While backpacking through Ecuador, you will hear travelers talking about the popular multi-day trek filled with beauty and culture, the Quilotoa Loop. The Laguna de Quilotoa is a striking crater lake found in the Cotopaxi Province in the famed “Avenues of Volcanoes.” This incredible stretch of land between Quito and Cuenca is the heart of the Ecuadorian Highlands and includes a shockingly vast quantity of both active and dormant volcanoes. It’s a chance to appreciate the Andes Mountains in all of their glory.
While many visitors opt to visit Quilotoa Lake as a day trip from Quito, those seeking an intimate cultural experience surrounded in spectacular nature will love hiking the Quilotoa Loop. The multi-day hike includes overnight stops in small communities and twists through the Los Illinizas Nature Reserve surrounded by none other than the mysticism of the Andes Mountains. This picturesque adventure is often praised as one of the best hikes in Ecuador.
This complete hiking guide for the Quilotoa Loop trek follows the “standard route,” of north to south from the village of Sigchos to Quilotoa Crater Lake. Below, find a free downloadable Quilotoa hike map, helpful travel tips, a day by day schedule, and how much to budget for a 3 day Quilotoa Loop hike.
Table of Contents
Disclosure: This is part of my Hikes & Adventures series, which means these treks can be strenuous and challenging. These are my experiences, but it does not make me an expert by any means. Please have all the proper equipment, verify the weather conditions, use professional resources, do your own research, and take into consideration your own physical abilities and/or limitations. Please see my full disclosure for more information here.
- Quilotoa Loop Map & Hiking Logistics
- Useful Tips for the Quilotoa Loop Trek
- Detailed Schedule | Hiking Quilotoa Loop 3 Days
- Total Cost of 3 Day Quilotoa Loop Hike
- Where to Next After Laguna Quilotoa?
- Review | The Complete Guide to Hiking Quilotoa Loop in 3 Days
Quilotoa Loop Map & Hiking Logistics
Here’s my personal 3 day Quilotoa Loop hike map and daily schedule.
Daily Schedule | Quilotoa Loop 3 Days
This schedule follows the standard trek route of Sigchos to Quilotoa Crater Lake
Mileage distances are rounded to the nearest quarter of a mile.
- Day 1 | Sigchos to Isinlivi | 7.75 miles
- Day 2 | Isinlivi to Chugchilán | 8 miles
- Day 3 | Chugchilan to Quilotoa via the “Adventure Route” | 8.4 miles
⁉️ If downloading the Quilotoa Loop map, please verify that the map is correct and follows the waypoints. Oftentimes there are updates to the site, map platforms, and other things, which can cause a bug in downloading. This map is solely a planning tool. Please comment below if something doesn’t download right or email me here, as it helps me keep the maps up to date and maintained. Always hike responsibly and respect the mountains by practicing no trace philosophy, avoid hiking alone, and don’t stray from the visible trail. I also love to check and plan my routes with useful tools like graphhopper.
Quilotoa Loop 3 Days Trekking Logistics
- Point-to-Point Trail
- 3 Day Trek
- This Quilotoa Loop map starts in Sigchos village and ends in Quilotoa village
- Mileage: +/- 24 miles | There are different trail options along the route
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Trail Markers: The trail is fairly well marked with wooden red and yellow signboards along the route. Sometimes the paths aren’t marked, so an offline Quilotoa Loop map is essential. Maps.me has all of the trail options for hiking Lake Quilotoa.
- No camping gear is necessary.
- There are guesthouses in each village that always provide a nighty paper Quilotoa Loop Map, dinner, and breakfast. Average cost is $15 – $20 per night per person
- Packing List & Gear Essentials for Multi-Day Quilotoa Loop Trek
- Hiking Books with good ankle support, even better if they are water resistant
- Layered clothing, preferably long sleeves and pants for sun protection and from bushy overgrowth
- Baseball cap, sunscreen
- Small toiletries (towels provided by guesthouses)
- swimsuit (optional if staying in guesthouses with hot tubs & saunas)
- Lightweight Rain Jacket
- Dry, warm clothing for night including a wool hat and mittens
- Water Filter, but not essential as guesthouses provide drinking water
- First-Aid Kit
- Offline Quilotoa Loop Map & Nightly Paper Map
- Hiking Poles if you love them
- Something to help pass the time at night, journal, books, kindle, tablet, and all the essential chargers
Useful Tips for the Quilotoa Loop Trek
Here’s more useful information when prepping for the Quilotoa Loop trek.
