We recently went to Laguna Quilotoa (Lake Quilotoa) and I am SO excited to share all about it with you. Quilotoa is arguably my favorite spot in Ecuador. This crater lake or caldera was formed 800 years ago when a volcano collapsed – how flipping cool! The geology-lover side of me geeks out a little bit about Quilotoa. As you look down at the crater lake from the ridge you will stand in wonder at gorgeous hues of blue and green (thanks to minerals breaking down) and reflections of the sky’s clouds.
Quilotoa is way off the beaten path, but so, so worth your time. Whether you’re hiking the full Quilotoa Loop or want to just come for the weekend, I HIGHLY recommend you make the trip.
Our journey to Quilotoa
In classic fashion, we made the trek to Quilotoa on the motorcycle, our dear Royal Enfield, from Cuenca (read about the magic of motorcycle travel in Ecuador here). If you know the geography of Ecuador you’d say we were crazy. This is about a 10 hour journey each way (including stops) and we were going there and back in three days.
I absolutely love riding the sierra (the central Andes mountain range that is squished between the coast and the Amazon). It is a cold ride on the bike, but we love our classic stops in the small town of Alausi, Riobamba, and Ambato. This time we kept heading north to Latacunga to veer west towards Quilotoa. Being able to see both the Chimborazo Volcano and the Cotopaxi Volcano is rare (pending weather conditions) but so, so special. The ride from Latacunga to Quilotoa was colder and windier than I ever imagined it could be. We thought we were prepared, but next time would definitely re-think the layering and fill up the tank in Latacunga or Pujuli since there is only one gas station on the two-hour route.
Hiking at Quilotoa
Given our limited time frame, as we are both full-time workers with a passion for travel, we only had three days to get to Quilotoa and come back. I’m sure you’ve heard of the Quilotoa Loop, which is a 3-7 day hike through the small towns in the region. Of course this was not an option for us, but since we are big-time hikers we sought out our options for a full-day hike.
Once you’re at Quilotoa there are two main options if you’re there for a short period of time. Starting at the top overlook, you can hike down the very steep (aka vertical) 280 meter descent to reach the lake. Going down takes about 30 minutes, while coming back up will take an hour to an hour and a half. I’m really not kidding when I say it is steep. Coming back up you’ll want to take your time on the dirt/sand path, especially given the high altitude. You can also rent a mule to take you back up 🙂 Once you’re down there, enjoy!! You can rent kayaks, go on the swing (unfortunately was under repair when we went), and have a picnic. People do camp here, but be forewarned that it is cold. Beautiful, but bone chilling cold.
The other hike option is the ridge-line hike. Quilotoa might not seem so large, but it has a diameter of 3 kilometers. Wowzers. The hike around takes a solid 4-5 hours (we are typically fast hikers and did it in almost 5 hours). The trail says it is 10km, but my fitbit said we trekked 12km. We consider ourselves avid hikers but it was definitely a harder hike than we were expecting. You stay along the ridge the whole time, but I was not expecting such inclines. You will be wowed at all of the angles of the lake and how huge the diameter could possibly be. When we were there on a federal holiday weekend we had the trail to ourselves, so ENJOY the tranquility of one of the most beautiful places in Ecuador.
If its not a federal holiday, you can likely show up and get a room at one of the hostels in the small Quilotoa town. Since Quilotoa has grown as a tourism destination, the prices are a bit higher than other parts of Ecuador ($20-$25 per night per person, including breakfast and sometimes dinner) at most of the hostels. One of my favorite spots is the Black Sheep Inn in the neighboring town of Chucchilan. Its on the pricier side but an absolutely beauty with wonderful people, and perfect for multiple day hikes.
What to wear
More likely than not, Quilotoa is going to be C O L D. When the sun comes out it can get warm and burn you for sure, but you should definitely layer up (I’m talking hat and gloves included folks). Also if you are staying the night none of the hostels will have heat, so bring warm clothes to sleep in too! Legit hiking boots are highly recommended given the sandy and rocky terrain of the hikes!
If you’re just arriving to Ecuador, you’ll want a couple of days before you start hiking at Quilotoa. You are high up (3,900 meters or 12,800 feet), so be prepared with lots of water and ibprofen if you are sensitive to altitude sickness. Also in the hikes you’ll be panting harder than usual – just take it slow!
Small town vibes
Quilotoa and the surrounding towns are classic small towns of Ecuador. Most of the hostels you stay at will offer breakfast, lunch, and dinner because there are no restaurants to eat at! You’ll get wifi at the hostels, but definitely no cell service. If you have any dietary restrictions bring snacks with you!
Have you been to Quilotoa? Any extra questions while you’re planning your trip? Hit me up in the comments, I’m always more than happy to help 🙂