Complete Step-by-Step Guide to Hiking the Quilotoa Loop

Quilotoa Loop Map

We hiked what we call the “Classic” loop: starting in Sigchos and ending with the spectacular views of the crater lake in Quilotoa, and hitting Isinlivi and Chugchilán on the way. Below is a complete step-by-step guide to help you not get lost on the way! It can also be used to help you gauge how much time each leg of the hike should take.

If you haven’t already, check out our Quilotoa Loop Overview post first to see what the hike’s all about. If you’re ready to go, scroll down for our directions. Happy hiking!


Check out our Top Places to See in Ecuador here!


Prep for the hike:

  • Make sure you have maps.me and our directions easily accessible on your phone. All of our map screenshots are from maps.me, and we found this offline map app invaluable. Downloading a pdf version of the directions below to your phone will allow you to access them throughout your hike. Often there are markers and signs marking the path, but when there wasn’t we were definitely happy we had maps.me and directions!
  • You can also download a copy of the bookmarks you see in the pictures below at this google drive link. If you hold the link while tapping it on your phone, an option to copy or upload them to maps.me should come up. Note that the first and last days are pretty straight forward with the bookmarks, the second day is a little more confusing, so make sure to have the directions below handy as well.
  • Read our Quilotoa Loop Overview post for info on what to bring and what to leave behind. You’ll definitely only want to bring a small pack, and leave your big one in Latacunga. That post also outlines how much food you’ll want to bring!
  • A lot of the hiking trails can be found on maps.me, but some cannot. On our maps we outline when we leave a path and reconnect with one, the paths we add are in orange.
  • The trail is often marked with yellow, red or orange paint marks. Whenever we refer to the path being marked, this is what we mean.
  • We have directions for every important fork in the trail. This means that if there is no obvious way to go, we’ll have a step letting you know which trail to take, or which is faster. If you come to a fork that we don’t have directions for, either follow the obvious marker, follow the larger path, or continue straight. There are also times when the path splits, but reconnects shortly after. So if you’re unsure simply pick one and you’ll quickly realize it didn’t matter which one you chose.
  • The markers are put up by hostels in neighbouring villages. To ensure you’re going the right way, it’s good to know which hostels are where. Below is a quick guide:
    • Isinlivi – Llullu Llama (often just a black spray painted llama marker) and Hostal Taita Cristóbal
    • Chugchilán – Hostal Cloud Forest and Hostal El Vaquero
    • Hostal Rosita is another sign we saw, this hostel is kind of in the middle of nowhere, so don’t bank on this helping you.

Happy Hiking!

Day 1. (Part 1) – Latacunga to Sigchos (3 Hours)

  1. Head over to the west end of town to the bus station across the bridge (most likely the one you arrived on).
  2. You’ll see signs and people shouting out buses to Sigchos within the bus station. Times change a lot, but we’d heard 9:30am was a safe bet and got tickets for that time for $2.30 USD each. However it seemed that buses were leaving all the time. Make sure to leave relatively early so you’re not hiking in the dark.
  3. The bus winds up and down valleys and picks up everyone who wants a ride (we’re pretty sure we picked up a whole class of schoolchildren) and arrived in Sigchos at 11:30am.
  4. We grabbed a quick almuerzo (lunch of the day) for $2.25 USD each and then set off on our hike.

Day 1 (Part 2) – Sigchos to Isinlivi (3.5 Hours)

