Quilotoa crater lake

Conquer the Quilotoa Loop With This Perfect 3 Day Itinerary

The Quilotoa Loop is a 3-day self-guided trek through the Andean countryside. If you want to tap into that primal sense of adventure we all feel, escape the guided tour, and embark on one of the most challenging yet fulfilling treks you will likely ever experience – hiking the Quilotoa loop is definitely for you. Here’s a complete guide to hiking the Quilotoa Loop with a fully planned 3-day itinerary that includes everything you need to know from the best route to the best items to bring.

Contents

The Perfect Quilotoa Loop 3-Day Itinerary

Whilst the Quilotoa Loop takes 3 days to complete, you will want to plan 5 days in total. This will give you a day before starting to pack, prepare and store your big backpack, and one day after to rest and recuperate before moving on to your next destination in Ecuador.

 

Here is a quick breakdown of the Quilotoa Loop itinerary:

 

  • Pre-Loop Day – Latacunga
  • Day 1 – Trek from Sigchos to Isinlivi
  • Day 2 – Trek from Isinlivi to Chugchilan
  • Day 3 – Trek from Chugchilan to Quilotoa
  • Post Loop Day – Return to Latacunga

Pre-Loop Day - Latacunga

Whether you are coming from Banos in the South or Quito in the North, your first stop before you begin the 3-day trek is in the town of Latacunga.

 

This first day in Latacunga is used to set yourself up, pack your smaller backpack and store your big backpack in storage with a hotel or hostel. The most important thing to do on is to find a hostel which allows you to leave your bags free of charge and ideally with breakfast. 

 

My recommendation would be:

  • Hotel Rosim – double rooms from $24 or single beds from $15. Free breakfast included and they will happily store your bags until you return from the Quilotoa Loop

Once you are checked in, use the evening to relax, pack your small day backpack and put your big bag in storage.

 

The central bus station in Latacunga is located next to a supermarket which is perfect to stock up on snacks and water for the first days trekking, so you can do this in the morning. I recommend at least 1.5 litres of water and a few cereal bars to get you through the first day but remember to keep it light as you will be carrying your bag for most of the day.

Feel like a 3-day trek is a bit too much for you? Maybe a day tour or overnight stay at Quilotoa is best for you. Check out our comparison guide on the loop vs a day trip from Quito to see the pros and cons of both:

 

 

ecuador backpacking itinerary

Day 1 - Latacunga To Sigchos to Insinlivi

  • 08.00 AM – Bus From Latacunga To Sigchos
  • 10.00 AM – Trek From Sigchos to Isinlivi
  • 15.00 PM – Arrive in Isinlivi

Step 1 - Bus From latacunga To Sigchos

This is the first actual day of the official Quilotoa Loop. The first thing you need to do is take the bus from Latacunga to Sigchos.

 

If you are staying in the centre of town it shouldn’t be more than a 10-minute walk. 

 

The bus station (Terminal Terrestre Latacunga) is on Av, 10 de agosto, Ecuador.

 

Finding an accurate bus timetable is a difficult task in Ecuador but they tend to leave regularly. Your best bet is to head to the station as early as possible anyway. I would recommend arriving for 8.00AM.

 

The busy journey from Latacunga to Sigchos takes around 2 hours. 

Step 2 - Bus From latacunga To Sigchos

  • How long it took me: 3 hours 30 minutes*
  • How many Km: 15km
  • Elevation Gain: 400m

*please don’t look to my hiking times as the average, I tend to hike fast due to long legs and being a typical man who thinks he can do it faster than the guides say! The average hiking time each day is between 3-5 hours.

You won’t want to start hike any later then 12.00PM as your first day of hiking takes around 4-5 hours and you will want to arrive in Isinlivi before sunset which is usually around 6PM.  Its also nice to have some time in the evening to relax and enjoy the beautiful views of the valley from your hostel.

 

Once you arrive in Sigchos you will want to use maps.me or google maps to find the start of the Quilotoa Loop path.

 

The bus station where you get dropped off is close to where the trail begins but here it is in case you want to mark it:

 

Once you are on the trail it’s down to you to guide yourself, using your phone and your wits to follow the path.  Some of the hostels have very kindly signposted the route to ensure you take all the shortcuts.

