The Quilotoa Loop is the king of all hikes in Ecuador, and was one of our favourite experiences throughout our trip to South America. Everything was amazing; the spectacular views, the comfortable accommodation, and the delicious meals throughout the hike. And that didn’t even include the astounding finish with the Quilotoa Crater Lake along with the amazing sense of accomplishment at the end of the hike. However, we don’t want to give you the wrong impression. The hike was HARD! Each day, you’ll hiking down into and back up a deep valley for 3-7 hours. You’re also always at an altitude of 2500m above sea level, so you’ll have to account for your hike being a bit slower and tougher. However if you’re prepared, and know the route, you can definitely do it. Luckily for you we have all the information you need in this post!
We took what we came to know as the “Classic” route through the Quilotoa Loop. We started in Sigchos and ended with the astounding views of the Crater Lake in Quilotoa. This takes 4 days and 3 nights! We’ve broken the hike down, and given a general overview of each day below:
Day 1 – Latacunga to Sigchos to Isinlivi (6.5 hours)
- Bus from Latacunga to Sigchos costs $2.30 US (3 hours)
- Hike from Sigchos (approx. 2850m) to Isinlivi (approx. 2900m) (3.5 hours)
- Hike down from Sigchos about 250m to the bottom of the valley (2 hours), then back up 300m to Isinlivi (1.5 hours).
Day 2 – Isinlivi to Chugchilan (5.5 hours)
- Hike from Isinlivi (approx. 2900m) to Chugchilan (approx. 3200m)
- Hike down from Isinlivi about 200m to the bottom of the valley (2.45 hours), along the river at the bottom for 45 mins or so, then back up to Chugchilan about 500m (2 hours)
- Note: due to construction altering the original path, we got a little turned around this day. If we hadn’t gotten confused we probably would have shaved 30 mins or so off of our hiking time
Day 3 – Chugchilan to Quilotoa (6.5 hours)
- Hike from Chugchilan (approx. 3200m) to Quilotoa (approx. 3800m)
- Hike down from Chugchilan about 300m into the valley (1 hour) and then back up 900m to Quilotoa (5.5 hours…ouch!)
Day 4 – Quilotoa to Latacunga (1.5 hours)
- We decided to stay in Quilotoa for one night, and bus back to Latacunga in the morning, but you can also take the bus back to Latacunga on the day you arrive in Quilotoa if you want to save some time. The bus takes 1.5 hours and costs $2 US.
There are multiple alternate routes that you can take to change up the amount of time it takes to hike the loop. So depending on how long you have (or how long you want to hike for) check out these alternate routes.
Reverse Route – A lot of people we met were doing the loop in the opposite direction of us. They were starting in Quilotoa and ending in Sigchos. Many take this route because it is a lot easier. If you refer to the elevation in our classic overview above, the last day involves climbing 900m right at the end of our 3 day hike. If you go the reverse way, you descend down 900m instead. The people we met said that the hike from Quilotoa to Chugchilan only took them 4-5 hours as opposed to our 6.5 hours in the opposite direction. We also found that our ascents up the valley were always on steep switchback trails, and our descents into the valley were on gently sloping roads. If you tackle the loop in reverse, you would encounter the opposite, which may be easier to manage. The downside to doing the loop in reverse is that you start with the most spectacular views, as opposed to saving them as a reward at the end of your hike. We felt the Quilotoa Crater Lake view was made all the more spectacular because we had hiked for three days to reach it!
Skip Sigchos – This is probably the easiest way to save time and hiking distance. Instead of getting off the bus in Sigchos, you can ride it all the way to Isinlivi. Make sure to confirm that your bus is heading to Isinlivi before committing to this route. This would allow you to leave Latacunga later in the day, and it eliminates arguably the least scenic part of the hike, saving you about 3.5 hours.
Skip Isinlivi – This route saves time, but still packs in a lot of the hiking. There is a hiking path that gets you right from Sigchos to Chugchilan. This saves you a climb in and out of the valley, as Sigchos and Chugchilan are on the same side of the valley. It will make you first (or last) day much longer however, make sure to allot 5-6 hours for this hike. Unfortunately we don’t have directions for this route, but we did see signs that would point you in the right direction.
Hike the Crater – If you are really pressed for time you can see the crater in one day by taking a bus direct to Quilotoa from Latacunga. The hike around the crater is a task in itself, and can take 4-5 hours. Another way to experience the Quilotoa Loop in a short time is to bus to Quilotoa and hike the crater, then head the Chugchilan the next day, and bus back from there.
There are lots of routes to take, depending on your schedule! You can also extend your time in the Quilotoa Loop by spending more than one night in one of the villages, and doing day hikes from there before heading along the next stretch of the loop.
One of the best parts about hiking the Quilotoa Loop is that it’s free! No entrance fees, and because hostel prices include breakfast and dinner, you’re looking at a cheap few days. Not to mention the UNREAL views and an amazing adventure! Let’s break it down for you:
- Transportation: $4.30 USD total for buses there and back
- Accommodation: $45 USD total for 3 nights accomodation (+ dinner and breakfast at each hostel)
- Snacks/Lunch: $11 USD total (4 days worth)
- How we saved money: A lunch each day ($5-8.50 USD pre-made by your hostel upon request) would run you about $15-25 USD for your 3 day hike (not including first day lunch). We spent a total of $11 USD each for the full hike, because we opted for high energy and filling snacks, pre-bought at a grocery store before we departed. Scroll down to our packing list to find out what we packed!
- Water: $5-$10 USD (4 days worth)
- Cash! There are no ATMs in the loop.
- Extras: Beer ran $1.50 to $2.50 US for a large bottle. If you want to purchase a souvenir, sweaters in Quilotoa run for about $18 USD each.