  1. We left Sigchos at 12:45. Make your way down to the south east corner of the town to the point marked on the map below. Shortly after the road turns to dirt you’ll see a fork. A sign will point down to the left indicating this is the way to go to Isinlivi.Step 1
  2. This first part of the hike consists of following this dirt road down to the bottom of the valley, with some trails along the way as shortcuts. The first shortcut comes just after you pass a church (marked in the photo below) on your right hand side. You’ll see two dirt roads branching off to the right, take the second one which also has signs indicating that it’s the correct way for “trekking” and to hostal Llullu Llama.
  3. Right before a steep climb up the road, there is a small path to the left that’s easy to miss. This takes you back down to the original road you started on. This shortcut is marked on the map above.
  4. When you come to the road, turn right, keeping the river on your left. Not long after you reach the road it will take a sharp left turn. If instead you walk straight, you’ll see a trail going straight, with a marked fence post. Take the trail. Step 3
  5. When you arrive at the road again turn right. Follow this road with the river on your left as the road slowly winds uphill.
  6. This next trail brings you down to the river and across a concrete bridge. It was not on maps.me when we did the trek, but we added the trail ourselves in the map below. The trail veers off the road to the left just after a two house complex. The second house has a metal rooster on the roof. The trail starts immediately past/above the second house, after you cross under an electrical wire. One of the poles holding up the wire is marked with red paint (when we were there). The trail seems like a grassy driveway at first but quickly veers right through a field where you can see the concrete bridge you will cross. The concrete bridge is on maps.me, however the trail is not marked. For reference, on the map below, the left most marker is where you would turn off the main road, and follow the bottom two markers from left to right down to the bridge.
  7. Once you’re across the bridge, turn right then take the first trail up the hill on your left. The trail is mostly rocks and mud.
  8. You’ll quickly meet up with a dirt road, follow it left. Then take another left about 30m up the road when you reach a T-intersection. You’ll be walking towards a church (marked on maps.me) and past a basketball court.Step 5.png
  9. Turn right when you come to another T-intersection, do not walk towards the church. 20 metres later, at the next turn in the road, the trail you need to take is on your right. It is well marked with a Llulu Llama black llama symbol, as well as the normal markers. This trail is not on maps.me, but you can see where it joins back up with a road in the screenshot above.
  10. This path takes you pretty much all the way up to the top of the hill, it took us 45 mins (with a slight delay due to a stubborn donkey). The path splits 5 mins in, go down to the right. 5 mins later it splits again, go straight and up. You’ll encounter two barbed wire fences after that, you can untie them from the left to pass through, make sure to close them again. The path is well marked, if you don’t see a mark for 5 mins or so you’ve probably made a wrong turn.
  11. Once you make it to the road the hard part is over! Take a right and enjoy a view of the distance you just hiked from a viewpoint 30 metres down the road. You’re about 30 mins from town.
  12. You can follow the road all the way into the village, or take a shortcut by heading down a grassy driveway on your right, marked on the map below. The path is a shorter distance, but goes up and down more, and is slightly shorter time wise.Step 6.png
  13. If you take the short cut path, it ends at a four way intersection, continue straight then take the next left to the road with accommodation. If you take the road take the first right as you enter the town and it’ll lead you to the same place. Congrats on completing the first day!Step 7.png

We stayed in Hostal Taita Cristobal in Isinlivi and it was amazing! Check out all of our Quilotoa Loop accommodation in our overview.

Day 2 – Isinlivi to Chugchilán (5.5 Hours)