 

The best way to make sure you don’t miss them, is at every point when there’s an alternative route off the trail, look at the map and keep an eye out for signs. A good rule of thumb is that if you are walking along the road for too long, you have likely missed one of the signs leading you to the correct path.

 

The entire route is a mix of a dirt road and shortcuts which are a bit more off-road. Along the route be sure to take regular water breaks and snacks and keep the sun cream topped up. During our entire journey the sun was blaring and certainly added to the workout.

 

Once you reach the town of Isinlivi you’ve reached your destination, and this is where you will stay for the night. Congratulations on completing the first day of the Quilotoa Loop!

mistakes to avoid on the Quilotoa Loop

Where To Stay In Insinlivi

The two main places to stay in town both include breakfast and dinner in the price as all the hostels are catering towards travellers completing the loop. Whilst they will claim to have Wi-Fi it will likely not work. I recommend coming to terms with this before you leave and having 3 days away from tech and the outside world.

 

Here are the two best hostels in Isinlivi:

 

  • Lullu Llama – a bed in an 8-bed dorm costs $22 and double rooms start at $56. Lulu Llama is the most popular choice due to the hot tub, morning yoga and resident llamas but it is more expensive.
  • Hostal Taita Cristobal – a bed in a 6-bed dorm starts at $17 and a double room is $34. This is a nice hostel with great views of the valley.

The Quilotoa Loop is one of our 12 great reasons for visiting and backpacking Ecuador in 2023/24. For more reasons to inspire you, check out the post below:



Quilotoa Loop
Quilotoa Loop

Day 2 - Insinlivi To Chugchilan

  • How long did it take: 4 hours 40 minutes
  • How many km: 15km
  • Elevation Gain: 800m

I recommend leaving your hostel soon after breakfast to avoid walking too long in the midday sun. Around 9.00 AM is a reasonable departure time. 

You can buy a packed lunch from Hostal Taita Cristobal for $3 and buy snacks from the store outside Be sure to buy water before you set off again, 1.5-2 litres are recommended.

 

There isn’t much else to say here. Lengthy descriptions of the route won’t be helpful to you and part of the adventure is navigating it yourself. Plan and follow your route using your phone but you can always ask the hostel staff for advice as they are always willing to help.

 

The start of the route is outside of Isinlivi, back the way you came in so don’t get confused here. 

Where To Stay In Chugchilan

  • Cloud Forrest Hostel  – a single room costs $22, double with private bathroom costs $38. Towels and hot shower included. I stayed here and it had everything you want – a nice dinner and breakfast, games room with pool, table football and table tennis, and a comfortable communal space to relax in after a long day.
  • Hostal el Vaquero – dorm rooms and private rooms available. Towels are an additional charge. This hotel includes a fitness room with sauna, Turkish bath and swimming pool which will make for a nice relaxing evening

 

  • Hotel Laguna – offers single rooms and has larger rooms available for up to 3 people. This place is good for families with the children’s playground on the land.
Quilotoa Loop - view of a hostel
Quilotoa Loop
Quilotoa

Day 3 - Chugchilan to Quilotoa

  • How long did it take: 5 hours and 30 minutes
  • How many km: 18km
  • Elevation Gain: 800+m

Again, try to wake up early and leave first thing after breakfast. Cloud Forest hostel will provide a useful map with written instructions for the final leg of the journey.

 

 

There are two options to get to Quilotoa:

 

  • The extreme route which is a steeper decline and longer climb on the other side.
  • A less steep route which is quicker

 

Regardless of the options, this leg of the trip is the longest as well as having the largest ascent of around 800+m –  it’s a tough day but worth it in the end.

 

After a 2-3 hours of trekking you will reach the base of the Quilotoa Crater and here you fill face a steep incline.  Once you reach the top and the edge of the crater, there are two options around the crater to the town of Quilotoa:

 

  • Long route – 3-4 hours
  • Short route – 1.5 hours

 

The choice will depend on the time and your energy levels. If you stay one night in Quilotoa there is time to take the longer hike the next day, but the full loop takes about 5 hours. I would personally recommend taking the shorter route and getting to Quilotoa town and then seeing the crater again in the morning.

 

Where To Stay In Quilotoa

You have a lot more options for accommodation in Quilotoa as people will visit the town on day trips. Some accommodation will include breakfast and dinner, but some will only include breakfast.

