Off The Beaten Path in Ecuador: Quilotoa Lagoon



Image from Wikipedia Public Domain

Quilotoa is a water-filled caldera and the most western volcano in the Ecuadorian Andes. This natural wonder was formed by the collapse of this dacite volcano following an eruption about 800 years ago. The best way to see this magnificent sight and really take in the enormity of the place to follow the Quilotoa loop.

Ecuador is often a destination combined with holidays to other destinations in South America. You can often add destinations or combine days trips to other places for example  when you book holidays to Peru from UK.

Often people only visit Ecuador for trips to the Amazon, the coast or the Galapagos islands but there is so much more to this beautiful country. The landscape here is so varied on a trip through the country you won’t believe you are in the same place. To see some of the most remote rugged landscape in Ecuador why not hike the Quilotoa loop?

What is the Quilotoa Loop?

It is one of the best value trips in Ecuador and most often refers to a four-day trek between Sigchos and Quilotoa. There are varying routes but the best way to see the place is a stay of at least three nights

If you don’t have the time or you don’t want to do too much hiking then you can simply catch a bus from Latacunga to Quilotoa for a day-trip. Or, you could take a bus to the town of Chugchilán, spend the night there and then take on the six to eight-hour hike from the village to the lake. If you want to experience what the whole area has to offer, stay in some welcoming local family homes, then you should take the full loop.

The Full Loop

On the first day from Sigchos towards Malinga Pamba will take you around three to four hours and there are no hotels here, so you’ll have to arrange to stay in an indigenous home for the night. The next day you will hike from Malingua Pamba to Quilotoa which takes you between four and five hours and then stay the night in the quaint town of Quilotoa.

The next day trek around the rim of Quilotoa Lake, this is amazing site to see and a spectacular wonder of the natural world. Hike mostly downhill from Quilotoa to Chugchilan which will take you three to four hours, then relax and enjoy the destination of Chugchilan which is a tiny Andean village which breath taking scenery. On the last day hike mostly flat and downhill from Chugchilan to Insinliví, then catch the early morning bus from Isinliví back to Latacunga.

Quilotoa Lagoon

This deep crater lake is the main attraction on the loop, it has a green/blue colour due to the dissolved minerals in the water and is a massive 1.8 miles across. Fumaroles are found on the lake floor bringing rising gases to the surface and there are hot springs occur on the eastern side of the volcano.

The surrounding areas are still home to many indigenous peoples, who farm the local land as they have done for thousands of years. Dotted along the hillsides there are small farm houses and field within the rugged landscapes. You may even meet people wearing traditional Andean clothing usually herding sheep and maybe a llama or two.

The hike along the rim of the crater is about 4.7 miles and will take around four or five hours to walk. The whole way you will have views down into the beautiful deep lake which will change colour depending on the time of the day.

Around the lake Quilotoa you’ll see different animal species too such as the wilderness wolf, fox, rabbits and deer.

Luggage storage

Most hostels along the route will offer luggage storage, but you can also leave your bags in Latacunga and for some it makes the most sense. Some hostels retain your main bags for just $1 per day in a secure room, you may also be able to get a locker for your valuable items too. It is advisable to not carry more gear than you need in a daypack due to the

Food and Water

Almost all the hotels along the route offer full board for about $15 per person. You can hike and stay safe in the knowledge that you can have a breakfast and dinner without an additional charge. You may also be able to get a packed lunch from your hotel, or stock up on snacks before you leave your first destination. Make sure you start each day with a full litre of water per person as it can be hard to find places to fill up or purchase your water en route.

Bringing the right clothing

Make sure you pack your daypack right. Bring along sun creams, a hat, rain jackets and warm clothing/layers for the night time chill. As you are leaving your main bag, you need to make sure you have what you need for the trip, but only what you can carry!

Bring cash

There are no ATMs on the Loop so you will have to bring cash along for all purchases along the route. Travellers cheques won’t be accepted here either, make sure you have local currency.  Check out the local costs before you go, making sure you have enough money for everything you need. You will probably need about £60 or more on top of your accommodation and transport costs.

Ask directions

Check all your directions and ask people along the route too. It is easy to get lost along the way, so dot be shy to make sure you are on the right track. That is if you are travelling independently of course. Driving might be difficult, as the directions are not always spot in but you will always get a friendly direction from a local who knows the roads like the back of their hands.

Get off at the right stop

When you take the bus to Quilotoa you may be tempted to get off at the Welcome to Quilotoa sign, however you are better off waiting until just before the highway and walk into town here. Otherwise, you will be adding another mile or so to your walk.

Have you visited the Quilotoa lagoon?

South America is such a beautiful and varied place to visit and Ecuador should certainly be on your list. You won’t want to go home! This walking trail may not be as famous as some others around the world such as the Appalachian Trail, but it is becoming more and more popular with tourists. Some of the trails are becoming worn so if you do visit make sure you do your bit to give back to the local area. Taking care on the paths, picking up after yourself and looking after the local flora and fauna will help keep tourism here sustainable.

Do you have any tips for fellow travellers wanting to see the Quilotoa Lagoon off the beaten path in Ecuador? What were your experiences? Leave a comment below.


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