How to Hike the Quilotoa Loop in Ecuador (Ultimate Guide)
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The Quilotoa Loop hike is one of the most popular hikes in Ecuador that leads you to Laguna Quilotoa – a large crater lake left behind after the Quilotoa volcano erupted about 800 years ago! This trek is one of the most popular for a reason. It’s absolutely stunning! In this post, I’m sharing everything you need to know to plan the perfect Quilotoa Loop trek.
First of all, the multi-day Quilotoa Loop hike is technically a loop because you will start and end in Latacunga, but part of that loop is by bus and not entirely on foot. You don’t actually hike in a loop.
It’s also possible to hike a loop around the rim of the crater. This is not to be confused with the main Laguna Quilotota 3-day trek that we’ll be talking about in this blog post.
Quick Quilotoa Loop Hike Itinerary
Here’s the quick itinerary for the hike we did. I provide more details and logistics for each leg of the trip below.
- Pre-hike: Bus from Latacunga to Sigchos
- Day 1: Start in Sigchos and hike to Isinlivi
- Day 2: Isinlivi to Chugchilan
- Day 3: Chugchilan to Quilotoa
- Post-hike: Bus from Quilotoa to Latacunga to complete the “loop”.
Quilotoa Loop Trek Map
While the trail is very easy to navigate and there are plenty of signs, I highly recommend having the Gaia GPS app to reference along the way.
There are a lot of little turns and Gaia was great to confirm that we were going the right way, track our progress, and see the elevation topo lines.
When you have WiFi, you can download maps for offline use during the day. You can also set waypoints. For example, we put a marker on the map for each one of our hostels.
How many days do you need to hike to Laguna Quilotoa?
The Quilotoa Loop hike can be done in 3 days of hiking, but you certainly can make it into a longer trek with days off in between. I met a guy who did it in 2 days, but he didn’t recommend it, and nor do I.
With at least 3 days, you have plenty of time to enjoy the hike and not be too rushed and completely exhausted at the end of the day.
When is the best time of year to hike the Quilotoa Loop?
Since Ecuador is located on the equator, the weather is fairly consistent throughout the year, but they do have seasons – a rainy season and a dry season. Different regions of the country have slightly different climates and seasons too.
In the Andes Mountains, average daily temperatures are around 59°F (15°C) but temperatures can be cooler at higher elevations. The dry season in the region is from June through September. The rainy season is from October through May.
Even in the rainy season, most days are sunny in the mornings with storms and rain arriving in the afternoons.
We hiked the Quilotoa Loop in April and the weather was awesome. We got started in the morning each day and the weather was sunny and nice for hiking. The afternoons did have clouds and a little rain here and there, but overall we had great weather on our trek and were at the hostel by the time any weather rolled in.
Which direction should you hike the Quilotoa Loop?
I recommend starting in Sigchos and ending at the crater in Quilotoa. Yes, this is the harder direction because you have more total elevation gain, but it is so worth it! Saving the crater for the end was such a reward after 3 long days of hiking. It made the crater even more special!
I did meet a few people who hiked in the opposite direction, so that’s definitely an option, but I think it would be a little weird to end in Sigchos and then just hop on a bus.
How long is the Quilotoa Loop?
According to my GPS track, we hiked a total of 21.72 miles (35 km) from Sigchos to Quilotoa with a 7239 feet (2206 meter) ascent.
Here is a breakdown of each day:
- Day 1 Sigchos to Isinlivi – 6.16 miles, 1451 feet ascent (9.9 km, 442 meters)
- Day 2 Isinlivi to Chugchillan – 7.33 miles, 2589 feet ascent (11.8 km, 789 meters)
- Day 3 Chugchillan to Quilotoa – 8.23 miles, 3199 feet accent (13.2 km, 975 meters)
How to Hike the Quilotoa Loop
Now that you have the overview of the trek, let’s dive into the details of each section and some places to stay along the way!
Pre-hike: Bus from Latacunga to Sigchos
Since the official trail starts in the small mountain town of Sigchos, you’ll have to make your way there first. There are buses that leave from the Latacunga bus station to Sigchos regularly. It seems that bus schedules change frequently, so I don’t have exact times here.
There’s a nice grocery store next to the Latacunga bus station so this is a good place to stop and pick up any snacks you’ll want on the trail.
Many people choose to leave their bags and luggage at a hostel in Latacunga and catch the bus in the morning to Sigchos. Since this is a challenging trek, there’s no point in carrying a heavy backpack with a bunch of items that you don’t need, so for most people, it makes sense to leave bags in Latacunga.
