There are few views more beautiful in Ecuador than the landscape that reveals itself from the edge of Quilotoa crater lake’s rim. Born from the collapse of the volcano, the caldera will (literally) take your breath away. Located at an altitude of 3,914 meters, it’s a short road trip from Quito and one you don’t want to miss out on. From how to get to Quilotoa to what to do and where to stay, here’s how to visit Quilotoa on your own.
A Guide to Visiting Quilotoa
Quilotoa is a three-kilometer-wide caldera located west of the city of Latacunga. The greenish lake was formed following a massive eruption about 600 years ago. Legend has it that the lake is bottomless… That I don’t know about but it does have something mystical about it. Ranging from dark green to crystal blue, its color changes according to the weather’s mood. One thing’s for sure, it is a must-do in Ecuador.
How to get from Quito to Quilotoa
If Quilotoa is spectacular, the route to get there will give you a taste of what you’re in for. Overlooking the valley, the Andes and Cotopaxi, the winding road going from Latacunga to Quilotoa is an attraction in itself. As you gain altitude, the view is simply breathtaking. It takes between four and five hours to get to Quilotoa from Quito, depending on how you choose to travel there, but whether you go by bus or by car, secure a window seat and enjoy the ride!
By Public Transport
Getting to Quilotoa is fairly easy by bus. You’ll only have to switch buses once in Latacunga. First, go to the Quitumbe bus terminal, located in the South of Quito. Buses to Latacunga leave every 10 minutes and cost $2.50. Once in Latacunga, simply catch another bus to Quilotoa Crater Lake. The ticket also costs $2.50. You may have to wait a little bit as those minibusses are less frequent, but with that being said, I’ve never had to wait for more than 15 minutes.
By car – Hop-on-hop-off bus
Alternatively, if you’re short on time and want to visit Quilotoa in a day or prefer the comfort of a semi-organized tour, I would recommend hiring a driver in Quito or opt for a hop-on-hop-off bus such as Wanderbus or Ecuador Hop. Choose one of their routes according to your needs and travel plans and you’ll be on your way in no time.
What to do in Quilotoa
Now that you made it to the crater lake, you have a few options to make the most of your visit. Hike the crater’s rim, go down to the lake, kayak… Go for one or the other according to the amount of time you have and your fitness level. If you’re not used to the altitude, get ready to experience how walking uphill feels like at almost 4,000m above sea level!
Hike Around Quilotoa Crater Lake
Avid hikers, you simply can’t miss this one. The crater rim hike is a four to seven-hour walk that will show you everything that Quilotoa has to offer. Not only will you get to contemplate the crater lake from the highest point on the trail, but you will also be able to see the equally gorgeous views on the valley’s rolling hills on the other side. The trail is 11km long and if you’re lucky, you will run into alpacas, donkeys, and horses along the way. It should take you 5 to 7 hours to complete the hike so start early and bring plenty of water and food as you won’t come across anything during the hike.
Walk to the Shalala Viewpoint
If you don’t want to do the crater rim hike but still want a bit of hiking fun, make your way to the Shalala Viewpoint. The view from the suspended glass mirador will give you a different perspective on the lake, and it’s only a 30-minute walk!
Go Down to the Laguna
You can also hike down to the lake. Follow the winding sandy path down to the Laguna to get a closer look at its still waters. Can you guess how deep it is?! Walk around the bottom and back up when you’re ready. Keep in mind that the path is quite steep so it will take you about one hour to reach the rim. It might be a challenge because of the altitude but take it slow and it should be fine. Worst case scenario, you can ask for a donkey.
Rent a Kayak
I know. Who would have thought you can actually go kayaking in the crater of a volcano?! Well, in Quilotoa it’s possible! Rent a kayak at the bottom for $3 per half hour and navigate as far as your arms will take you.
Camp on the Laguna’s Shores
For the ultimate experience, spend the night on the shores of Quilotoa. There’s a camping site called Columpio De Playas De Quilotoa. It gets quite cold at night so bring warm clothes. You’ll be rewarded by a starry sky and a peaceful night!
Hike the Quilotoa Loop
Finally, if you have time and want the opportunity to witness local life up in the Andes, do the two or three-day trek known as the Quilotoa Loop! The trail starts in Sigchos or Isinlivi and connects remote villages to end at the crater lake (although you can also go about it the other way around). As you go from village to village, camping is not required. You can spend the night in one of the town’s hostels before setting off again in the morning. You don’t need a guide to complete this trek but make sure to download a map and mark the path on maps.me or another map that works offline.
Where to Stay
The town of Quilotoa itself isn’t particularly charming but it is still worth spending the night there to start hiking in the early hours the next day. Hostels are basic but enough for a one-night stay. As it gets chilly at night, look for rooms with a chimney. Also, note that there are no ATMs in the village and most hostels charge more if you wish to pay by card.
Here are a few options:
- Hostal Chukirawa – for the location (right in front of the lake!)
- Hosteria Alpaka – for comfortable beds.
- Runa Wasi – for the cleanliness.
Let me know if you’re planning a visit to Quilotoa, and don’t hesitate to ask me any questions in the comments! Make sure to check out my Cuicocha Lake Guide for more hiking adventures in the Ecuadorian Andes, and for more unusual spots to explore, read 10 Off the Beaten Path Places to Visit in Ecuador.
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