Visiting The Quilotoa Crater: 3-Day Loop Trek vs Day Trip From Quito

The Quilotoa Crater is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Ecuador. The two best options for seeing it include the epic 3-day self-guided trek known as the Quilotoa Loop or visiting the crater on a day trip from Quito. Here’s a simple breakdown of the cost, timings and advantages and disadvantages of both so you can decide which works best for you.

Quilotoa Loop vs Day Trip From Quito Comparison

Here’s a breakdown and comparison of the costs, timings and advantages and disadvantages of the Quilotoa Loop vs visiting the crater on a day trip from Quito.

 

We’ve also included the overnight stay as a third option for those of you who want to visit the Quilotoa Crater without a tour. This option may work best for travellers continuing south through Ecuador.

 

 Here’s a simple comparison table to help you decide:

Quilotoa Loop Day Trip From Quito Overnight Stay/Without A Tour
Timing
3 days
10 - 12 hours
1 day, 1 night
Cost
$100
$50
$40-60
Pros
• Epic Adventure
• See parts of the country most travellers will miss
• Can stay extra days and stay as long as you like at Quilotoa
• Great if you are short on time
• Guide with expert knowledge
• Breakfast and lunch included
• Stop at Saquisili market
• Less rushed and less time spent on transport
• Can spend more time at the crater or do the full trek around
Cons
• Not for everyone as its 3 days of tough trekking
• Unguided/have to organise everything yourself
• May need a day before and after for prep and recovery
• Full day, rushed and most of your time is spent on transport (5 hours)
• Food and accommodation can be expensive in Quilotoa so may add to cost

So, which choice is best for you? The Quilotoa Loop or a day trip from Quito?

 

To summarise:

 

  • If you are looking for adventure, love hiking, and love nature then go for the 3-day Quilotoa Loop trek
  • If you are short on time and aren’t heading south at all, but really want to see the crater then go for the day trip from Quito
  • If you are short on time or just don’t like trekking but are heading south on to Banos or Guayaquil afterwards, then go for the overnight stay.

What Is The Quilotoa Loop?

The Quilotoa Loop is a 3-day self-guided trek through the Andean mountains. It’s popular among backpackers and hikers looking to get off the beaten tourist path and have an adventure.

 

The trek starts from the town of Latacunga, where you then take a bus to the first of 3 small towns in the countryside. From here you find the beginning of the trail and start trekking.

 

Each day you trek around 15km to the next town and stay there the night.

 

Most people bring a small backpack (40L) to keep the weight down as it can be a tough trek. Each day you descend into a valley (which is the easy bit) before climbing back out. Doing this with a 40L backpack makes it a lot harder.

 

Then next day you do a similar trek taking you to the next town, before finally reaching the town of Quilotoa on the final day.

 

For the full guide on the Quilotoa Loop and how to prepare for it, head to the post below:

 

 

How Long Does The Quilotoa Loop Take?

The Quilotoa Loop takes 3 days minimum to complete.

 

However, you can decide to stay extra nights in each of the towns you stop at to extend the trip. There are other hiking trails and places to explore from each town.

 

Backpackers will also want to consider planning an extra day after, either in Latacunga or Quilotoa, for rest and recovery. Your legs will be destroyed.

 

Overall, we recommend planning 5 days into your itinerary for completing the Quilotoa Loop:

 

 

  • Day 1 – Arrival in Latacunga, packing and planning
  • Day 2 – Bus to Sigchos, start the trek from Sigchos to Isinlivi
  • Day 3 – Trek from Isinlivi to Chugchilan
  • Day 4 – Trek from Chugchilan to Quilotoa
  • Day 5 – Extra day at Quilotoa Crater or return to Latacunga

Check out our Ecuador backpacking itineraries to see how you can fit the Quilotoa Loop into your plans:

 

 

Quilotoa Loop: Pros and Cons

Here are some things you will want to consider when deciding on whether to do the Quilotoa Loop or just stick to the day trip from Quito:

Pros Cons
It's an epic adventure and you will leave with great memories. Whilst it is a tough trek it is also a challenge, and you will leave with a sense of accomplishment.
It’s a hard trek with 15km and around 100-200 metres in elevation each day. With the added weight of a bag on your back, it may not be for everyone, but you don’t need to be an experienced hiker - you just need a bit of stamina.
You will be surrounded by nature for three days. The sights along the way between the three villages are incredible and just as good as the Quilotoa Crater.
You need to take the bus to Sigchos and back. You need to use google maps or maps.me to guide you. You also need to pack intelligently and book all your hostels. The extra bit of admin might not be for everyone compared to a day trip
It’s cheap for 3 days ($33 a day) and the hostels provide you with breakfast and dinner, so you don’t need to worry about feeding yourself on the way. Great for budget travellers.
It's unguided so you can get lost, but the trails are well signposted. Might not appeal to solo travellers but you will meet people along the loop as it's popular among backpackers.

One of the best things about the Quilotoa Loop is it’s a great way to stick to a budget.

 

Each day you spend around $33, most of which goes on the hostel (and includes your breakfast and dinner). The rest of your money goes on buying a packed lunch for the day and then any extra drinks or snacks you have in the evenings.

 

For the full budget breakdown and to see how much we spent, check out this post:

 

 

Quilotoa Crater Day Trip From Quito

The information in this part is based on a Quilotoa crater day tour offered by CarpeDM, a tour company in Quito.

 

The tour costs $5, lasts the full day (10-12 hours) and starts at 6.30 AM for breakfast in Quito.

 

If booked on a Thursday or Sunday, you will stop at a small town to visit the local indigenous market. Then you will drive to the Quilotoa Crater.