You are carrying EVERYTHING you bring on your back, so you need to pack as light as you can! Here is our recommended packing list:
- 4 pairs underwear
- 3 pairs socks (2 for hiking, one for resting)
- 2-3 t-shirts/tank tops (keep in mind to use one for resting/sleeping until the last day, where you can then use it as your hiking shirt)
- 1 pair hiking shorts (light weight, quick dry ones work best)
- 1 pair hiking pants***
- 1 pair warm pants i.e. sweatpants or leggings (also to use for pajama pants to save space)
- 1 warm sweater
- 1 raincoat
- 1 backpack rain cover
- 1 lightweight down jacket***
- 1 pair hiking shoes/boots
- 1 pair flip flops (trust us, you’ll want a pair of shoes to change into on this hike! However make sure they are lightweight… you don’t want to be lugging around a heavy pair of shoes)
***We were warned it would be VERY cold, even while hiking. For us, the temperature only dropped at night, where we were able to wear our warm pants and 1 sweater and curl up under tons of blankets or warm up by the fire. It was honestly only truly cold at night in Quilotoa. So hiking pants AND leggings/warm pants is a little overkill. As well, our down jackets were unnecessary. However, check the weather/season in which you are hiking!
- Phone charger
- Portable phone charger (handy for the long days)
- Water bottle (reusable ones come in handy at some hostels which let you fill up from a water jug for only 50 cents!)
- Candy! The kids in the villages are always asking for something sweet.
Most hostels offer a packed lunch for your day for an extra price of about $5 – $8.50 USD, and all you have to do is inquire the night before. However the meals we had for breakfast each day were enough to tide us over until well past lunch time! Then we’d only need a couple of snacks to keep us going until the massive dinners we had each night. It’s a great way to save a little money! Here are the high energy snacks we picked up from a grocery store before heading out.
- Banana Chips
- 8 Granola bars between the 2 of us
Next to the views and time spent away from the crowds, the accommodation is high up on our list of reasons to visit the Quilotoa Loop. Each hostel includes a large dinner and hearty breakfast in the price of your room, which eliminates the need to carry a lot of food with you on your hike. The meals are also amazing, home cooked and served in a family setting. A pretty sweet deal considering the average price of a room is $15 USD/person.
- Hostal Taita Cristobal – We stayed in this lovely hostel, often forgotten about in the shadow of the much more popular Llullu Llama hostel. The price was $15/person for a large private room with a private bathroom attached. The room had hot water, wifi in the room, and very comfy beds. The main sitting/dining area had an abundance of large windows that allowed you to enjoy the valley views, as well as the views of the grazing llamas outside. It was kept warm with a wood burning stove. Our dinner consisted of a delicious pumpkin soup as a starter, and veggies, rice, chicken and cucumber and tomato salad as a main. Breakfast was crepes, egg quiche, fruit, granola, yogurt and juice. Coffee and tea were free and available all day long. You can book online here.
- Llullu Llama – Everyone recommended this one to us! However, we did not stay here, but met up with someone who did. Dorm beds were $19 USD/person, and private rooms were $23 US-$28 USD/person with shared bathroom. You can also get garden cottages for $39 USD/person with private bathrooms. All these prices include dinner and breakfast! The facilities looked really nice and relaxed, but the price difference drove us to Taita Cristobal just next door. Llulla Llama also does not have wifi. From what we heard the dinner and breakfast was on par with Taita Cristobal, and we were also told their showers were amazing. They also have a spa you can pay $7.50 USD to use.
- Hostal Cloud Forest – We stayed in this comfy hostal for $15 USD/person. The room had very cozy beds, a private bathroom with hot water, a hammock out front as well as a loft and balcony. We learned later that there are also cheaper rooms for $12 USD/person without the loft. The wifi worked well in the rooms. They also had water jugs where you could fill up water bottles for $0.5 USD/litre. We were also treated to an amazing dinner here, consisting of ham wrapped chicken, carrots, potatoes, rice, corn, peppers and tomatoes. Breakfast included a large fruit granola bowl, a hard boiled egg and two pieces of toast. Coffee/tea was also provided at breakfast. You can book online here.
- El Vaquero – Another highly recommended hostel in Chugchilan that has amazing views of the valley. Private rooms are $20 USD/person and have private bathrooms with hot water. Dinner and breakfast are included. You can book online here.
- Hostal Cabanas/Alpaka – We stayed here for $15 USD/person, after asking for a small room and negotiating down. The beds are extremely nice, and the room came with a private bathroom and a fireplace to stay warm. Our bathroom didn’t have hot water, but since we were one of the only guests there they let us into another room to have a hot shower. We had weak wifi in our room, but it worked well in the main restaurant area, where you could buy drinks (only $2.50 for a decently large glass of wine!) and stay warm by the fire. Make sure to ask the owner to light your fire for you before you go to bed, and then make sure to fully stock it with the extra wood to keep you warm throughout the night. You can book online here. The hostel next door, called Hostal Alpaca, was owned by the same people, and we headed over there for dinner. This was a little strange since there were only three people in both of the hostels combined (which included the two of us) and we were all stationed in Cabanas. Nevertheless the dinner was delicious, starting with potato soup and popcorn followed by a main of chicken, rice, potatoes, broccoli and cauliflower. Our breakfast was a little odd, consisting of fruit with sprinkles and syrup, lots of bread and jam, one fried egg as well as coffee/tea or warm juice.
Quilotoa was the most difficult place to find good, cheap accommodation, as many fancier folk come straight to Quilotoa (and skip the hike) to see the crater, and are willing to spend a sizeable amount of money on accommodation.
Now that you’re ready to go, head to our complete Step by Step Guide to Hiking the Quilotoa Loop! As always, message us with any questions! Happy Hiking!