After spending almost five months in Central America we were excited to start making plans for the South. Being outdoorsy people, we were really looking forward to the amount of treks South America has to offer but after a quick search of “best treks/hikes to do in South America” I realised it wasn’t going to be possible to do everything as time and money both had their limits for us. Trying to keep a budget we thought we would only do the treks we really really just HAD to do and so the Quilotoa Loop got cut.
We spent over 5 weeks in Colombia and as we generally plan each country as it comes, we hadn’t thought much about Ecuador again until the week before arriving. That’s when I found out you could do the Quilotoa Loop on your own, and it could cost less than $100 a day for both of us! This post explains exactly how we managed it and our wonderful experience doing this trek which we think is a must for anyone planning a trip to Ecuador who loves hiking and landscapes!
The route and where to stay
As with anything that at first seems complicated, with foreign names of towns/villages that are hard to say, let alone remember, I was a bit overwhelmed with how to plan this trek. Here is a simple explanation of the route we took for the trek.
Latacunga – 1 night
Bus Latacunga to Sigchos 9.30am – 2 hours
Hike Sigchos to Isinlivi – 3-4 hours, 1 night
Hike Isinlivi to Chugchilan – 4-6 hours, 1 night
Hike Chugchilan to Quilotoa – 5-6 hours, 1 night
Taxi Quilotoa to Zumbahua – 20 mins
Bus Zumbahua To Latacunga – 1.5 hours
Latacunga is the main town where you will arrive and probably spend the night before starting the trek in the morning. We stayed at Hostel Sendero de Volcanes. This place seems as though it was designed for people doing the Quilotoa Loop. As soon as we arrived they asked if we were doing the trek and printed off maps as well as explained each day and how long it should take although they could improve on their maps offered.
It is best to store your bags in Latacunga to avoid carrying everything you have. Hostel Sendero had huge lockers which we could fit both our bags in for $1 a day. They offered breakfast for $2.50, a small toastie, eggs, fruit, juice and coffee/tea/hot chocolate (para mi) and had a shared kitchen. They informed us that the first bus to Sigchos leaves at 9.30 everyday.
The bus from Latacunga to Sigchos cost $4.60 and took about 2 hours. When we got off we had no idea where to go so we asked some others doing the hike if they knew where to start. They let us take photos of their directions which were very detailed and helped a lot!
The hike from Sigchos to Isinlivi was relatively easy, a bit of downhill to start off with then a bit of up then a LOT of up. But it wasn’t too bad. The weather was beautiful and we were in our element, enjoying each others company and stopping for snacks every so often. It took us quicker than expected and before we knew it we were arriving at our first hostel, Hostal Taita Cristobal which I booked via email through the website and highly recommend staying at. We got shown our private room with bathroom and the gardens where I couldn’t wait to go sit and read in the afternoon sun. Hostal Taita was the perfect place to stay after hiking, it was cosy and offered tea from 4pm onwards. After showering and getting warm we laid out in the garden and enjoyed the view. Soon after, some kids came wandering in with their llamas. I think they were showing off, but we loved it and went and pet the animals. There was also a baby cow who’d been adopted, she loved chewing our feet, my whole foot fit in her mouth! Breakfast and dinner, which are included in the room rate, were super yum and filling, in my opinion, the best on the whole route. Dinner consisted of three courses, soup, main and a dessert and breakfast included omelet, bread, fruit, jam, juice and coffee/tea.
After breakfast, we set off for Chugchilan. This day was probably the hardest for us. In the morning one of the guides said that the uphill for today was only half an hour and not as hard as the day before. Well you know what? HE LIED!!! It was by far NOT easier than the day before and took longer than half an hour. And when I have expectations of a hikes difficulty and they turn out to be harder, I am not happy! Plus the sun was beaming down on my stupid non-hat covered head so this made it worse but we made it in the end to our place an additional half an hour after arriving in Chugchilan because our hostel, Hostal El Vaquero was all the way at the other end of town. All was forgiven when I saw hammocks outside our room and amazing views from our window!
