South America is a hiker’s paradise, and this includes Ecuador. From volcanos, lakes, and cloud forests, this country has it all. One of the most popular activities in Ecuador is the Quilotoa Loop, and it’s easy to see why.
This 3-day trek takes you through the countryside and gives you a unique experience unlike any other in the country. Plus, it’s extremely affordable!
There are not many places in the world where you can hike for 3-days and spend a total of $100 USD.
In this guide, I’ll tell you everything you need to know before hiking the Quilotoa Loop in Ecuador.
What is the Quilotoa Loop?
Quilotoa is a crater lake located in the western Andes of Ecuador. This crater lake was formed after the volcano collapsed 800 years ago. Now, it’s a beautiful lake that receives many visitors year-round.
This hike can take anywhere between two and five days, depending on what you want to see! It’s a great way to see how the indigenous people of Ecuador live. Also a fantastic way to disconnect!
Quilotoa Loop Hike Itinerary
Below, I will briefly describe my itinerary during my 3-day trek to Laguna Quilotoa. This will help give you an overview of what the day will consist of.
- Day 00: Spent the night in Hostal Cafe Tiana
- Day 01: Bus to Sigchos. Hike 6.2 miles to Isinlivi
- Day 02: Hike 7.7 miles from Isinlivi to Chugchillan
- Day 03: Hike 8.3 miles to Laguna Quilotoa from Chugchillan. Then bus back to Latacunga.
Where to Start the Quilotoa Loop
The biggest town that’s closest to Quilotoa Lake is Latacunga. This is where most hikers spend the night before starting the trek the next day.
The town you want to get a bus to is Sigchos. Some people opt to spend the night here in order to get an early head start on the hike the next day.
We had to leave our bags (like many other travelers), and most hostels will allow you to do that. Hostal Cafe Tiana made us pay $1 daily to hold our bags, which I wasn’t used to.
But the amount of people who leave their bags there it makes sense. Also, it’s one of if not the most secure luggage storage I’ve used in Latin America.
Quito to Latacunga
If you’re like us and many other travelers, you’ll head down from Quito after visiting sites like Mitad del Mundo. Quilotoa Loop is high on many backpackers’ bucket lists, so chances are you’ll see their travelers.
During our time on the Quilotoa Loop, we met travelers who rented a car. Even though this isn’t as cheap as taking the bus, renting a car in Ecuador is extremely affordable. Plus, it gives you more freedom.
Latacunga is south of Quito. This means you’ll want to head to the Quitumbe Bus Terminal. This is the nicest bus terminal in Quito, and the workers there are very helpful.
The bus ticket only costs a few dollars and takes between one to two hours (depending on traffic and stops).
This is also the same bus terminal that you will take if you’re going from Quito to Baños. Buses run frequently.
Latacunga to Sigchos
There aren’t many buses that leave Latacunga and head to Sigchos per day. So, if you end up staying the night in town, make sure to take the earliest one. The earliest one leaves between 6 and 6:30. I forget the exact time we left, but your hostel will know for sure.
The next one leaves Latacunga at Sigchos, so it’s apparent you make it on the first one. It only cost a few dollars and took us two and a half hours to reach Sigchos.
I personally loved the bus ride as it took you through the countryside and we got to see a lot of beautiful views.
Things to Know Before Hiking Quilotoa Loop
Planning the Quilotoa Loop hike all on your own can be overwhelming but also a very rewarding experience. That’s why I’m here to help!
In this next section, I will review all the details you need to know before setting out on the adventure of a lifetime.
How Many Days Do You Need for the Quilotoa Loop?
As I mentioned previously, the beauty of this trek is that you can do it however fast or long you want. The most common time frame is three days, which I highly recommend.
I’ve heard of people doing it in two days, which is too fast to enjoy everything this hike offers. Also, if you’re not used to the altitude, this will be difficult even in three days.
If you want to add on extra days, then you totally can. From what I’ve heard from everyone, three days is the perfect time to enjoy this loop hike.
Best Time of the Year to Hike the Quilotoa Loop?
You can hike Quilotoa Loop year-round since Ecuador is located on the Equator. This helps keep the weather consistent. The seasons around this area are one of two: rainy and dry.
It’s normally best to try and do hikes during the dry season, so you’re hiking in the rain. We will use the Quilotoa Loop at the end of July and the beginning of August. The weather was perfect for us.
The dry season in Ecuador lasts from June to September. The weather is colder during these months, but I think it’s worth it to avoid the rain.
Even though it’s considered the winter months, the sun was shining all day, and we often wore short sleeves on the earlier days of the trek. Just don’t forget your sunscreen!
Since you’ll be at a higher elevation, the UV is much higher, and you’ll be at an increased risk of sunburn. Trust me, I learned this firsthand. Don’t ruin your trip by getting too much sun!