Nick and I didn’t have any extra luggage to leave behind, so we decided to go straight to Sigchos and spend a night there instead of in Latacunga. This way we could wake up in the morning and start the hike right away, no need to hop on a bus first.
The bus ride from Latacunga to Sigchos is about 2 hours. It’s a beautiful windy drive through the countryside.
We were so happy with our decision to get to Sigchos the day before. It was nice to wake up and start hiking. If you do stay in Latacunga and take the bus in the morning, you’ll still have plenty of time for hiking as long as you catch an early bus.
Where we stayed in Sigchos:
- EL TRAPICHE – We loved El Trapiche. The family was so welcoming and the food was delicious! Breakfast is included and dinner is just a couple of dollars and definitely recommended. In the morning, we woke up and got an early start on the trail.
Hike Day 1: Sigshos to Isinlivi
We started hiking at about 8 am in Sigchos and it took us about 4.5 hours to get to the town of Isinlivi. The hike was about 6 miles and 1400 ft of elevation gain. This was the easiest day of the trek. Nick and I stopped a lot to film and take photos, so keep that in mind if you use our time as a reference.
The hike was beautiful the entire way. We passed so many farms, cows, and lush greenery. You start with a steady downhill into the valley and then it’s a steep uphill to the small town of Isinlivi.
Where to stay in Isinlivi:
- Llullu Llama Mountain Lodge – We stayed here and it was beautiful! (Pictured above.) This was the nicest place we stayed on our entire trip in Ecuador. The food, views, people, and rooms were so beautiful. They even have a hot tub that was very relaxing after the day of hiking. Breakfast and dinner is included. You can purchased a to-go lunch for the following day. Nick and I split a to-go lunch and it was delicous! If you want to do this hike at a slower pace, I would stay a second night here and relax!
- Hostal Taita Cristóbal – This hostel is right next door. It provides dinner and breakfast. They also have to-go lunches available for purchase. I heard from other hikers that this was also a very nice hostel.
Hike Day 2: Inslivini to Chugchilan
According to my hiking track in Gaia GPS, we hiked 7.3 miles and gained 2583 ft of elevation on day 2. From hostel to hostel it took us 6 hours, but again, this is with a lot of stops for filming and photos.
This day is definietly harder than the first one. We started with breakfast at the Llullu Llama lodge and it was delicious – eggs, bread with butter and jam, fresh fruit, granola, and yogurt… a good start to the day!
There are basically 2 huge climbs this day and a whole lot of downhill.
The hike is georgous the entire way with viewpoints and a suspension brigde at the bottom of the valley. After you cross the suspension brigde, you start a steady uphill to the small town of Itualo where you’ll see a sign for “Chugchillan Safe Way”. You also can continue straight. We decided to take the “Safe Way” where we stopped for lunch before the big climb.
The climb was very steep on loose soft dirt and rocks. If it was wet or raining, it would have been a little scarier, but overall it was totally fine, just very steep!!
After the steep climb out of the valley, we had to walk on the road for about a mile to get to the hostel. The “safe way” dumps you out on the road eariler than the other trail. Be really careful on the road!! The cars and buses drive fast around the corners so stay alert.
Where to Stay in Chugchilan:
- Cloud Forest Hostel – This is where we stayed and it was really nice and a lot of fun because many of the other hikers also stayed here. Breakfast and dinner are included and you can pay for a to-go lunch for the following day.
- Hostal El Vaquero – We hiked right by this hostel and the views looked beautiful. It’s a little more on the edge of town, but seemed quieter and really nice.
Hike Day 3: Chugchilan to Quilotoa
Breakfast at the Cloud Forest started at 7 am so we were able to eat and get an early start to the day. The hike started easy with some downhill and then of course, a very steep uphill followed.
The hike continues with the same up and down through the countryside as the previous days, but you are getting higher and higher in elevation, which can make it more challenging.
You have a steady uphill climb to the top of the crater and what a view you’re greeted with!! All at once you can see the Laguna Quilotoa and it is even better in person.
At this point, you still have another mile or so around the crater to get to the town of Quilotoa, so make sure you don’t completely relax here because there’s still some hiking to do!
Nick and all the others I talked to on the hike thought that Day 3 was the hardest. I felt more tired after the second day, but overall day 3 is more challenging.
Quilotoa is a very touristy town with shops, restaurants and plenty of lodging options.
Where to Stay in Quilotoa:
- Hosteria Alpaka Quilotoa – This is where we stayed and we loved it! Breakfast and dinner was included and the food was delicious and the staff was really friendly and welcoming! It was close to the crater so we could walk back for sunset and sunrise the following morning.
- Hostería Chukirawa – This is another hostel very close to the crater with breakfast and dinner included.