 

I stayed here:

 

  • Martita’s house hostal – a double room costs $45 and includes breakfast and dinner. The showers were hot, the bed super comfy and each room has a woodfire stove that adds to the coziness 

There are a handful of hostels and hotels in each town to pick from. If you want to explore the options click the link below:

 

 

Quilotoa Loop Trail

Post Loop Day - Quilotoa To Latacunga

Well done, you’ve completed the Quilotoa Loop!

 

You shouldn’t be in any rush to return to Latacunga so after breakfast you should go back out to the crater to get some final photos.

 

When you are done, it’s time to head back to Latacunga. There’s no official bus station in Quilotoa and the buses will wait just outside of town on the main road. They leave every hour but just double check times with your hostel before leaving as you never know in Ecuador.

 

The bus back to Latacunga took 2.5 hours and cost around $3.

 

It’s safe to say that after trekking 40km over three days you will be knackered and ready for a rest. Many people tend to head straight to their next destination after collecting their belongings in Latacunga. This is certainly doable as anywhere in Ecuador is relatively close. If you’re feeling fresh and up for travelling, I recommend this option.

 

However, I wanted another day of rest so I checked myself back into Hostal Rosim, slept a good 10 hours and caught the bus to Banos the next day.

To see how this fits in to a full Ecuador backpacking itinerary over three weeks or one month, check out the posts below:

 

 

hiking the Quilotoa loop

Quilotoa Loop 2-Day Itinerary

If you don’t have 3-5 days to spare, there’s a much faster way to see the Quilotoa Crater that only takes 2 days.

 

Here’s how to do it:

  • Day 1 – Travel To Quilotoa
  • Day 2 – Quilotoa Crater Hike

 

If you are coming from Quito or Banos, you will still need to take the bus to Latacunga first.

 

From Quito or Banos, the bus takes 1 hour 45 minutes and should cost $2. Then from Latacunga you can take a 2-hour bus to the town of Quilotoa. I would recommend staying at a hotel that provides dinner and breakfast such as Marita’s House.

 

By the time you arrive, you’ve been travelling most of the day but its worth heading to the crater viewpoint to check it out, especially at sunset.

 

The next morning, have breakfast at your hostel and then you can start the Quilotoa crater hike which should take 4-5 hours. The hike will take you all the way around the crater and you will get incredible views of both the lake and the surrounding Andes as you go.

 

After you are done, you can either stay one more night or take the bus back to Latacunga before heading off to your next destination. 

Here’s a quick breakdown comparing the 3-day loop with an overnight stay:

Quilotoa Loop Overnight Stay
Timing
3 days
1 day, 1 night
Cost
$100
$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
• 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
• Food and accommodation can be expensive in Quilotoa so may add to cost

So, which choice is best for you? The Quilotoa Loop or an overnight stay at the crater?

 

To summarise:

 

  • If you are looking for an adventure, love hiking, and love nature then go for the 3-day Quilotoa Loop trek
  • If you are short on time but really want to see the crater then go for the overnight stay.

The Quilotoa Loop is a great way to stick to a budget, but some people don’t have 3 days to spare. Check out our comparison guide on the loop vs a day trip from Quito to see the pros and cons of both:

 

 

Quilotoa Crater

How Much Does The Quilotoa Loop Cost?

For the full Quilotoa Loop, you should aim to budget $33 a day with a total spend of just under $100 over the 3-days. However, I would recommend bringing $150 in cash just to be safe.

 

This budget of $100 includes your accommodation, transport, and food. 

 

Here is a quick breakdown of what you can be expected to spend your money on over the 3-days: 

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

 

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

 

 

Quilotoa Loop Itinerary views

How To Pack For The Quilotoa Loop

For the 3 days on the Quilotoa Loop you will only need a day pack. I would recommend a size between 30-40L and make sure it has comfortable straps with good back support.

 

Any luggage you won’t need is best stored at a hotel in Latacunga where you can pick it up after you finish the loop.

 

Make sure you PACK LIGHT and only take essentials. You’ll cover around 15km per day. It’s challenging but achievable. However, you’ll make your life difficult by carry around excess weight.

 

I overpacked, and it made the hike a much more physically and mentally challenging experience. If you’re packing and asking yourself “Do I need this?” – the answer is probably no, you don’t, leave it behind.

Quilotoa Loop - 3 Essential Items To Bring

1. Fanny Pack

As you are carrying around a smaller backpack on the 3-days, any extra storage you can find and utilise is ideal.