How Long is the Quilotoa Loop?
We followed Alltrails for most of the 3-day hike, and it came out to 21.8 miles or 35km. On top of this, it was a total of 7,818 feet of elevation gain.
This can vary slightly depending on your route and how many days you choose to do.
Where to Store Luggage in Latacunga
Where to store your luggage might be your biggest worry if you plan to hike the Quilotoa Loop. Well, fear not, as there’s an easy solution to this.
Most hotels or hostels will allow you to keep your luggage overnight, especially in Latacunga. This is a very popular activity; they want you to stay at their business before and after.
We stayed at Hostal Cafe Tiana, and storing our luggage cost us $1 daily. This was the first time I’d ever paid to store anything at a hostel. It wasn’t a big deal because I knew our items were safe.
If you don’t want to pay to keep your luggage in Latacunga, other hostels or hotels will do it for free.
What About Food?
We had the same question about what to do about food during the trek. This is an extremely popular activity, so many accommodations along the way sell packaged lunches.
This was fantastic because all we had to worry about about snacks in Latacunga before we left.
We stayed at the Hostal Taita Cristobal and it was perfect. Both of the accommodations we stayed at came with free breakfast and dinner.
On top of that, we bought a sandwich for the next day for only $1. You can’t beat it!
Is Quilotoa Loop Hike Safe?
Quilotoa Loop is a safe activity; we never felt in danger while hiking. The only thing I read about were some aggressive dogs along the trail.
We never encountered these dogs, but it’s always best to stay aware of your surroundings when hiking in Latin America.
If you think a dog is close, grab a rock or stick to scare them. This normally works, or you might have to take a different route. It’s not worth getting bit!
Quilotoa Loop Trek Map & Hiking Details
- Distance: This hike is a 21.8-mile loop hike. This number is for the hike to the lake.
- Duration: On average, it will take people three days to finish. This depends on your fitness level and how long you stay at each destination.
- Difficulty: I’d rank this hike easy to moderate because while there are steep sections, it’s also flat in many areas.
- Incline: The elevation for this hike is around 7818 feet or 2382 meters.
- Hiking Guide: A guide is not needed for this hike and is easily accessible by the public
Other Fun Activities in Ecuador:
- Rucu Pichincha Hike: This hike is excellent for those looking to acclimatize while staying in Quito.
- Cajas National Park: A unique experience located right outside of Cuenca.
- Ruta de las Cascadas: During this epic bike ride, you’ll see up to six waterfalls!
- Things to do in Baños: This is the adventure capital of Ecuador and is a MUST on your itinerary.
How to Visit Laguna Quilotoa by Bus
Maybe after reading this article, you decided to take a day trip to Laguna Quilotoa instead of trekking for three days. That’s understandable! It’s hard to fit something like this into most itineraries.
If you stay in Latacunga, you must head to the Latacunga Bus Terminal first. It’s easy to walk here from town, which we did multiple times.
Buses run frequently to Laguna Quilotoa and cost around $3 USD. The bus ride will take between 2 to 3 hours.
If you want, you can bring your luggage and stay the night at Laguna Quilotoa at one of the great accommodations like Runa Wasi!
Best Places to Stay Along the Quilotoa Loop Trek
If you go the same route as we did, finding a place to stay in Isinlivi and Chugchillan won’t be difficult. I loved the accommodation along the Quilotoa Loop trek, but my favorite place was in Sigchos.
Most of these accommodations on this list will include free breakfast and free lunch. Below are a few options from both nights along the trek.
Note: If you plan to stay the night in Sigchos, look into staying at the Starlight Inn. This is located right next to the beginning of the trail.
Best Places to Stay in Isinlivi
- Hostal Taita Cristobal: This is where we stayed, and we absolutely loved it! The place was clean, and the people were lovely. It came with dinner and breakfast for around $18 USD each. We could also purchase sandwiches for $1 or a full lunchbox for $3.50.
- Llullu Llama Mountain Lodge: This next lodge might be the most famous on the entire Trek. Llullu llama is famous for its jacuzzi and incredible-looking building. Dinner & breakfast is also included here.
Best Places to Stay in Chugchillan:
- Hostal Cloud Forest: This hostal is where we stayed and is the most popular spot in Chugchillan. They off a fantastic dinner and breakfast. Their call to fame is cheap private rooms and a sauna!
- Hostal el Vaquero: El Vaquero is another popular option when staying in Chugchillan. This spot comes with amazing mountain views and your typical dinner + breakfast.
- Lagoon Hotel: This is another great option in Chugchillan. They offer high-speed internet and have a restaurant on site serving American, Argentinian, and Italian cuisine.
