Hiking the Quilotoa Loop
Hiking through scenic mountains and staying in cosy guesthouses- the Quilotoa Loop is one of the best trips to take in Ecuador. The hike can take anything from one day to two weeks, and can be undertaken completely independently. Here’s how…
Adam and I started our trek in Quilotoa, after a three hour bus ride from Latacunga. The town was overrun when we arrived on Sunday, but was almost deserted the following day, as most visitors were Ecuadorians on a weekend trip. So if you’re looking for a peaceful trek, go midweek!
Quilotoa is a tiny village with several guesthouses and restaurants. We checked into our quiet little log room, then headed out to see the famous Quilotoa lake, just at the edge of the village.
The lake is beautiful- a volcanic crater filled with serene turquoise water. There are a few options for hikes near the lake, including one which circumnavigates the crater and takes several hours. We opted for the shorter trail which leads down into the crater and right to the water’s edge.
By the time we started the trek (after a tasty lunch of quinoa and cheese soup), the crater had unfortunately filled with fog. We made our way cautiously down the rocky trail, carefully not to slip in the loose earth. Horses carried visitors up and down the trail- an easier alternative to walking!
The descent took us around 30 minutes, by which time the fog had lifted and we got a clear view of the stunning blue lake. We debated renting a kayak, but instead decided to simply sit and take in the view.
The climb back up was steep and exhausting. It took us a little under an hour, with plenty of stops. The climb was made worse by the fact that I was still ill (I had spent my time in Quito mostly in bed feeling sorry for myself). But even for someone in full health, the climb is tough and not to be underestimated!
Still feeling sick the next morning, I persuaded Adam to skip the trekking and instead take a bus to our next stop- Chugchilan. The journey took us through some great views, and we soon arrived in the tiny village.
We checked into a lovely guesthouse and, after a short stroll through the surrounding area, we ate a very welcome dinner and curled up in a bed piled high with cosy blankets.
Chugchilan is a good base for several day treks in the area, but we opted instead to spend one night here and spend the following day trekking to our next stop, the town of Insinlivi. The hike was long and tough. It took us the entire day, and we made several wrong turns on the hard-to-follow trail. The final stretch was the hardest- up a steep mountain along a dried up stream bed.
Adam and I had arranged a filming project in Insinlivi through our partner site Cara Online. We stayed at the wonderful Llullu Llama, where we were treated to a private cottage and an incredibly tasty dinner. We spent the evening taking in the beautiful view and drinking wine with our friendly fellow guests.
The following day we headed out to film the many tours that Llullu Llama offer. We started by hiking along a trail to meet Beatrice, a smiley woman who taught us how to milk a cow. If you’ve never milked a cow before, it’s a bizarre experience. After a lot of help, I managed to coax out a steady stream of milk, but was nowhere near the expert level of Beatrice (she could fill the jug in seconds!).
Our next tour was of a cheese making factory. Taking a jeep from the hostel, we arrived at the small factory, where we filmed the process of turning a huge vat of milk into blocks of Andean cheese. And we even got our own block of cheese to enjoy with some tasty local honey.
Our final tour was of the Don Bosco craft centre. We got to go behind the scenes and see how the beautiful wooden products are created, filming the process from the first stage of gathering the wood to the final step of displaying the crafts.
After our awesome day of filming the tours, we settled in for our last night at Llullu Llama, one of the best places we have stayed during our entire trip. The following day, we hopped in the back of a bouncy milk truck to return to Latacunga.
There is a small entrance fee of $2 for the hiking trails, paid on arrival at Quilotoa.
The guesthouses cost between $15-19 per person, and this price includes breakfast and dinner.
Guesthouses along the loop cater for vegetarians. For more specific dietary needs, it’s best to let them know in advance.
The trail is tough, and not suitable for those who struggle with steep climbs or altitude.
The area gets surprisingly cold, so wrap up warm.
Leave heavy rucksacks at your starting point (most guesthouses will store them for free), and bring as light a load as possible on the trail.
Looking for somewhere to go after your Quilotoa Loop trek? Try Baños, a nearby town with great biking trails and thermal baths. Click here to read more.