Most Hikers Start in Latacunga Ecuador
Latacunga is a fairly large city and hub in the Ecuador Highlands. This is the most common starting point for those looking to hike the Quilotoa Loop. While not exactly a picturesque city, Latacunga does have a large local market, a busy main bus terminal, and is a central hub for Ecuador’s Volcano Alley. There are also plenty of restaurants, artisan shops, and places to stock up on last minute supplies for the trek. At night, locals enjoy strolling the large plaza that fills with street-food vendors and activity.
You will have to carry enough cash for the entire trek since there are no ATM’s en-route, so Latacunga is the last place to stock-up on cash.
How to Get to Latacunga
Latacunga is around 2 hours from Ecuador’s capital city of Quito. Most travelers move south from Quito’s Quitumbe Terminal to explore the nearby reserves, including Cotopaxi National Park.
🚌 Quito to Latacunga Buses | Buses Depart: frequently from Terminal Terrestre Quitumbe | Average Bus Fare: $3 USD | Duration: 2 hours | Dependent on what bus company, you may be dropped on the main highway where you will have to bargain with taxi’s for a ride into town (I couldn’t get lower than $4 for the 2 minute ride)
Alternatively, from the South, most travelers will come from Riobamba, or as far away as Cuenca. Be mindful that the bus ride from Cuenca takes at least 8 hours, so a night bus may be optimal.
🚌 Riobamba to Latacunga Ecuador | Bus Company: Chimborazo | Average One-Way ticket: $4 | Duration: 2 hours
Where to Sleep in Latacunga Ecuador
The hostel La Posada Hostel del Viajero is a no-frills hostel with private or shared rooms. All rooms have private bathrooms and they stow extra luggage for free for hikers. The owner, Victor, is a former guide and is happy to answer any questions about hiking the Quilotoa loop and even offers to reserve guesthouses along the route for free. Victor speaks excellent English and has tons of useful information for the entire Cotopaxi region and surrounding hikes.
Hiking Quilotoa Loop Standard Route vs Reverse Route
There are multiple ways to hike to Ecuador’s top attraction, but most plan for 3 days. The standard trek route is from North to South and begins in the village of Sigchos and ends in Quilotoa Village. Alternatively, the “reverse route” is hiked from the crater lake to Sigchos.
Some say that the reverse route is easier since it starts at the Quilotoa Crater Lake that has a staggering elevation of 12,841 ft. The trail ends in Sigchos which has a significantly lower elevation of 9,265 ft . However, the trail ascents and descents day by day, so there really isn’t a very notable difference. The standard route finishes at the Quilotoa Crater, so makes for a superb finale.
Whichever route way you choose, you will enjoy hiking the Quilotoa loop.
When to Hike the Quilotoa Loop & Altitude Tips
The Quilotoa Loop can be hiked any time of the year; however, keep in mind that the Ecuador Highlands have two very distinctive seasons, dry and rainy. In general, dry season is from April to October, while rainy season is from November until March. However, the Ecuador Highlands can have less rain in the months of December and January.
Remember, at these altitudes the weather is wild, volatile, and can change in an instant.
During the dry season, there is less rain, but the nights are cooler than the rainy season. With the rainy season comes the vivid green coloring, but also muddy trails and higher possibilities of mudslides and rock-slides. The hiking paths along the Quilotoa Loop are a mixture of gravel roads, dirt and grass paths. Most mornings start out clear, but since it’s in a cloud forest, the clouds almost always roll in around noon.
💬 Personal Experience | I hiked the Quilotoa Loop in January and had beautiful weather up until 14:00 everyday. Some days it was just cloudy in the afternoons, while other days there were brief and light rain showers.