  1. If you’re looking down into the valley (opposite the way you arrived), head to the left side of Llullu Llama Hostel. There’s a trail/dirt road there that heads down into the valley. Step 8
  2. Go right at T-intersection that immediately follows Llullu Llama to continue into the valley.
  3. Follow the road until you see yellow marked sticks, take a sharp left turn down towards the river (sharp left turn marked in screenshot above and shown in picture below) down grassy road. It soon turns into more of a wide path than a road. Quilotoa Directions Pic 7
  4. The path ends at a dirt road. Go left down to the concrete concrete bridge and cross. NOTE: Other maps (including our hostel’s) say to turn right down a path to a log bridge just before the concrete bridge, but new markings very clearly indicate to cross the concrete bridge instead. It seems as though new road construction has created a landslide blocking the old path. You can see the bridge to the left, and rocks to the right where the old path goes down in the picture below.
  5. After you cross the bridge, follow the road. You will arrive at a fork in the road and then you’ll have a choice to make (shown in screenshot below). You can go left and follow the quicker, simpler path along the road, or go right to meet back up with the “original path” that most people took before the construction (rejoin “original path” near markers in top left of screenshot below). The left road is easy to follow, as it is mostly along dirt roads and all on maps.me. We took the right road, and the following directions are for that route. The two roads meet back up once you cross the main river over a well marked log bridge. If you take the left route, scroll down to #10 once you cross the log bridge and you can continue to follow our directions from there (also if you take the left route, share your step-by-step guide to help us fill in the blanks!).Step 10
  6. For the more adventurous “original route” that we took, follow the road to the right. You’ll go up and then back down, passing farm fields on the right as you slowly descend. You’ll then walk through small white cliffs and directly after you’ll see a faint dirt trail down the right which you’ll take (just off to the right of the curve in the road pictured below). At the time we were hiking we basically had to walk down sand and gravel because of construction. At the bottom you’ll meet up with path in a sort of gully, and you’ll see orange markers. The path outlined in the screen shot below is the “original path”. The markers at the bottom of that screen shot are the route we took, due to construction.
  7. Follow the trail past a muddy section and you’ll go through a wooden gate. Soon after you will enter a clearing, go left down a grass road (as shown in picture below) and a river will appear on your right. In this picture, Alex is standing on the path we just came from, and the path to the right is the one you will follow. This is where the trail disappears again in maps.me. Quilotoa Directions Pic 11
  8. Follow the path through a barbed wire fence (opens on left side). Keep the river on your right side and continue along the bank, even though the path fades at times. There is a sandy rocky area near the river, the path continues behind an overhanging tree. There’s a makeshift tree gate at top, go over it and you’ll see a log bridge.
  9. This is the log bridge we crossed, though afterwards we realized there’s much better bridges to cross later on. We recommend you follow the river further until you come to the large log bridge that is clearly marked and has a guide wire to hold on to. Before said bridge, you’ll also see a lot of signs pointing to different villages. You will have to pass through some barbed wire fences etc, and you might have to leave the bank for a bit but a path does reach the proper bridge. On the other hand, it doesn’t really matter when you cross, as long as you turn left after you cross the river onto a dirt road along the other side of the river (continuing in the same direction). The real log bridge is about 30 mins past the first log bridge we crossed, and about 25 mins past a wonky unstable looking constructed wooden bridge. As well, Maps.me is relatively useless at this point but we tried to include a map with our path anyway. Starting at the right side of the screenshot below: the first marker is the grassy area where you turn left to walk beside the river (Step 8), the second marker is the bridge we crossed, third marker is the wonky unstable looking constructed wooden bridge, the forth marker is the proper log bridge you should cross!Step 12

    Above are the bridges we passed: Left: log bridge we crossed. Middle: wonky constructed wooden bridge. Right: real log bridge with signs.

  10. No matter which bridge you cross, you’ll come across signs pointing you to Chugchilán at the proper bridge. Continue in that direction. You should pass a well constructed suspension bridge 15 mins after this point.
  11. 20 mins later you’ll get to the top of a hill after a slow ascent and see a small shop. Head left at the intersection towards the village you can see. The shop is marked by the red marker closest to the middle of the screenshot below. Step 13
  12. Once you get to the village, you will have to head up some steep switchback trails to the top of the hill. You can enter this trail by turning right onto a path immediately before, (on maps.me but otherwise unmarked) or about 10m after, the school (there’s a sign pointing to Chugchilán). This will be a the toughest part of the day, a 25 min climb straight up. Much steeper than the climb on the first day. The church is marked in the screenshot below, and the second trail entrance after the school is marked just below the church. Step 14
  13. At the top you can rest and enjoy the view at a mirador (marked in the screenshot above). To reach this mirador, turn left when you reach the top road then again immediately at the first path on the left to get to the mirador. Backtrack to the main road and continue down it to the left once you’re ready for the final stretch.
  14. Continue down the dirt road until you reach a paved road (shown in the screenshot below as the solid white path) and follow it to the left. This will take you on a annoyingly gradual ascent until you reach Chugchilán in about 2km. Step 15
  15. Chugchilán is a one road village, all the accommodation can be found walking along the one road. Congrats on finishing day 2, only one more day to go!Step 16

We stayed in Hostal Cloud Forest in Chugchilan and it was great! Check out all of our Quilotoa Loop accommodation in our overview.

Day 3 – Chugchilán to Quilotoa (6.5 Hours)

