planning to hike the trail in a month or so and we now don’t need to look anywhere else for info! Many thanks for this post!

  6. Chrissy says:

    Very informative. Just what we need to have a little confidence to try things on our own. Just wondering if you had arranged any of the hostels on the loop ahead of time, or if you just showed up? And what you would recommend doing? We will be there oct/nov. And we are a party of 4.
    Thanks

    • amandine.durey@gmail.com says:

      Hello chrissy,
      We only arranged one stay ahead of time: in llullu llama, as the hostel was recommended in several guides and it seemed such as nice place that we didn’t want to miss it. For the others, we did the classic south america backpacking trick: walk around and wait to be asked if we wanted a room. There are several options in Chugchillan and Quilotoa so I think you should be fine in these two places if you are not picky on the level of comfort. If you plan to ahead to Tigua, I recommend you book in advance as there is only one place -and La posada de Tigua is really awesome. We didn’t book and arrived at dust ; lucky us, we got the 2 last beds!
      Personal tip: In general when I hike and have not book accommodation I try to leave early to try to make it before the most of other hikers 🙂
      Happy hiking!

  7. Helen Grey says:

    Hi!

    Loving your info on Quilotoa. I have a question – if we want to trek to Tigua (with a guide) would we need a whole day? If we stay in Quilotoa and visit the laguna, would we need to stay another night in Quilotoa and then hike to Tigua the next day? Or can you do the Laguna and the 16km to Tigua in one day?

    Thanks,

    Helen

    • Amandine says:

      Hi Helen,
      As we didn’t get a guide to hike to Tigua (a mistake, as I explain in the article), I can’t be 100% sure of the answer but here is what I think: we did during the same day going down to the laguna and then get to Tigua. We got lost and still made it before dust. So I believe if you arrive the night before, start early and are with a guide that should be fine -if you are acclimatized. Don’t plan to go around the crater on the same day though, it is huge!Usually the guide you can hire services from are locals (usually not registered in a company) so it is very flexible. If it’s something you really want to do, I would try to book a guide in advance somehow (either by contacting hostels and asking them or maybe from Latacunga), to avoid disapointement.

      Let us know how it went when you get back, as this can be useful for other travellers.
      Enjoy!

  8. Alyssa Franco says:

    Hi! Thanks for the VERY helpful article. Due to limited time in Ecuador, I want to do the hike from Chugchillan – Quilotoa. From my understanding, we would hike about 6 hours from Chugchillan – Quilotoa the town, sleep there, and then wake up and hike approx 5 hours to the crater lake? We will be renting a car, so it possible to drive to Chugchillan and then once we get to the lake, get a ride from Quilotoa back to Chugchillan? thanks so very much- really helpful!!

    • Amandine says:

      Hi Alyssa,
      Glad this is helpful. yes, I think in around 6-7h you should be able to do Chugchillan to Quilotoa village if you are properly acclimatised by then you will probably be quite tired as it is uphill all the way. If you want to go down the crater it will probably take you an hour and an hour and a half to go up again (400m elevation difference!). I seem to remember that the only link between Chugchillan and Quilotoa was a milk truck going early morning but I am not 100% sure… that portion has almost no habitation so I don’t think it is likely that you are able to hitch-hike or get a car.
      I am unsure if renting a car is your best option for Quilotoa to be honest. Everybody take buses and the only travelers I met with a car had a driver so that was making things easier he could drop them off and pick them up after… Travelers with limited time usually start in Quilotoa go down to the crater, sleep there and the next day make their way to Chugchillan and take the bus back to Latagunca (next day if I remember correctly).
      Hope it helps a bit?

  9. Anders says:

    Hello! Is it possible to camp with own tent along the trek?
    Or are the bulls in the way? :p
    Greetings
    Anders, Sweden

    • Amandine says:

      Hi Anders,
      Great question. I must admit I haven’t seen anybody camping or talking about camping… Maybe because when we were there it was really cold at night!
      Bulls or dogs (!) may be on the way and you may have lots of questioning from locals as I don’t think it is common at all (no allemansrätt here ;-))… I don’t think it is strictly forbidden but I would not necessarily recommend it for this trek, even if I love camping!
      Sorry I can’t say more, hope it helps a bit!
      Amandine

    • Amandine says:

      Hi Janine,
      The sgement Chugchillan-Quilotoa is the best part, so I would recommend that part. When we when, transportation from Chugchillan was not running everyday as I remember so you would need to check before leaving.
      Happy hiking!

  10. Juliette Milner says:

    Hi! great tips thank you, i am going to ecuador in 2 weeks and im planning on doing the quilotoa loop without a guide. My friend and i are bringing a tent and sleeping bags during our trip, i was wondering is it possible to camp outside hostels? are there campsites or you really suggest staying in the hostels?

    thank you so much

    • Amandine says:

      Hi Juliette,
      As much as I love camping I believe hostels are your best options for Quilotoa. There are not many suitable places to camp and that is not common at all for that area.
      Happy hiking!

  11. Julia says:

    Hi! I was just wondering if there are any maps available for these hikes? From what I hear, it is fairly unmarked, so if I don’t have a guide, is it hard to find your way?

    • Amandine says:

      Hi Julia,
      It may exist by now… it has been a couple of years I have been there… When we were there some hostels were making the paths at their own initiatives to help their guests. The segment Chugchillan-Quilotoa was fairly well marked at that time.
      Safe travels!

  12. Phebe says:

    Is there any possible way to do the full loop in two nights? Could we sleep in Insinlivi the first night, Chugchilan the second night, and then hike to Quilotoa, see the lake and get ourselves back to Latacunga and on a bus to banos all on that third day? Or is that unreasonable? We hike a lot and are fairly fit but I am having a hard time telling how brutal that would be! thanks for any insight 🙂 And thanks for all of the great info on here!

    • Amandine says:

      Hi there,
      It is a bit difficult to know how brutal it will be as people react differently to altitude and this can affect your fitness quite a bit.
      I would recommend to check the buses -I was there 2 years ago so won’t have up to date info on that. When we were there we had first to go back to Latacunga, and then from there you could take a bus to Banos. It is possible to get back to Latacunga on the same day if you leave Chugchillian early and don’t wonder too much – you will probably have to skip going down the crater… When you arruve at the crater.
      Worst case you can take the first bus on the next morning…
      Whatever you end up deciding and aiming for, I would recommend to have a bit of margin on your planning the next day… just in case! (Probably valid for any travel plan in South America ;-))
      Enjoy Quilotoa!

  13. Jessica says:

    Thanks so much for this! It sounds incredible! I am planning a trip for my friend and I in Feb but we don’t have very much time.
    Do you think it’s possible to travel from Quito on day 1, hike rest of day 1, hike day 2 and then travel back to Quito on day 3?
    If so, where would you spend your time? Obviously keen to minimise the amount of bus travel in that time, but you seem pretty sure that the crater is incredible, so I would want to include that.
    Any advice would be very much appreciated!
    Thanks,
    Jess

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