After a much appreciated shower, I was lying in the sun, enjoying a hammock more than ever! I also booked our stay at Hostal El Vaquero via email through their website and I recommend staying here. They also include breakfast and dinner in their rates and we were happy with our meals, particularly breakfast which included a HUGE fruit salad. We were full and ready for day three of hiking
Our last day of hiking was probably my favourite. The woman at our hostel gave us a map and told us the directions to Quilotoa. She showed us the beginning of the trek and we were now grateful for that extra half an hour walk the afternoon before because we got to start ahead. She pointed to a speck of white across the valley and said that’s where we needed to head to a town called Guayama. The only way was down then back up!
I really enjoyed walking along the valley ridge and there is a waterfall lookout point where we had our first rest stop. Then we headed up. It was a bit of a struggle but not too bad. There were old women herding their sheep and cows passing us, one even said to Harry as I was lagging behind “la señorita esta cansada” (the girl is tired).
Once we got to the section which leads up to the lake, a man and his little brother joined us as they had a tienda at the top so we walked with them and it probably distracted us from the hill and we were up in what felt like no time. Coming up over the ridge, we finally got to see what this trek was about, Laguna Quilotoa! It is big and the colour is a really deep bluey-turquiose, it was beautiful. We loved the walk around the crater, you can go the long (3.5+ hours) or short (1.5+ hours) way. We went with short and it felt like long enough. We arrived at Hostal Chukirawa and were glad to see another common area with hammocks, my favourite! This place was busier than the last two locations because people come to stay in Quilotoa without doing the loop. Dinner and breakfast were our least favourite here, very basic and not much. The thing that got this place over the line was we had a fireplace in our room which was started after dinner, so cosy! We also saw a beautiful sunset from our window.
What to bring
You don’t need to bring a lot for the Quilotoa trek. One outfit for hiking, maybe two tops if you get stinky and another outfit for when you get clean. A fleece, thermals and waterproof jacket all come in handy as the weather changes quickly. We had hiking boots because we’d just bought new ones in Quito (yay) but they are not necessary. I would recommend bringing a beanie and gloves for when you get to the top of Quilotoa Lake, it is very windy and chilly and the nights in all three towns were pretty cold out. Also bring along sun protection i.e. hat, sunscreen, something to cover the shoulders, the sun is very hot here. Camera of course and phone if you have apps like wikiloc or maps.me which are helpful for navigating the trail.
An important thing for us was having snacks. Even though you get breakfast and dinner, you are hiking for hours a day and dinner isn’t until 7pm at each location therefore you can still get hungry in the afternoon. We stocked up in Latacunga the day before with fruit, muesli bars, cookies and chocolate. We also bought sandwiches at each hostel for the day for $1 each because we just get really hungry ok! Also make sure you get enough money out in Latacunga as the hostels all take cash only and there are no atms along the way.
How much it cost us
- Hostel Sendero de Volcanes 1 night $20 ($25 AUD)
- Hostal Taita 1 night $30 ($38 AUD)
- Hostel Vaquero 1 night $40 ($50 AUD)
- Hostal Chukirawa 1 night $47 ($59 AUD)
Total accommodation costs: $137 ($173 AUD)
- $20 (snacks in Latacunga)
- $5 (breakfast Latacunga)
- $5 (beers, chips sandwiches for next day from hostel)
- $13 (water, beers, sandwiches for next day from hostel)
- $5 (beer and coffee, we over paid because the guy didn’t have a lot of change and we felt bad taking it all)
- $3 (beer and chips)
Total food costs: $51 ($65 AUD)
- $1.50 (taxi to terminal in Latacunga)
- $4.60 (bus to Sigchos)
- $6 (truck to Zumbahua)
- $3 (bus to Latacunga terminal)
- $1.25 (taxi to hostel to pick up bags)
Total transport costs: $16.35 ($20.60 AUD)
- $3 (lockers)
Total miscellaneous costs: $3 ($3.80 AUD)
TOTAL SPEND ON QUILOTOA LOOP FOR TWO PEOPLE: $207.35 ($262.40 AUD)
Yay we did the Quilotoa Loop spending under $100 a day for 4 nights and 3 days of hiking! Doing the Quilotoa Loop made us realise how much we like trekking but also appreciate the comforts of staying in hostels/guesthouses along the way and having delicious food provided! Now we really want to do the Camino de Santiago in Spain, has anyone done it? Would love some feedback on it!