  1. Walk west (into the village from Hostal Cloud Forest) along the main road until you see a Hostal El Vaquero sign pointing left (you’ll also see the Bibliotecha on the corner). Turn left toward El Vaquero.Step 17
  2. Just after Hostal El Vaquero turn left at the sign for Quilotoa (10.24km) and follow the road down into the valley. OR instead of taking the road to the left, walk a little further past the Quilotoa sign and then turn left down a dirt path for a shortcut (the shortcut cuts past local homes, and is fairly smelly due to lots of garbage). Turn right once you meet back up with the road. There is a makeshift “La Moya, Cascada, Quilotoa” sign shortly after you’re back on the road. You will keep following “La Moya” signs throughout the first half of the hike.
  3. Not long after there is a sharp switchback with a defined path that cuts through it. You can follow the switchback along the road or shortcut up the steep path on your left to shave off some distance, and turn left when you meet back up with the road. Either way, you will end up at the same spot, on the same road.
  4. Continue to follow the road until the middle of the next switchback where you’ll see a path and a sign pointing to “Quilotoa, La Moya” (see picture below). Take the path. At this point we were just over an hour into the hike, you’ll reach La Moya Waterfall in about 45 mins.
  5. On the path you just took, you will climb up a sandy hill, then when you think you are near the top go right (spoiler, you’re not at the top). You’ll also see red markers.
  6. After passing between two marked rocks, take the path up to the left. Basically don’t take a path down, and keep following markers. Below is the path we took up the hill.Step 19
  7. At the top of the hill follow the sign pointing to “La Moya” which takes you through someone’s property with some not-so-nice dogs. Grab a stick or rock (don’t worry, you won’t need to use it! If they see that in your hand, they won’t push their luck).
  8. Once you’ve left the property you come to an intersection, go left and down, then shortly after turn right. There are markers to keep you on the right track.
  9. You’ll reach an intersection 5 mins later, go up to the dirt road then into the small village of La Moya. The signpost in the picture below is a little confusing. When you reach this point head straight along the dirt road you can see going through the middle of the photo. Quilotoa Direction Pic 16
  10. After leaving the village (and perhaps taking pictures with the local children and giving them candy!), take the left road, and you’ll see a sign pointing to Quilotoa.
  11. After only being on this road for a very short time, you’ll see a trail continuing straight, well marked by another Quilotoa sign, as the road turns away to the right. Follow the trail up a small hill. Step 20
  12. Turn right at sign marked Quilotoa.
  13. You will see a waterfall diagonally in front of you on left, a good distance ahead. The trail winds along the side of the canyon then down to the source of waterfall (small river). You’ll also see a gazebo/canopy area near the waterfall. It’s about 30-40 mins from the start of that trail to the gazebo.Step 21
  14. Follow this trail until you cross the river (aka source of the waterfall), then take the path up to the gazebo (there are a few paths, all lead to the gazebo). This is approximately halfway through your hike (about 3 hours in), and we stopped here for lunch.
  15. Once you’re well rested, finish the short climb up to a road and follow it left (farthest marker to the left on the map below). You’ll see a sign pointing to Quilotoa shortly after you start along the road.Step 22
  16. This road comes to a fork, take the right road and then immediately go down the trail to the left. Both of these directions are marked.
  17. The path takes you past a school and through a village (marked on the map as Gran Guayama), just keep following arrows and signs.
  18. You will meet up with a main dirt road going up. Just before the first switchback you’ll see a sign pointing you up a dirt trail, take it.Step 23
  19. You’ll be on this path for about 35 mins. When the path goes up then immediately down, follow it when it goes down as the other path leads to someone’s house.
  20. You’ll come across a black pipe and a Chugchilán sign pointing back the way you came. Walk across the pipe, and take the left fork up.
  21. At the next fork go down to the right, and you’ll see a red marked rock. After a slight downhill, stay left on the next uphill, all the way up to a gate.
  22. You will come to a fork with a small Chugchilán sign up on a tree in the middle of the fork, take the fork left to an area where there are lots of signs at the top of a small hill. Continue to the road and turn right. This is shown in the picture above where the dotted brown line, meets up with the solid white one (not marked with a red marker).
  23. You will follow this road around a couple of switchbacks for 15 mins. You’ll need to take a small dirt path off the road to the right which heads up a hill. This path is about 200m before the dirt road you are currently on makes a sharp left switchback. If you take that hard left switchback under an electrical wire, you’ve gone too far. The path you are meant to take is on maps.me. In the picture below, the path in the left of the screenshot is much more direct than the one on the right. This is the one you will take. Step 24

    The first picture above shows us looking back down the small dirt path you will take, as well as the road we branched off of. The picture on the right shows Alex looking down the path you will take to the crater. This should be what you see as soon as you get up the hill after you leave the road.

