Ecuador (Republic of Ecuador)

Languages: Spanish

Currencies: USD · United States dollar ($)

Capitol: Quito

Continents: South America

Borders: Peru, Colombia

More useful information

Area: 276,841km2

Population: 17,643,060

Traffic/driving side: right

Landlocked country: No

Independent country: Yes

United Nations member: Yes

IDD Prefix: +593

Timezones: UTC-06:00, UTC-05:00

Last updated on November 30, 2023

Hiking Quilotoa Loop Crater Lake in Cotopaxi Province is probably one of the greatest and most spectacular trails in Ecuador. Some sources say it’s the most popular hike in Ecuador since you can walk around the rim of the volcano or go kayaking across the lagoon crater lake .. if visibility allows – read my story 😉

Hiking Quilotoa loop in Ecuador.

The trail is quite easy and accessible all year round – but altitude is the challenge. Quilotoa crater is located at the altitude of 3914 metres. Make sure you have enough preparation and acclimatization before approaching this trail. Let me guide you how to get to Quilotoa by public transport and then you can follow some advise on a proper acclimatization to ease your hikes in Ecuador.

How to get to Quilotoa by bus?

It’s very easy to get to Quilotoa by a public transport. No matter which hiking route you are taking toward Quilotoa – first you need to reach Latacunga city. There’s a direct bus from Quito to Latacunga. If you’re traveling from Quito airport, you need to take a bus to Quitombe terminal (ticket 2$ per person). Just when you go outside the airport terminal – there are 3 bus places: 

1. Rio Coca (central station) 

2. Quitombe – ask any driver if you need to make sure it’s the right bus. And from Quitombe take a bus to Latacunga, the ride takes about 2h. Buses for Latacunga also leave Quito’s Terminal Terrestre Cumandá.

Hiking Quilotoa

Hiking routes to Quilotoa Loop.

There are many hiking options toward Quilotoa starting from 1-day to multi-days hiking trails across stunning landscapes of Ecuadorian Andes. For 1-day hikes there are two most popular routes:

  1. Approaching Quilotoa Loop from the north – starting in Chugchilan village (at 3200m). There is a direct bus from Latatunga to Chugchilan Village (drive takes 2.5h),
  2. Approaching Quilotoa from the south from Zumbahua village – which was my trail and it was fabulous! We took a bus at 8am from Latacunga bus terminal to Zumbagua village – buses run every hour. From there we decided to trek about 12 km along magnificent Andean scenery. You will pass many villages and have a chance to observe local people ordinary living and working style and habbits. Ecuadorians are lovely, friendly people. There are five major ethnic groups in Ecuador – Mestizo (75% of the population), European, Afroecuadorian, Amerindian, and Montubio. We went to greet, speak and take photos with them – it was actually one of the best part of the whole trip. 

Zumbagua town - the starting point.

The bus dropped us off in Zumbagua – lovely, small village located around 12 kilometres from Quiolotoa Crater. Walking through Zumbagua we saw many, really nice looking hostels, completely abandoned.. There was no sign of tourists, nobody was there and all seemed to be closed long time ago due to lack of visitors.

Hiking Quilotoa Loop from the south Zumbagua town.

Trekking scenery is amazing, one of the best in Sierra with great view of Cotopaxi (if the weather is no cloudy!). On the way you’ll see an amazing Toachi River Canion with a popular viewing point (on the photo). At the very end we decided to hitch hike! One of the private pickup trucks gave us a lift up to Quilotoa crater starting point. It was such an amazing adventure – you got to try this! Private transportation is probably the easiest way to travel toward Quilotoa Loop, unless you are taking a tour – which are quite well organized!

When is the best time to hike Quilotoa loop crater lake?

