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.
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.
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)
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).
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
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.