  24. This path is the last path you’ll take before you get to the Quilotoa Crater! However, it’s also the hardest climb of the trek. The climb will take about 35 mins until you get to a big green Quilotoa sign, and about 50 mins to the crater. Follow the path and ignore the first left turn into a fence, instead continue on into the pine trees.
  25. Follow the barbed wire fence up on your left, and then pass through an area with fence on both sides, which leads you to a path through a gully/trench.
  26. The path splits and rejoins a lot once you leave the gully/trench. Favour the right side, or whatever path is less sandy, as they all join up. You will need to eventually veer right once you get into the pine trees, and soon after you’ll come to a large green Quilotoa 2.9km sign. There are some awesome views of valley behind you!
  27. Follow the sand trail right from the sign, and then the dirt trail that goes up a for a bit. Just keep following the path up for about 15 mins until you get to the crater!
  28. Take a break and take it all in! You’ll be able to see the town of Quilotoa across the crater to your right (you can see buildings at the bottom as well!). It’s about an hour walk to town.Step 25
  29. When heading along the crater to town, you’ll pass a sandy area with a Chugchilán sign pointing back the way you came. After the sign the path splits, stay to the left.
  30. Continue to stay left at any splits, and follow the path up and down the crater until you get to the town! Congratulations! You made it!

Hostals in Quilotoa weren’t anything to write home about, but we enjoyed our stay in Hostal Cabanas/Alpaka. Check out all of our Quilotoa Loop accommodation in our overview.

13 Replies to “Complete Step-by-Step Guide to Hiking the Quilotoa Loop”

  1. I was so happy to see your brilliant directions. We are a family of four ( two 50 odd year olds and a couple of teenagers) and will be hiking the Quilotoa Loop in August. I have frightened myself to death after reading The Trail of Death posted by olaroundtheworld and all the dangerous landslides they had to circumnavigate. I’m not great on heights and don’t want to spoil it for the others. Your instructions don’t seem to indicate any fall away paths over precipitous edges – am I right in thinking that? One thing I would like to check out is having to walk across a black pipe on the way up to Quilotoa. Can I check, without sounding too neurotic, that it’s safe to cross and not the means to crossing some deep crevice? Thank-you for posting such fabulous instructions.

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    1. Hi Julie! Thanks for your comment!

      First off the black pipe that we talk about on the route from Chugchillan to Quilotoa was just a reference to let you know you’re on the right track. It’s embedded in the ground and you just step over it, no crevices or heights involved.

      As for heights and landslides, we heard similar stories before we did the loop. The only time when you’re somewhat skirting paths with precipitous edges is between Chugchillan and Quilotoa before you get to the waterfall break point. Devon is also not great with heights, and never had any big issues. The drops are never straight down, so it’s not like you’re walking along thin paths on the edge of cliffs. We could tell at some points that there were previous landslides, but the path is well used now and the nearby hostels remake the paths frequently. There is also an relatively new (October 2017) route that avoids a landslide between Insinlivi and Chugchillan that avoids a landslide prone area.

      Hopefully this helps, I hope you and your family have a great time hiking the loop!

      Like

  2. This is fantastic. My question may sound silly, but as a carry-on only girl, can I buy trekking poles in Latacunga? I am wondering if it is set up for trekkers in this way. Thx.

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    1. Hi! Glad you liked our post! Latacunga is mainly a working town, so there is very little infrastructure set up for tourism. It will probably be hard to find anywhere that sells trekking poles, we’d say the only city that’s a sure bet for trekking poles is Quito!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This is fantastic! My husband and I are doing this for our 12th anniversary, and I am so happy to have found your detailed notes! You’re a life saver as I’m more of a “we’ll figure it out” girl and he is a “we need maps and plans and details”

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  4. This was incredibly useful, thanks guys. Just got back from the trek and loved it!

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  5. By the way you can rent trekking poles in Latacunga from Hostal Sendero de Volcanes. I didn’t use them but would definitely have been useful.

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  6. Thanks a lot for the detailed step by step guide. Is there something I can download and load into the maps.me app to follow the trail? That would be very useful…

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    1. Hi Swiss Traveler!

      We’ve had a couple people inquire about this so we’ve created a google drive link where you can download our maps.me bookmarks to help you follow our route! You can find the link here drive.google.com/open?id=1iIdWT8a1GcS4D4HDS4qZPP4dr5KNs_Pg. Have a great time hiking the loop!

      Like

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