 

You are going to want to pack as light as possible, which may mean your smaller backpack gets a bit crowded, so having a fanny pack strapped to your waist or around your shoulders is helpful. You can put essential items in there that you want to access quickly like sun cream or your phone so you don’t have to keep taking your bag off every time and search for items.

 

We are big fans of the Matador range.

 

All their carry items are designed to pack down into small cases so they can be stored and put away easily when you aren’t using them. They are also waterproof, which is always handy, especially if you are travelling during rainy season.

 

 

Quilotoa Loop guide
Quilotoa Loop travel bag

2. Merino Wool Socks & Underwear

To save space in your bag and avoid straining your back, you should remove as much from your backpack as you can.

 

Merino wool is unique in that it absorbs odour caused by bacteria—trapping their smell and keeping them from building up. This means you can wear Merino wool odour-resistant clothing for longer without having to worry about smelling.

 

Another reason that merino wool is so popular is its warmth relative to weight. The fabric has a natural loft that traps heat very efficiently between the fibres, making it warmer than a synthetic of the same weight.

 

For the 3-nights/4-days before returning to civilisation, you can get away with two pairs of merino wool socks and two pairs of underwear, saving space in your bag.

 

Also, best to purchase hiking socks with some extra padding to help with all the kilometres you will be covering.

 

socks
boxers

3. Windbreaker

We had to leave the Quilotoa crater after about 20 minutes. The wind was freezing and so powerful. Our hands froze, and our eyes and nose were constantly watering due to how strong it was. We didn’t come prepared for this trek.

 

A good windbreaker along with a snood, hat and warm base layers means you will be able to enjoy the crater a little longer than we did and even do the full trek around without worrying.

 

This waterproof windbreaker from the North Face is ideal and packs down easily into a hand-sized package with a strap, saving room in your bag.

 

Quilotoa Loop Packing List
Quilotoa Loop Packing Lists

Quilotoa Loop Full Packing List

  • Hiking boots – if it’s the dry season the hike is possible in trainers, we wore trainers, but we’d recommend hiking boots as some of the trails are steep and the extra grip is helpful
  • Underwear – 2x sets of merino wool underwear
  • Socks – 2 merino wool pairs for hiking days, 1 other pair for the evenings
  • Hiking shorts or trousers – I usually wear shorts as our legs don’t get cold
  • 2x Base layers (gym or hiking t-shirt) – change your layer if you stop and are sweaty as you’ll get cold quickly at altitude
  • 1x Top layer –  thermal jumpers – avoid thick wool jumpers if you can – a necessity for the evenings which are freezing
  • Cap – to shield you from the sun
  • Sunglasses – the sun is intense, and the trails can be quite dusty so good to protect your eyes
  • Windbreaker – it’s incredibly windy at the Quilotoa loop and gets cold quickly
  • Swimming trunks – for the hot tub if you decide to stay at Lulu Llama
  • Flip flops –  for the evening to give your feet a rest and for around the showers/hot tub in the Lulu Llama hostel.
  • Sunscreen – the sun is intense at this altitude
  • Bug repellent – assume mosquitos are everywhere
  • Basic toiletries – toothbrush, toothpaste and deodorant. Keep it simple and reduce weight
  • Medical – Blister plasters and medication such as aspirin
  • Money – cash is needed as you are so remote.

The hostels on the route provide towels so that’s one less thing you need to worry about packing.

For the full list of essential items and more packing tips, check out the full post:

 

 

scenic landscape in Quilotoa

Quilotoa Loop FAQs

What Is The Quilotoa Loop?

The Quilotoa loop is the not so loopy trail that carves through three indigenous towns in the Andes from Sigchos to Isinlivi to Chugchilan, ending at the epic Quilotoa Crater.

 

This is a multi-day self-guided hike known for its challenge. During the three-day trek you’ll traverse up and over three valleys experiencing amazing scenery, passing through remote villages, ending at the scenic prize of the Quilotoa Laguna.

Is The Quilotoa Loop Worth It?

The Quilotoa Loop well worth attempting. It’s  one of the most popular treks in Ecuador and is a must for backpackers and trekkers looking to get off the Pan American highway and see more of the remote indigenous cultures of the central Andes.

 

Although many travellers skip this region, instead heading south for the popular backpacker hub of Banos, this spectacular part of Ecuador is not to be missed.