The best time to hike Quilotoa is during dry months from July to September. But it’s impossible to predict weather conditions for this region and altitude. We have reached Quilotoa in October and although it was dry the crater completely sank in clouds. The visibility was great along the whole 12 kilometres trail toward Quilotoa, but once we reached the starting point with a ticket office – the visibility went down to 3 metres! We asked the guy in the ticket booth and he said – this is the beauty of the nature 😉 He encouraged us to hike to the crater lake saying the clouds might lift up and unveil a little more of the volcano landscape. And he was right, we did get to see the lake after few hours spent around the crater, however the colour was nothing like during sunny weather. 

Hiking Quilotoa Loop - Best Tours options:

Taking a tour is a very good idea for Quilotoa, since all transportation and guidance is organized and the options are very affordable:

Quilotoa hike 3914m to the crater lake.

Make sure you have warm clothes while hiking Quilotoa – it might be very cold at the altitude of 3914m. The weather wasn’t too gentle, it got really cloudy when we reached the top. There’s a very nice small village near the starting point with various souvenirs – highly recommend this place – lovely stuff, great quality and price. I bought there my favourite blanket and one of the warmest and nicest scarfs I’ve ever had! I haven’t come across similar scarfs in other parts of Ecuador, really good spot for unique souvenirs (see photo above). 

The visibility at this point was poor, once we reached the ticket office it was even worse! 😉 People will be offering horseback riding but I would never recommend this type of attractions. The animals may be overworked and it’s not easy to cope at this altitude. 

Quilotoa Volcanic Lake at the elevation of 3914 m.

Standing on the rim of the valcano we could see nothing except ourselves! The visibility was almost zero.. You can hike down toward the crater lake via sandy path. It takes about 30 minutes to walk down. The best part of the hike is:

  • You can hike around of the lagoon crater. The crater has 3 km in diameter and it’s considered as an active volcano. Quilotoa can be hiked all year and it’s a perfect area for high altitude cardio-training.
  • Hire a kayak to explore the crater lake on your own.

Hiking Quilotoa Loop Crater Lake without a guide.

Wuilotoa hike is doable on your own, the path down toward the crater lake is pretty straighforward and guide is not necessary. If you feel more safe to be accompanied by someone experienced, I would advise booking an organized tour. 

What’s more important is the preparation for the hike. If you want to hike down to the crater lake level make sure you are fit enough to accomplish the whole trail. It is a strenuous hike due to high altitude and the path from the rim down to the bottom of the lake is quite steep. Hiking back is more difficult than going down. 

Before doing the trek, I would highly recommend staying in Quito for few days for a proper acclimatization, especially if you plan to hike to the bottom of the crater. Getting down takes 30 minutes but going back at least an hour, even though it’s only 2 kilometres distance.

Donkeys and horses are available to take you back, but hiring animals is not my thing, as they are usually overworked. 

Getting back to Latacunga: we took a taxi for to Zumbagua to the bus stop, it’s only $4. Tell a driver to drop you off near a bus stop toward Latacunga (it’s on the main road in the centre of the village). Bus ticket from Zumbagua costs 1.5$, no point in paying 10$ per person for a taxi to Latacunga.

Top rated hotels in Quito for a safe journey!

Is there an entry fee to Quilotoa?

There was no entry fee at the time we were hiking (October 2020). The guy in the small entry booth was very friendly. He encouraged us to believe the weather will improve and the sky will clear up by the time we reach the crater. And it did, visibility was up to 20 metres above the lake surface. 😉

Anyway, this was an incredible hiking day. I highly recommend 1-day to multi-day trek toward Quilotoa. Pick multi-day trekking for unforgettable adventures along Andes landscapes. Multi-day treks will lead you through local villages and mountain towns like: Sighos (3900m), Chugchilan (3200m) and Saquisilí.

Check Hiking essentials for every adventurer!

Quilotoa cultivated hill
Sassari Sardinia

Hey - I'm Eva!

Hiker, adventurous traveler and the author of this blog. My biggest joy is mountaineering and writing reportage travel stories here on this blog, to help you create a unique travel experience. Traveling is freedom, allows you seeing the world truly, meet communities, grow. Taste it!

Leave a Comment