 

You will have lunch in Quilotoa and then you get 2 hours at the crater for walking around, taking pictures and kayaking on the lake if you want before returning to Quito.

 

Here is the tour itinerary:

 

  • 06:30 AM – Meet at offices in Quito for breakfast
  • 09:30 AM – Explore Saquisili/Pujili (only on Thursday or Sunday)
  • 10:30 AM  – Depart for Laguna Quilotoa
  • 13:30 PM – Lunch at Quilotoa, begin descent into Laguna
  • 15:00 PM – Explore Laguna – optional kayaking
  • 15:30 PM – Return ascent to crater
  • 16:30 PM – Begin drive back
  • 19:00 PM – Arrive in Quito

We’ve heard good things about the CarpeDM tour company. They can be found inside the Secret Garden Hostel in the old town if you are looking to speak to someone in person.

 

 

 

Or here’s an example from Viator (costing $69) if you want to book online:

 

 

Quilotoa Day Trip From Quito: Pros and Cons

This option will be best for travellers short on time and who aren’t travelling far from Quito:

Pros Cons
Great option if you really want to see the Quilotoa crater but don’t have a lot of time in Ecuador.
A long day and a long time spent on transport. The drive from Quito to Quilotoa take around 2 and a half hours so that’s five hours total spent on a bus.
Extras such as local guide and knowledge, breakfast and lunch included and a stop at an indigenous market.
Worst in terms of value for money compared to the other two options.

In our opinion, if you are short on time and looking to do a day trip from Quito to see more of the country then this isn’t the best choice.

 

Cotopaxi National Park is an hour and a half drive from Quito and Cotopaxi Volcano is a must-see. You will spend less time on transport and get more out of the day whilst seeing one of the best sights in Ecuador. If you’re looking to book a day tour from Quito then we suggest going with Cotopaxi over Quilotoa. 

 

For more information on tours to Cotopaxi from Quito, check out the post below:

 

 

How To Visit Quilotoa Crater Without A Tour

The final option is to travel to Quilotoa by yourself without a tour and stay overnight.

 

This is the best option for those of you who don’t want to do the full 3-day hike but are still travelling around Ecuador afterwards. Most backpackers will go on to Banos or Guayaquil after visiting Quilotoa.

 

We wouldn’t recommend visiting Quilotoa without a tour and returning to Quito all in one day. This would be a hectic day with a lot of time spent on public transport. We think it’s best to stay one night so you get more time at the crater.

 

The cost of this option is dependent on the hostel you book and where you eat but you should aim for roughly $40-60. A hostel should cost $20-30, the entrance fee to Quilotoa is $10 and then $10 for a meal. If you can, try to book a hostel that includes breakfast and dinner.

How To Get To Quilotoa From Quito

To get from Quito to Quilotoa, you need to take an early morning bus from the Quitumbe bus terminal in Quito to Latacunga. Buses are frequent, so you shouldn’t be waiting for long. The journey takes roughly 1 hour and costs around $2.

 

Once you reach Latacunga, you need to jump on a second bus to Quilotoa. This takes around 2 hours and costs another $2.

 

If you leave Quito early in the morning, you should be in Quilotoa by the afternoon and you will have time to check out the crater or even complete the trek around it. Or you can wait and do it in the morning.

Be sure to check out our guides on Quito if you are staying there for a while:

 

 

Things To Do In Quilotoa

Walk around the crater – The best thing to do at Quilotoa is the hiking trail around the crater. The trail is 10km and takes between 3-4 hours to make it all the way around. There are several viewpoints around the edge, and you will get incredible views of the crater and surrounding mountain scenery at every point.

 

Make sure to bring a good windbreaker and a hat as the wind is powerful at the crater. Check out our Quilotoa Loop packing list for recommendations:

 

 

 

Rent a kayak – you can walk down to the lake and rent a kayak. Kayaks cost $5 to rent.

Where To Stay In Quilotoa

Hostels and hotels in Quilotoa can be more expensive due to the number of tourists visiting the crater on tours. A lot of hostels offer breakfast and dinner included in the price to cater to the hikers completing the loop.

 

The town is small and basically, a single road that leads up to the crater viewpoint, so you won’t have any trouble finding your place.

 

Here are our top picks for where to stay in Quilotoa:

 

 

  • Hostal Chukirawa – from $30, includes breakfast and is popular among solo travellers – Booking.com
  • Martita’s House Hostal – from $20 and includes breakfast and dinner – Booking.com
  • Runa Wasi Quilotoa – from $20 and includes breakfast only – Booking.com

We stayed at Chukirawa and loved it. The twin private room was cosy, with a warm, powerful shower which was much needed after three days of trekking. The rooms have a small log burner in them, and a member of staff will come in the evening to light it, making it even cosier.

 

The breakfast is like all the others you get in Ecuador – fruit, eggs, bread, and jam. The restaurant in the hostel has a wide range of food options to suit most people for dinner as well.

 

All the hostels on the loop are great and do a lot to make hikers feel welcome and well-rested. For more information on our favourite hostels on the loop:

 

 

Quilotoa Crater Without A Tour: Pros and Cons

Go for this option if you aren’t a big hiker but want to see the crater anyway:

Pros Cons
Much more relaxed. You can journey down, check-in and take it easy before heading out to check out the crater.
Hotels, hostels and restaurants are expensive in Quilotoa compared to the rest of the country so this may not be the best option for budget travellers.
More time. You have all the time on the day you arrive and then time the next morning to explore and see the crater.
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If you are continuing to travel Ecuador after Quilotoa then the next logical step should be Banos. Be sure to check out our guides so you have the best time there:

 

 

 

If you are planning an extended South America trip, then don’t miss out on our expertly planned itineraries that take you on the best routes around the continent: