With stunning scenery, panoramic views, cosy hostels and delicious food the Quilotoa Loop in Ecuador is a hikers paradise. For some reason, unbeknown to us, it is still much less popular than some of the other treks in South America (The Lost City and Machu Pichu for example) and therefore remains somewhat of a little hidden gem in the Andes. For most of the Trek, apart from some local villagers, we felt like we had the mountains all to ourselves.
Hiking the Quilotoa Loop is not easy, but it is still accessible to most people with a reasonable fitness level. The paths are well marked and it is easy enough to do the trek without a guide.
There are a few different ways to Trek the Quilotoa Loop. Most people will complete it in 4 days (3 nights).
Starting at 2800m and finishing at 3894m this route has the biggest altitude gain. Because of this it is considered harder. Starting low and ending high however is much safer for the unacclimatised. The main benefit of this route though is that it finishes at the Quilotoa Lake, a great reward for your 3 days of hard work.
Locals will tell you this is the easier route as it is downhill. In reality whichever route you choose will involve a lot of up and down as each day you will descend into a valley and then climb out again. The reward of this route though is getting to spend your last night in the spa at Llullu Llama Hostel.
In this blog post we will give a very brief overview of the route. We have published a more detailed route guide for hikers here.
Spend the night before the Trek in Latacunga. Sort your bags out and leave all heavy things in Latacunga. We stayed at Hostel Sendero de Volcanes who stored our bags in some secure lockers for $1 a day.
Most people will start the day with an early bus from Latacunga to Sigchos (approx 2 hours). Once in Sigchos it’s time to get your bearings and start hiking. The trail descends around 450m into the valley before ascending out the other side. The descent is fairly gentle along some farm tracks, but the ascent at the end of the day is a pretty steep.
Islinivi to Chugchilan is a slightly longer day. It starts with an absolutely stunning 400m decent into the valley. At this point we picked up Terrence, our doggy mascot for the day, who followed us all the way to Chugchilan! Once in the valley there is a pleasant flat 2km walk along the side of a little brook, broken up by a precarious log bridge crossing. Again, the challenge of the day comes at the end when you have to ascend 650m up a very step path at the other end of the valley.
Don’t let the distance fool you, this is by far the hardest day. In addition, due to a number of landslides in 2017 the route has now changed so be very careful reading old blog posts.
The initial 350m descent into the valley is pleasant enough (are you following the theme of this yet?!), but on this day the ascent starts quite early. From the bottom of the valley there is a 1000m ascent to reach the end point, the Quilotoa Lake. The views on this day, however, make up for any difficulties in the hike. First you get the amazing views over the Cascada Gollodrina. Then as you start to ascend the outside of the Quilotoa crater you can look back and see almost all the valleys you have already walked through. Then, if that wasn’t enough, you get the final climax, the ascent over the crater edge to see the infamous Lake Quilotoa itself.
We were pretty tired when we arrived at Quilotoa and couldn’t face the hike all the way round the crater rim and headed straight for a cosy Hostel and a pint of beer.
On our final day we got up and hiked the full perimeter of Lake Quilotoa before getting the bus back to Latacunga. Although it didn’t look far it took us 4 hours (and we are fairly fit), so we were glad we left it until day 4 rather than cramming it in at the end of day 3.
There are basically 2 hostels to choose from here:
We stayed at Llullu Llama Hostel, which might be the most luxurious Hostel we have ever come across. It is owned by a Dutch woman who just knows exactly what a backpacker wants after a long day hiking. It has a big reputation amongst backpackers in Ecuador but it 100% exceeded our expectations! For $19 you get a bed in the dorm, an excellent dinner, free tea and coffee, breakfast with copious amounts of fruit, a phenomenally hot shower and access to the spa! Yes in this little mountain Hostel they have a spa! If you smile nicely enough to the staff they might even bring your cocktail to you in the jacuzzi.
The other option is Hostel Tainta Cristobal. We didn’t go there but it looked nice enough.
Open for 20 years The Cloud Forest is one of the most popular hostels in Chugchilan. It’s OK, but it seemed pretty dark and dingy when we had a look around.
The alternative, which we highly recommend, is the newer El Vaquero. You have to walk through Chugchilan to reach it but it is right by the trailhead for the following morning. Unlike The Cloud Forest it is light, open and has spectacular views over the valley. The dorms are cosy, the food is hearty and the showers are hot! In addition the host is the friendliest, loveliest Ecuadorean man. He doesn’t speak English but we still had some great conversations with him in our broken Spanglish.
There are a number of accommodation options here but we stayed at Hostel Chukirawa. We had a very cosy dorm room, steak dinner and great breakfast.
Pretty much all the hostels along the route include dinner and breakfast within the price of the room. If you want they can provide you with a packed lunch but we found these a bit pricey and we recommend bringing snacks along with you for lunch.
Water refills are cheap/free at each of the hostels, but there is nowhere to fill up along the way. Bring at least 1l pp in a bottle which you can refill each day.
|Bus Latacunga – Sigchos||$2.50|
|Llullu Llama Hostel dorm room, dinner, breakfast||$19|
|El Vaquero dorm room, dinner, breakfast||$15|
|Hostel Chukirawa dorm room, dinner, breakfast||$18|
|Bus Quilotoa – Latacunga||$2.50|
|Water refills (50c/l at LLullu Llama, free at the others)||$1.50|
Compare that to the $250 we paid for The Lost City Trek and that’s pretty cheap.
Note that every hostel we stayed at provided a towel and shower gel/soap/shampoo.
Make sure you waterproof your backpack with waterproof bags as the rain is unpredictable in the mountains!
It is inevitable you will get a little bit lost at some point on the trek but with a bit of forward planning you should be able to avoid any serious blunders:
We are Nic and Kingsley… we married and now we are Kic (sic). We are currently taking some time out of our busy careers to travel Central and South America. This blog will detail our adventures from the volcanoes of Nicaragua down to the mountains of Peru. Hope you enjoy reading and let us know what you think!