If there is a classic Ecuadorian backpacking trip, it is the Quilotoa Loop. Contrary to its name, the Quilotoa Loop is not actually a loop, but rather a 30 mile point to point trek that ends up at the beautiful Quilotoa Lagoon. If you are looking for a backpacking trip in Ecuador on a short timeframe, this is definitely the one to put on your itinerary!
The Quilotoa Loop hiking route starts in Sigchos and ends in Quilotoa. It is possible to do the trek in the opposite direction, and some people may choose to do this because going the other way is technically easier. However, for most people, I think it is better to go from Sigchos to Quilotoa. First, it is not that much easier going north rather than south. Every day of hiking will require a lot of climbing no matter which direction you choose. Second, most people travel south, so you will be able to walk with people you meet traveling in the southern direction.
The Typical itinerary is to do the trek in 3 days. Start day one in Sigchos and walk to Isinlivi. Day two, walk to Chugchilan. Finally on day 3 walk to the Quilotoa Lagoon.
When To Go
The Quilotoa Loop is situated in the driest part of the Ecuadorian Andes, which means the days will be warm and partly clear most of the year. With that said, Ecuador has a rainy and a dry season. The rainy season takes place roughly from November through April. Even if you might get lucky without rain, the clouds might obscure your view of the Quilotoa Lagoon. It is much more common for the lake to be cloud covered in the afternoons, so if you think you are going to get to the rim late, consider staying an extra day in Quilotoa to be able to see the crater the next morning.
How to Get To the Quilotoa Loop
The closest city is Latacunga. The cheapest way to get to either Sigchos or Quilotoa from Latacunga is via bus. Busses travel from Latacunga to Sigchos with relative frequency. The ride will take about 2-3 hours and should cost around $3. The route from Sigchos to Isinlivi is the easiest segment of the route, but it is still challenging, so try and get an early bus.
Other Things to Know
If you are planning to do the whole trek, you will probably want somewhere to store your things while you are hiking. The best thing to do is to store your luggage in Latacunga. Hostel Tiana will hold your things for a small fee for the few days you are gone.
Where to Stay on the Quilotoa Loop
If you make any reservations anywhere in Ecuador, let it be Llullu Llama Hostel in Isinlivi. Llullu Llama is widely regarded to be one of the best hostels in Ecuador, and it is easy to see why. The food is good, the accomodations are nice, the view is absolutely spectacular!
If you are traveling during a weekday on non holidays, you might be able to get away with asking for a room when you get there. However, Llullu Llama is a destination in itself, so plan ahead just to be safe!
The other town you will probably stay in is Chugchilan. Chugchilan has many more options than Isinlivi. Some of the notable options are Black Sheep Inn, Cloud Forest Hostel and Hostel El Vaquero. Of the three, Cloud Forest Hostel is the most popular. Black Sheep Inn is probably the nicest. It has great views, amazing vegetarian food and an unbeatable atmosphere!
The last town that you might stay in is Quilotoa. For most people, I think there is no need to stay a night here. If you arrive at the crater rim and the view is obscured by the clouds, then you should stay one night and try to see the lake the next day.
The trail is actually just a connection of footpaths and roads that have been strung into a path through the various towns. While there is a “main” trail, you can go off an explore alternative options.
The most well traveled paths are for the most part marked by signs that have been put up by the Cloud Forest Hostel. Because Cloud Forest is situated in Chugchilan, the signs are much easier to follow if you are headed toward Chugchilan. This means if you are traveling from Sigchos or Quilotoa toward Chugchilan, the signs will be easy to follow. If you are traveling from Chugchilan to Sigchos or Quilotoa, they will be a little more challenging.
Even with the signs, I always think it is a good idea to take a gps track to follow just in case. AllTrails has the complete track here. Do not feel like you have to stay tied to the gps. There might be some places where it is easier to go a slightly different way than the gpx file.
What to Pack
This is not a true backpacking trip in that you will be staying in hostels instead of camping. Due to this, you won’t need to take things that are normally required for camping. Here is a list of everything I brought with me:
- Mid Layer jackets
- Base Layers
- 3 Liter Camelbak (Though you will be find with 1 or 2)
- Extra Pair of Socks
- Running Shoes
Additionally, I brought some Camera Gear for photos and video. If you are interested in the gear I brought it is as follows:
- DJI Pocket
- Fuji xt20 with 23 mm lens
- Peak Design Travel Tripod and Camera Clip
- DJI Mavic Mini