Laguna Quilotoa is the highlight of the Quilotoa Loop, 14 km north of Zumbahua. It's a volcanic-crater lake, sitting at an elevation of 3,900 m, with stunning views of both the lake and the mountain ranges surrounding it.
The small village of Quilotoa lies to the southwest of the lake, and basic accommodation run by the local indigenous people is available. Zumbahua is the next nearest town. Quilotoa developed itself since its early days into one of the most important tourist attractions of the country, and the government provided the infrastructure to support it. The Quilotoa crater is protected by the Reserva ecológica Los Illinizas.
The Quilotoa Volcano is the most westerly volcano in Ecuador, whose last eruption has been dated back to 1280 and the lava flows reached the Pacific almost 200 km away. After this eruption, the magma chamber crashed and it created the visible caldera with a diameter of three kilometers and a lake inside that is around 250 meters deep. The only remaining signs of volcanism activity are fumaroles at the bottom of the lake, a smell of sulfur on the shore and on the eastern side of the lake also some hot springs are bubbling.
The name is from the local Quechua language and is a combination of the words "quiru" (for tooth) and "Toa" (for princess), an describes the different color tones reflected by the waters.
The surroundings of the crater are essentially rural with lot of livestock farming, ships, cows and goats.
Flora and fauna
The fauna is mainly represented by birds. It is possible to observe hummingbird, eared doves and falcons playing near the cliffs. The lobo del páramo (mountain wolf) lives in the region; there's a very narrow change to encounter one directly in Quilotoa. You will more probably see rabbits.
The flora is very poor, the principal plant is the chuquiragua, with orange flower. The hummingbirds feed on the nectar of them. The vegetation is very fragile and stick to the trails to avoid damaging it.
At 3,800 metres altitude there is a mountain climate that can quickly change from warm and sunny to cloudy and very cold. The nights are cold.
There are several buses a day from Latacunga. To guarantee getting a bus it is best to arrive in the morning. The journey takes 1hr 45min on the asphalted road to Quilotoa hamlet and costs $2.0 (February 2018). In the morning, buses leave at 6AM, 7:30AM, 8AM, 10AM and 11AM (February 2018). The last bus departure from Quilotoa to Latacunga is at PM. From Latacunga there are more buses each day running to Zumbahua, a small town approximately 14 km north of Quilotoa. Taxis or ride share can be arranged from Zumbahua to the Laguna ($5).
One-day tours can be organized from Latacunga. They will bring you through the village of Tigua to see local painters. Then they will bring you to the crater and down to the lake. The includes lunch and costs around $40.
Fees and permits
The entry for pedestrians is free but it costs $2 to enter the village with your car. Unlimited access to the crater and the lake is included in this price.
Quilotoa is very small village and everywhere is 5-minute walk.
Hike down to the laguna. It takes approximately 45 minutes to walk down and about 90 minutes to walk back. It's a very steep, unpaved path and at this altitude needs a relatively good level of fitness.
Horses or mules are available to ride back up for $10. It is best to make arrangements with a handler before you walk down.
Hike along the Quilotoa loop in either direction. The next villages are approximately 12 km in either direction through beautiful Andean mountain scenery.
Hike around the crater lake: 3.5-4.5 hours. It's only about 9.5 km but it's all up and downs. Views of the Cotopaxi can be seen in the distance. The trail follow the rim of the crater passing through the Monte Juyende (3940 m), the highest point of the hike several view points.
You can bathe in the lake, although it does have a light foul smell and is very cold. For the less adventurous, canoes can be rented to navigate on the lake for $2 per hour.
There is a small tourist crafts market near the entrance to the laguna walk.
If you want to buy provisions, there are few small grocery stores in Quilotoa, however the choice is very limited and the price is elevated.
1 Sinchy Tupak (on the ridge of the crater 100 m after starting the crater loop.). Very small restaurant but the view on the lake is unbeatable. They offer breakfast, standard Ecuadorian lunch and sandwiches. Coffee $1.5, lunch $5.
2 Kirutwa (end of the main road), ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Also on the crater rim you can have the view on the lake if you eat at the first floor. The food is Ecuadorian soup and corn. Coffee $2.
There are many places to stay and new ones are being built:
1 Quilotoa Cabanas (directly opposite the gate to the village.). Wood burner, logs, breakfast and dinner included. Dormitory beds also available. $15 per person for the basic but comfortable ensuite cabins..
2 Hosteria Alpaka Quilotoa (on the main road), ☎ , (mobile), e-mail: email@example.com. The hotel offers also guide, transport and horses hiring. The hotel restaurant cooks pizzas and hamburgers. Dormitory bed from $15..
Camping near the Laguna is permitted; however, there is no drinking water there.
Do not forget that you are at 3,900 meters high and the weather can change very quickly. The crater loop may be problematic if the rain starts while you are at the middle.