The lowest altitude of the Quilotoa trek is around 8,300 ft, so it’s best to be properly acclimated to the elevation. If you’re already in Ecuador, that should be no problem, unless coming directly from the coast or the Galapagos Islands. Drinking coca leaf tea or guayusa tea can help alleviate altitude sickness.
For reference, here are the altitudes of popular sleeping villages along the Quilotoa trek:
Isinlivi Elevation: 9,655 ft. | Chugchilan Elevation: 10,500 ft. (3,200 m) | Quilotoa Village Elevation: 12,680 ft. (3,865 m)
Quilotoa Loop Tour vs. Independent Hiking Quilotoa Loop
There are many guided Quilotoa Loop tours, yet many visitors opt to hike the loop on their own.
This is one of the most popular treks in Ecuador and many hikers walk the trail daily. Since most sleep in guesthouses along the route, it’s easy to talk with fellow hikers, get up to date trail information, and find new hiking buddies along the way. Each guesthouse also provides a hand-drawn map plus all of the trail options are clearly marked on Maps.me. There are signboards along the way. However, it’s still possible to deviate from the trail. (As you can see I had a few short missteps).
If you have basic hiking skills, can follow an offline hiking map, and aren’t worried about time, you will have no problems hiking the Quilotoa Loop without a tour. On the contrary, guides are easy to find in the villages or can be arranged in Latacunga. Always do what feels best for you.
Safety Tips for Quilotoa Loop Ecuador
The Quilotoa Loop hike is generally safe. Guesthouses will steer you away from any hazards like rock or mudslides that happen along the trail. The communities are warm and inviting and have their own set of laws, so I never felt unsafe walking the loop alone.
Sometimes the dogs can be territorial and seem aggressive. If you reach down to “grab a stone” they usually run away. Some people prefer carrying hiking poles or a stick just to help shield themselves from hostile dogs.
Detailed Schedule | Hiking Quilotoa Loop 3 Days
This a day by day breakdown for hiking the Quilotoa Loop in 3 days via the north to south route, Sigchos to Quilotoa Village.
Day 1 | Sigchos to Isinlivi
Most hikers will depart from Latacunga early in the morning for Sigchos. There’s an excellent local market to grab some last minute snacks near the bus station before departing for the trek. The bus takes two hours, so to enjoy the beauty of the mountains. For timing logistics, it’s best to leave Latacunga before 10:00.
How to Reach the Trailhead in Sigchos from Latacunga
🚌 Latacunga to Sigchos Bus Logistics | Buses depart from: Latacunga Terminal Terrestre | Bus Company: Reina de Sigchos | Current Morning Departure Times: 5:00, 6:00, 8:00, 9:30 | Average Cost: $2.65 | Duration: 2 hours
Official Quilotoa Loop Trailhead
In Sigchos, walk past the main plaza towards the outskirts of town where the Saturday Animal Market takes place. Hikers should take the road to the right and follow the signs to Isinlivi. This beautiful part of the trail descends down to a small chapel, Nuestra Senora del Cisne.
Make sure to check in with an offline Quilotoa Loop map, since there are small paths that lead to private property. After the church you will need to veer onto a grass path. You can see that I followed the road and ended up with some unhappy dogs in front of someone homes.
At the end of the grass path is a gravel road that leads to a divergent trail to the Gualligua Waterfall.
Cascade de Gualligua
The Cascade Gualligua is just a short path (600 m) that leads to a small waterfall. It’s not a must-see waterfall in Ecuador, but makes for a great place to cool off on a hot afternoon. There is a bench at the signboard in case you opt for a rest. The waterfall is a tranquil space to drink some water and grab a snack.
After the waterfall, continue back on the path to the town of Isinlivi. The trail is to the left after a house and is marked with a signboard. There is a concrete bridge to cross the Toachi River.
🥾 Trail Logistics | Trailhead to bridge crossing | 5.25 miles | 2 hours
After the river crossing, the path begins a steeper ascent to Isinlivi. There are fabulous views of the canyon below.