Post-hike: Bus from Quilotoa to Latacunga
This is how you finish the “loop”. After you get to the town of Quilotoa, you can take a bus back to Latacunga. The buses run regularly during the day, but when I was there, the last bus to leave Quilotoa was at 5 pm. Again, this probably has changed by now, but in general, I don’t think the buses leave late in the evening, so make sure you plan to get out of town earlier if needed.
The bus ride to Latacunga was about 1.5 hours. From there you can head back to your hostel to get your bags if you left them behind and head off to your next adventure!
Things to Know Before Hiking the Quilotoa Loop:
- The entire trail is pretty much steep uphill or steep downhill, there’s not much in between! Make sure you’re physically prepared for that type of intense hiking at high elevation because it really does start to take a toll. Nick and I both followed my HikerFit training program to prepare for this hike and we felt great. Yes, it was challenging at times, but we never got sore and didn’t feel too affected by the elevation.
- Acclimate first if you can. The highest you climb on this trek is around 12,700 feet (3871 meters). Try to spend a couple of days at a higher elevation before you attempt this hike. For example, if you fly into Quito, spend a day or two there before hiking. We spent a few days in Banos before starting the trek, and while that wasn’t nearly as high, it’s better than nothing.
- Hydration makes a HUGE difference in how you feel on the hike and how well your body can acclimate to the elevation. Drink and carry plenty of water and electrolytes every day.
- You’ll encounter many stray dogs along the way. I didn’t run into any issues or aggressiveness with the dogs, but it’s always a good idea to be aware.
- Start hiking early in the morning. Most of the hostels have breakfast between 7-8 and we got hiking right after that. Thunderstorms tend to roll in in the afternoon, so it’s nice to get the bulk of the hiking done in the first half of the day.
- You cannot swim in or drink the water in the crater due to the unhealthy minerals that are present.
What to Pack for Hiking the Quilotoa Loop:
Since you’ll be hiking through the countryside for days, you’ll want all your usual hiking gear. This includes things like a comfortable backpack, maps and navigation, a first aid kit, sun protection, good hiking boots, survival gear, water reservoir, and a headlamp.
You’re never really too far from some sort of civilization along the trail, but it’s always better to be prepared with the right gear!
For clothing, I wore the same thing all three days. For pants, I have the Kuhl FreeFlex Roll Up pants and they are really lightweight and comfortable on the trail. I wore merino wool underwear with those pants.
For a hiking shirt, I chose to wear a long-sleeve shirt with UPF protection (this is similar). I like this shirt because it’s moisture wicking, quick drying, and it has UPF protection with a hood. I don’t like sunscreen, so when hiking at high elevation with a lot of sun, this shirt is great!
Another option for hiking and travel that I love is merino wool t-shirts. They are moisture-wicking, insulate even when wet and sweaty, and they don’t stink, so they’re a great option for multi-day hikes.
I also had a lightweight jacket which I used at the rim because it was windy and cold at night!
Lastly, make sure you have some sort of rain protection and good footwear.
Food and Water
The hostels that we stayed at on the first and second night both provided the option to purchase a to-go lunch for the following day. In addition to the lunches, we also always packed extra snacks like nuts, dried fruits, and chocolate that we found at the grocery store.
For hydration, I packed a ton of electrolyte packets from home. Throughout the day I drank water with electrolytes to stay hydrated. Hydration is so important, especially when hiking at high elevations. Salty snacks are also a good idea to have on hand.
Make sure you carry enough water for the day! Yes it might make your backpack heavier, but you don’t want to get dehydrated! I carried a full water reservoir each day.
Video from our Quilotoa Loop 3-Day Trek:
Other Ways to see the Laguna Quilotoa in Ecuador
If you don’t want to do the full 3-day trek, you can still experience the crater. There are buses everyday that take you from Latacunga directly to Quilotoa. Once you’re in the town, you can check out the overlooks or go on a hike.
There’s the option to hike from the rim down to the lake. I did this the following morning after completing the trek. It took about 30 minutes to get down and 50 minutes to get back up.
At the bottom you can rent canoes to paddle on the water, but keep in mind that you cannot swim in the lake. The minerals in the lake are not healthy. The hike up is steep, so make sure you save some energy for that!
There’s also a loop hike all the way around the rim of the crater if you want more of a full day hike.
If you’re in Quito, it’s also possible to take a day tour from Quito to Quilotoa. Many of the hostels in Quito have information on this.
That’s my complete guide to the Quilotoa Loop Trail!
I hope this is helpful as you’re planning your own journey and if you have any questions or information you’d like me to add to the post, please comment below.
I hope you have a great hike! This was one of the most fun and rewarding backpacking trips I’ve ever done.