Hiking Quilotoa loop in Cotopaxi Province is probably one of the greatest and most spectacular trips in Ecuador. The trail is quite easy on the altitude above 3200 m and it’s accessible all year.
How to get to Quilotoa?
It’s very easy to get to Quilotoa. Latacunga is the largest nearby city from Quilotoa. 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 (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 crater lake in October.
We started our trek from Latacunga early in the morning. We took a bus at 8 am from Latacunga bus terminal to Zumbagua. Buses run every hour. And decided to trek from there about 12 km. Walking through Zumbagua we saw all those nice looking abandoned hostels. Like there was nobody in there and they seemed to be closed long time ago due to lack of tourists. The trekking scenery is amazing, one of the best in Sierra with great view of Cotopaxi (if there are no clouds! We weren’t so lucky). On the way there’s a nice Toachi River Canion. After half of the way we stopped one of the private pickup trucks which gave us a lift up to Quilotoa crater. Private transportation is probably the easiest way to travel around the Quilotoa Loop. Be aware it might be very cold at this altitude of 3570 m. The weather wasn’t too gentle as lots of clouds appeared when we reached the top. There’s a very nice small village with various souvenirs but they are very nice and quite good price. I was searching for similar scarfs on the other parts of Ecuador and couldn’t find equally nice one.
Quilotoa Volcanic Lake at the elevation of 3914 m.
Standing on the top we could actually see nothing except ourselves ? Obviously we wanted to take a steep and sandy path to the crater, where the visibility turned out to be much better. You can also take a hike around the perimeter of the lagoon. The crater has 3 km in diameter and it’s considered as active volcano. Quilotoa can be hiked all year and it’s a perfect field for high altitude cardio-training. There was no entry fee at the time we were hiking. The guy in the small booth was very friendly and helpful, giving us hope the sky will clear up by the time we reach the crater. And it did, 20 metres above the water surface. After eating some snacks we could even see the other side of the crater. The view is really impressive.
You can take from 1-day to multi-day trek toward Quilotoa. If you have time I would recommend doing multi-day trekking, as this part of Ecuador is extremely beautiful and full of diverse landscapes from Andes’ villages, which became famous thanks to crater lagoon. Few day treks will take you through local life of all the other mountain towns: Sighos (3900m), Chugchilan (3200m) and Saquisilí.
Before doing the trek I would recommend staying in Quito for few days for acclimatization, especially if you plan to hike to the bottom of the crater. Getting down takes 40 minutes but going back takes 1.40h and it’s really hard for you body. And it’s only 2 km one way.
Getting back to Latacunga: we took a taxi for 4 $ to Zumbagua. Tell a driver to drop you off near a bus stop toward Latacunga. It’s on the main road in the small town. The ticket from Zumbagua costs 1.5$, so don’t let the local taxi drivers manipulate you to pay 10$ per person for a ride to Latacunga.