The path merges onto a gravel road that leads Isinlivi. Take a right down the grass path that starts before the town’s “bus stop.” The bus stop is simply a bench. This grassy trail leads to Isinlivi and is quicker and more scenic.
The picturesque village of Isinliví is snugly nestled into the mountains and boasts a few nearby mirador trails, a skilled wood-work artisan, and a small church. It’s quiet, but that’s where the real charm lies. Before getting too comfortable in your guesthouse, make sure to walk the streets and climb up to the short mirador path.
✈ Travel Planning | 20+ Charming South America Villages the Andes Mountains
Where to Sleep in Isinlivi
Isinlivi town is always a favorite among hikers on the Quilotoa Loop. It may because of the Llullu Llama Mountain Lodge. This popular guesthouse boasts a hot tub, outdoor space, and a cozy lodge interior.
Another popular guesthouse is Hostal Taita Cristobal. This cozy family run lodge has a lovely garden, green space, and on-site llamas. The food is delicious and they make fresh tea at night from the garden.
☛ Remember, along the Quilotoa hike route, most accommodations include a bed, dinner, breakfast, and free drinking water
Hiking Quilotoa Loop Day 1 Logistics
- Distance: 7.75 miles
- Duration: 3.5 – 5 hours
- Personal Schedule & Notes: I took the 8:00 bus from Latacunga to Sigchos. I arrived in Sigchos and started at the trailhead at 10:30. I hiked to the waterfall, took lots of photos, and only got off path once… 🙂 ! I arrived into Isinlivi at 14:00, so my hiking time for the day was 3.5 hours. Isinlivi is super cute, so I walked to the mirador and visited the church.
Day 2 | Isinlivi to Chugchilán
After a hearty breakfast begin on the trail to Chugchilan. Shortly after leaving Isinlivi, there will be a bridge, however, don’t cross it. Rather, take the “sendero,” or small path to the right. Refer to the map, you can see at first, I crossed the bridge, but glad I redirected. This scenic trail can be muddy, especially during the rainy season but twists through the beautiful canyon with some of my favorite views along the Quilotoa Loop.
Walk next to the beautiful Toachi River. The trail opens into a pasture and you will need to hop over a broken cattle gate. After that, look for wooden tree bridge. Cross it to reach a gravel path.
The path leads to the small hamlet of Itualo. Walk past the church and look to the right. There will be an uphill grass path near a small shack. Follow this path that begins the steep ascent to the small community of Chinaló.
Chinaló & Toachi River Viewpoint
In Chinaló, stop by the mirador that offers incredible views of the Toachi Canyon. At the mirador, find a covered awning, bench, and a garbage-drop. The nearby community sells fresh fruit and some artisan goods. The viewpoint is fantastic on a clear day!
🥾 Trail Logistics | Isinlivi to Mirador Cañon del Toachi | 5.75 miles | 3 hours 15 minutes
In Chinalo is a signboard that points to Chugchilan Village. Unfortunately, it meets up with paved road that leads to Chugchilan. The first marker of the village is the famous Black Sheep Inn. Other hostels are closer to the center across from the small cemetery.
Chugchilan Village is a popular base for hikers looking simply to take day trips to nearby places, including a day hike to Laguna de Quilotoa. There is a famous cheese factory, Quesería San Miguelito that can be toured and there are lots of trails for horseback riding.
Where to Sleep in Chugchilan
Hostal Cloud Forest is known for their hearty plates of home-cooked food, central location, and for marking the Quilotoa Loop trail with signboards. They offer shared and private rooms and have fireplaces in the room that they light at night.
Hostal el Vaquero is located outside of the village, closer towards the Laguna de Quilotoa and has beautiful green spaces and boasts its own sauna.
The Black Sheep Inn has luxury mountain huts with award winning vegetarian meals, This is THE place to stay if you are sleeping for a few nights in Chugchilan. They have an all day coffee and tea bar with delicious pastries. There are shared rooms options for $20 a night.