Places to Stay in Quilotoa:
- Runa Wasi: I talked about this spot at Quilotoa earlier, and I think it’s one of the best! The price is reasonable they offer free dinner & breakfast.
- Hostería Chukirawa: This one is around the same price as Chukirawa and offers free breakfast and dinner. The fireplace here is nice and cozy while being located near the lake!
Things to Bring for the Quilotoa Loop
Quilotoa Loop is a long trek that requires you to come prepared. There’s nothing fun about doing a three-day hike without the correct gear.
Below are some of my favorite gear I hike with and the items I bring daily while traveling in South America.
What’s the Best Route to Take?
The beauty of the Quilotoa Loop trek is that you can adjust the route however you please. I met people at our hostel in Isinlivi who drove to our hostel and then hiked for two days to Laguna Quilotoa.
Afterward, they got a taxi back to spend the night at Isinlivi and drove off the next day. The most popular route is to hike from Isinlivi to Chugchillan for three days and then to Quilotoa.
If you want, you can also do this whole route in reverse, starting at Laguna Quilotoa. However, I don’t recommend this because it’s nice having the lake as a reward at the end.
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My Experience Hiking the Quilotoa Loop
I loved hiking this three-day loop and seeing a different side of Ecuador that I didn’t experience last time. The views of the valley were unreal, and the people we met even better.
Quilotoa Loop is an adventure you must do at some point when visiting this amazing country. I’ll now go over day by day my experience of hiking from town to town.
Day 1: Sigchos to Isinlivi (6.2 miles/9.9km)
The first day of this three-day adventure started by waking up early in Latacunga and catching the bus to Sigchos. There were frequent stops, so the bus took us almost three hours to arrive.
The majority of the trail on day 1 was flat and not that hard. It could seem harder for some if you’re not properly acclimated to the altitude.
You’ll be hiking in the upper 3,000 meters throughout the hike, and Laguna Quilotoa sits at 3,914 meters.
There is one section during the hike that is extremely steep. Around the 3.7-mile mark, you’ll cross a bridge. After this bridge, you’ll hike 1,200 (365 meters) feet of elevation gain in 1.3 miles.
This section is tough but doable. We saw some fellow hikers lying down and resting because of how hard it was. But don’t worry because the last mile is flat and easy.
You’ll pretty much be walking on a road and then cut through a small village alongside the road. We passed a handful of sheep and dogs here, but everything went well.
You can stay on the road if that is a better option for you. It won’t take too much longer, but there are some people selling snacks and drinks along this route.
After arriving at our hostel, we relaxed and grabbed a drink from their connected convenience store. People were already hanging out, and the vibe was quiet and nice.
We then grabbed some beers and played cards until it was time to eat dinner. Dinner was fantastic that always starts out with soup.
Then, it was time to head to bed because we knew day two would be long.
Day 2: Isinlivi to Chugchillan (7.7 miles/12.4 km)
Day two started by waking up and having breakfast with the same group as the night before. Hostal Taita Cristobal fed us properly and ensured we were ready for our day two trek!
If you want, you can purchase a boxed lunch for $3.50; if you only need a sandwich like us, they are only $1 USD. These sandwiches were perfect and a deal for us.
They also have vegetarian options if that’s something you’re looking for!
One of the best things about doing this trek compared to a similar one in Colca Canyon in Peru is that these hostals offered free water.
We could fill our camelbacks (around 2-2.5 liters) for free. This is such a huge perk, making these accommodations even better.
There are a few different routes that you can take on day two, and there’s a map on one of the doors in the dining room.
All roads lead the same way, so we just initially followed Alltrails and then chose a potentially different route using mapsme.
There will be signs throughout the trail that are red & yellow, leading you to the right path if worse comes to worse.
Day two was my favorite of the three, as we were hiking through valleys, small villages, bridges, and ridges. There was no short of excitement on this day!
There is one decision you’ll have to make later on day two, depending on what time of the year you’re hiking.
You’ll hike through one of the last villages and see signs of a safer route. This has to do with potential rocks falling.
We took the “dangerous” route as we headed from other hikers at our hostal on day one, and most went this route.
I think during the dry season, there’s no scare of anything bad happening, but I could see in certain sections that if it were to be raining heavily, I wouldn’t want to be there.
But overall, the trail for us was perfect on day two, and we arrived at our hostal around 2 pm to relax and play some cards!
Day 3: Chugchillan to Laguna Quilotoa (8.3 miles/13.3 km)
This is it. The last day of the famous Quilotoa Loop trek! This was the hardest day for us for multiple reasons.
- We were the most tired on this day (for obvious reasons)
- The elevation gain towards the end of this day when you go towards Laguna Quilotoa is a lot
We heard about dogs toward the end of this day, but we didn’t see any. I think the path that Alltrails takes you is a good and safe path besides one part…
If you don’t want to hop over a river or slide across a landslide, then it’s a good idea you ask your hostel for a newer, safer route.
