Quilotoa Loop is a challenging 3 to 5-day hike in Ecuador that takes you past the Laguna Quilotoa, a gorgeous crater lake surrounded by Andean volcanic peaks
The Quilotoa Loop (or Quilotoa circuit) is a remote, bumpy, mountainous road linking several high Andean villages and towns with the city of Latacunga. It offers one a chance to get off the Pan American highway and see some of the more remote people and culture of the central Andes of Ecuador.
It can be done as a self-guided tour by novice hikers who are acclimatized and properly prepared.
This is a serious hike, so you will need proper hiking gear including hiking boots and clothes (layers), rain gear, and lots of water.
Walking poles are a good idea for safety and to protect your knees.
There are many hosterias in villages along the way, so camping gear is not required.
As there are many routes and the Wayfinder signs are sometimes confusing, take a printed map with you.
Local people may offer to rent donkeys or horses to carry you and your gear along parts of the hike.
The hike takes place at high altitudes. Be sure to acclimatize before you set out. Quilotoa is about 1,000 m above Quito, so don't think that acclimatization in Quito is going to be sufficient. Altitude sickness pills (acetazolamide) can help.
Hiking from Sigchos to Quilotoa puts the highlight of the hike at its end: the beautiful volcano crater lagoon, but it means climbing almost 1,000 m of elevation, two thirds of the climb on the last day.
Hiking the other direction, from Quilotoa to Sigchos, on the other hand, is easier as you descend by 1,000 m, two thirds of it on the first day.
Whichever direction you take, you will cross the Sigui/Toachi River valley three times, climbing up the valley’s steep trails during each crossing, and on each day of the trek.
Other routes may take you to:
Frequent buses connect Quilotoa to Latacunga.
There is a milk van from Sigchos to Chugchilán, but you will probably need a little Spanish to attempt this. The milk van is open-topped with a large canvas to keep it covered. Locals often use the van to get between the two small villages. Of course, it takes longer than the bus because of the milk deliveries, but jumping up onto the back of the truck and then standing up with your head sticking out the top as you go around little mountain roads is well worth it. Get up early and wait on the corner (with the bakery) by the bus station at around 06:30 (time varies so maybe get there at 06:00 and wait). There will probably be a few locals waiting around. You must pay the driver extra to get off about 400 m away from the Cloud Forest Hostel.
There are some stray dogs along the trail. Although there is generally no issue, there is always risk of aggressive encounters and you should keep a hefty walking stick with you while you walk.
Consider travelling onwards to San Luis de Pambil