Hiking Quilotoa Loop Day 2 Logistics
- Distance: 8 miles
- Duration: +/- 4 – 5 hours
- Personal Schedule & Notes: I left Isinlivi at 8:30 with a to-go lunch. The lunch on day 2 was worth it! I enjoyed it at the Mirador Cañon del Toachi and walked into Chugchilan at 12:45, so I hiked just over 4 hours for the day. The paved road into Chugchilan was my least favorite part of the Quilotoa Lake hike. Stop by Cafeteria Paquita to enjoy a pricey, but worth it microbrew from the Golden Prague in Cuenca
Day 3 | Chugchilan to Quilotoa Crater Lake
On the final day, there are two paths to choose from to reach Quilotoa Lake. The standard route that most hikers take passes through La Moya Baja and La Moya Alta. Alternatively, there’s a quicker, but more steep “adventure route” that follows the outskirts of Guayama San Pedro community. Check in the hostels before departure, as sometimes the adventure route can be closed due to mudslides.
After the small community of Sigue, there will be a signboard that is marked as the “Adventure Route.” The grassy trail to the left begins the adventure route, otherwise keep following the road straight to reach La Moya Baja.
Cross the the Sigue River via a rickety wooden bridge. There are plenty of markers for Quilotoa Lake. There is another makeshift bridge further up. This is the one that is sometimes destroyed due to mudslide. This trail is up and running as of January 2022.
Viewpoint & Guayama San Pedro
There’s an excellent viewpoint of the canyon below before arriving in Guayama San Pedro. Walk along the outskirts of town and follow the gravel path up. This is a fairly large ascent but you can follow a few switchbacks to help speed up the process. Finally, you will have those first magical glimpses of Laguna Quilotoa.
First Quilotoa Mirador
There is a Quilotoa Mirador and observation deck right below a wooden snack bar. It’s free to enjoy the space.
Afterward, there are two paths a lower loop trail and a higher Quilotoa loop rim trail. Both trails are marked on maps.me, but STAY on the higher and more trekked path to avoid potential problems with the locals.
☛ Travel Tip | The “lower trail” is meant for livestock, so even though it’s marked on Maps.me and I took it for a bit, it’s best not to use this trail. I had an unpleasant encounter on the lower path, not unsafe just a nuisance
Follow along the crater lake to the right on the higher Quilotoa Loop trail. This trek ends at the final Quilotoa Mirador that is across from Hostería Chukirawa.
There is an entrance fee to access the Quilotoa Community.
Quilotoa Community Entrance Fee: $2 USD, pay it upon exit or pay an authorized seller… they will give you a ticket
There are lots of restaurants and artisan shops here to browse. Some opt to sleep in Quilotoa Village for the night and hike the whole Quilotoa crater rim the following day or by hopping on a boat tour at the lake or renting a kayak.
The Quilotoa crater rim hike is also a popular day trip from Quito, so it can be busier than the previous hiking days, especially on the weekend.
The Quilotoa hotels and guesthouses are a little more expensive here, since Laguna Quilotoa is one of Ecuador’s top attractions. If you want another day of hiking, sleep in Quilotoa and hike the following day to Zumbahua village. Zumbahua has even more frequent buses back to Latacunga.
➜ If you opt to sleep here one night, here’s some of the best Quilotoa hotels and hostals
However, you may be ready to head back to Latacunga. There are daily buses from Quilotoa Ecuador to Latacunga.
Hiking Quilotoa Loop Day 3 Logistics
- Distance: 8.4 miles
- Duration: +/- 4.5 hours – 6 hours
- Personal Schedule & Notes: I always opt for the “adventure route” when hiking, so I did follow the left trail that passes through Guayama San Pedro. I left at 8:45 from the hostel with a sandwich to-go. I arrived to the first mirador at 11:30 (around 3 hours) and hung out quite a bit there since I had great weather. The remaining Quilotoa crater rim walk to Quilotoa village doesn’t take long. I arrived to the final Quilotoa Mirador in the village at 13:15.
Total Cost of 3 Day Quilotoa Loop Hike
So how much does it cost to hike the Quilotoa Loop in 3 days and 2 nights?