We were one group of two that we saw going the same route as us. I never felt completely unsafe, but I suggest avoiding this section if you are hiking the Quilotoa Loop during the rainy season.
If you want not to take the extreme route, keep a close eye on mapsme. When you start getting close to the river about an hour in, look for another route.
This should be pretty easy to follow. If not, then you’ll head down to the river and come along your first obstacle. This bridge was broken, and we had to jump across the river.
The next tough part was when we slid across a broken path because of a previous mudslide. After these two obstacles, the trail goes straight uphill and then to a road.
The path is relatively flattish until you get close to Laguna Quilotoa, where the elevation starts to kick in again.
How to Get Back to Latacunga from Laguna Quilotoa
Bus from Laguna Quilotoa to Latacunga
Getting back to Latacunga from Quilotoa was really easy for us, and we caught the bus just in time. As I said previously, this is a popular place to visit, so there are buses running frequently.
Once you get into town, you’ll want to keep down on that road for a few minutes. If you look on Mapsme, you’ll see where the bus will be.
We asked someone for directions just to be sure, but it’ll be right past the large sign when entering Quilotoa.
Thankfully, the bus was sitting right there, and we hopped on right away and left.
There will be taxis asking if you want a ride, but the price for the bus was only a few dollars and just as comfortable.
Taxi from Laguna Quilotoa to Latacunga
There will be taxis if you don’t want to take the bus from Quilotoa to Latacunga. It is a two-hour drive, so it’ll be pricey. The cost will range from $20 to $30.
This is ideal if you’re short on time or have a lot of luggage with you. Uber might be another option, but I didn’t see many of those out there.
Overall, our experience on the bus was pleasant, and everywhere in Ecuador. Just make sure to keep an eye on your small personal items at all times.
FAQs about the Quilotoa Loop Trek
How Long Does it Take to Hike the Quilotoa Loop?
Most people will take three days and two nights to hike the traditional Quilotoa Loop route. With that being said, it’s possible to do it in two or five days.
It’s all up to you how long you want to spend in each location or if you want to see how fast you can complete this loop!
Is the Quilotoa Loop Worth It?
Hiking the Quilotoa Loop was one of my favorite things while traveling through Ecuador and is definitely worth it!
You get to see different parts of the country that you won’t normally get to, and it’s also an extremely affordable 3-day trek. In other countries, something like this could cost 5x as much!
How Hard is the Quilotoa Loop?
Hiking the Quilotoa Loop isn’t necessarily hard, but it’s not easy either. This all depends on your fitness level and how acclimatized you are to the altitude.
Some parts of the trek become steep, but plenty of flat sections exist. I suggest spending a few days in Quito before starting this trek.
Can you do the Quilotoa Loop in 2 days?
It is possible to do the Quilotoa Loop trek in 2 days, but I don’t recommend it. One of the best things about this trek is that you can take in the different scenery along the way and hike through small villages.
Speedrunning is something that can be good for those overachievers, but you do miss out on some of the experience when hiking that fast.
What Time of Year is Best for Quilotoa Loop?
The best time of the year to hike Quilotoa Loop would be during the dry season. This normally lasts from June to September.
Hiking during the dry season will make the trek more enjoyable and less dangerous. It’s still possible to hike during the rainy season, but you’ll have to check ahead for the weather.
Can You Swim in Quilotoa Loop?
This is a big no! Laguna Quilotoa is a crater lake, so not only is it deep and very cold, but there are a lot of harmful minerals in the lake.
It was the windiest I’ve seen in Ecuador when we visited, so I couldn’t imagine swimming in the lake either way.
How Much is the Entry Fee for Quilotoa?
If hiking to Quilotoa, you will have no entry fee. You’ll only have to pay an “entry” fee when arriving by bus or car.
This entry fee is essentially a parking pass with bathroom access. It costs $2 and isn’t a bad price considering what they could charge you if they wanted.
Final Thoughts on Hiking the Quilotoa Loop
I wasn’t sure if we were going to have enough time to hike the entirety of the Quilotoa Loop, but I’m so glad we did. The experience of hiking through the countryside of Ecuador and seeing how life goes on in these places was surreal. I was also extremely impressed by the accommodations and how nice everyone was. The biggest perk was the fact that these hostals included dinner & breakfast. It made it seem like a nice setup tour, except for everything I planned and 5x cheaper. If I did this trek again, I’d probably try staying at the Llullu Llama mountain lodge to see what all the hype was about. With that being said, you can’t go wrong with whichever accommodation you choose.
Thank you for reading my guide on hiking the Quilotoa Loop in Ecuador. I hope this guide has helped you plan this amazing adventure and you were able to ease it into your itinerary.