Prices on the table are rounded to the nearest 25¢
|Snacks from the Latacunga Market||$4|
|Bus Fare | Latacunga to Sigchos||$2.65|
|Night 1 Guesthouse Isinlivi||$15|
|Night 2 Guesthouse Chugchilan||$15|
|Microbeer in Town||$5|
|Sandwich to-go from Hostel||$1|
|Quiltoa Village Fee||$2|
|Artisan Goods & Snacks Along the Trek||$7|
|Lunch in Quilotoa||$4|
|Bus Fare | Quilotoa to Latacunga||$2.50|
It cost me $58.65 to hike the 3 day Quilotoa Loop trek
Due to COVID, the trails and guesthouses are pretty much empty. I tried to purchase small things in each village, whether it was a man selling bracelets or a girl selling fresh fruit. These small villages en-route who were once used to seeing hundreds of hikers per day pass through their communities are now seeing less than 20 visitors each day.
Most organized tours cost around $500 for 3 days, but if you seek a local guide in Quilotoa or Sigchos, it costs much less and the money stays within the communities.
Where to Next After Laguna Quilotoa?
After finishing the Quilotoa trek, return to Latacunga to pick up your excess luggage.
🚌 Quilotoa to Latacunga Buses | Average Fare: $2.50 | Duration: 2.5 hours | Current Departure Schedule: 5:30, 6:30, 7:00, 8:45, 10:45, 12:15, 13:45, 14:45, 15:30 16:15, 17:00, 17:30
Maybe plan to hike in Cotopaxi National Park. Otherwise, head north towards Quito or south in the direction of Cuenca from the Valley of the Volcanoes.
Buses to Quito
🚌 Latacunga to Quito Buses | Buses Depart: every 30 minutes or less via multiple bus companies | Average Bus Fare: $3 USD | Duration: 2 hours | Buses Arrive in Quito @ Terminal Terrestre Quitumbe
Buses to South Ecuador
Most buses will stop in Ambato or Riobamba. From there it’s possible to catch a bus to the adventure capital of Ecuador, Baños de Agua Santa. Farther south find the colonial city of Cuenca. There are tons of worthwhile day trips from Cuenca including hiking adventures in Cajas National Park or visiting the El Chorro Waterfall. There are also lovely artisan villages near Cuenca for in-depth cultural experiences.
If seeking more hiking in Ecuador, stop in adorable Alausí. This magic town is home to the famous Devil’s Nose train, but intrepid travelers can hike the Devil’s Nose, or “La Nariz del Diablo.” It’s also the gateway to the Ecuador Inca trail that takes three days to reach the largest Inca ruins of Ecuador, Ingapirca.
🚌 Latacunga to Alausi Ecuador | might require a transfer in Riobamba | Average One-Way ticket: $4 to Riobamba / $2 to Alausi ≈$6 | Duration: +/ – 4 hours
The Complete Guide to Hiking Quilotoa Loop in 3 Days
In conclusion, Laguna Quilotoa is one of the top attractions in Ecuador, and there’s no better way to experience it than hiking the Quilotoa Loop. There are multiple routes to choose from, but whichever path you choose, it will include stunning mountains, enchanting hamlets, and a chance to witness authentic life in the Ecuador Highlands. The Quilotoa Loop is named one of the best treks in Ecuador for a reason.
This definitive hiking guide includes a free Quilotoa Loop map that follows the north to south standard Quilotoa Loop route. Enjoy this relaxed 3 day Quilotoa Loop itinerary and appreciate one of the most popular stops along the breathtaking Ecuador Volcano Alley.
Walk slow with intention and feel the magic powers of the Andes Mountains. The grand finale is the glistening Quilotoa Crater Lake, the ultimate reward after 3 days of walking. Although it was incredible, to me, this trek was all about the journey, and the simple moments along the way.
Did you hike Quilotoa Loop? What route did you follow? Did this 3 day Quilotoa Loop travel guide come in handy? What did you think of this popular Ecuador trekking route? Let me know in the comments below!
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