 

This is a challenging trek perfect for adventure lovers and backpackers looking to do something a little different. One of the best things about this hike is the accomplishment felt at the end as well as doing it on your own, or at least in an unguided group.  

The Quilotoa Loop is one of the best multi-day hikes you can find in South America. For a list of even more epic hikes, head to the post below:

 

Is The Quilotoa Loop Difficult?

Yes, the Quilotoa Loop is a challenging trek.

 

On each of the three days hiking you’ll descend to the bottom of the valley and then climb up the other side. The ascents are over 500m each day with a daunting 800m ascent on the final day to reach the volcano crater in Quilotoa.

 

The route is a mix of road and trail with no rock climbing, although there are one or two small scrambles along the way. The main challenge is the distance and some of the steep climbs out of the valleys whilst at altitude.

 

If you are someone that worries about unguided tours, don’t be. It’s very difficult to get lost and even if you do the locals will help you find the route, the only tourists that pass through these areas are on the trail.

Which Is The Best Route To Take On The Quilotoa Loop

You have two choices of direction for the Quilotoa Loop: Clockwise or Anti-clockwise

 

We think it’s best to go clockwise for a couple of reasons. One, you see the best sight, the Quilotoa Crater, last and have a goal to work towards during the hike. And two, this gives you more time at the crater. You can get up early on the morning on your final day to see it one last time or book to stay an extra day if you feel like doing the 4 hour trek around the crater itself.

 

The three-day anti-clockwise route goes like this:

 

  • Day 1 – Bus from Latacunga to Sigchos/trek from Sigchos to Isinlivi
  • Day 2 – Trek from Isinlivi to Chugchilan
  • Day 3 – Trek from Chugchilan to Quilotoa

 

Going clockwise was one mistake we managed to avoid when planning our trip but if you decide to do it that way then you just get the bus to Quilotoa on first morning and go in the opposite direction.

Can You Use Your Card On The Quilotoa Loop?

Before starting the trek, you will need to get to the town of Latacunga and stay at least one night. 

 

If you follow the anti-clockwise route, here are the three towns you will stay in and need to book accommodation for whilst on the loop:

 

  • Isinlivi
  • Chugchilan
  • Quilotoa

You may also want to stay one night in Latacunga when you return after the loop to rest, do washing and sort any admin for the next stop on your travels.

Can You Visit Quilotoa From Quito?

You can visit the crater on a day trip from Quito. This will be a full day tour that costs around $50.

 

The tour starts at 6.30AM with breakfast in Quito. 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.

 

 

I’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.

 

 

When Is The Best Time Of Year To Do The Quilotoa Loop?

The rainy season in Ecuador is October – April when it rains on average 15 days or more during the month (50% of the time). Best to avoid completing the loop during the middle of the rainy season if you can as some of the trails will become muddy, and some roads to the towns become inaccessible.

 

The best time to complete the loop would be during dry season.

 

The dry season is June – September when rainfall is less than 15 days; August has the least rain with an average of 5 days.

 

The temperature remains flat throughout the year and with lows of 8 degrees Celsius and highs of 25. Given the altitude of between 2,500m and 4,000m, it will be cold during the night regardless of the month.

Can You Use Your Card On The Quilotoa Loop?

First things first, remember to bring cash. You cannot use your card on the Quilotoa Loop.

 

The Quilotoa loop takes you to some of the most remote parts of Ecuador; tiny villages way out in the Andean countryside, and therefore they won’t be able to accept card. It’s best to bring dollars to cover all your expenses and then a little extra just in case.

Is The Quilotoa Loop Expensive?

The Quilotoa Loop is one of the most budget friendly activities you can do in Ecuador.

 

This is a fantastic 3-day experience for backpackers and hikers looking to do something unique on a budget.

 

Many people don’t like the idea of guided tours, so the Quilotoa Loop is perfect if that’s you. It’s completely self-guided, and the hostels along the loop provide your food as well so costs are kept low. 

Ecuador is one of the most budget friendly countries to visit in South America. Check out the post below for more tips on sticking to a budget when backpacking Ecuador:

 

How Much Cash Should I Bring On The Quilotoa Loop?

I would recommend taking $150 in cash on the Quilotoa Loop.

 

This gives you enough to cover your costs and then leaves you $50 to spend on any extras such as snacks, beer/wine in the evening or even extending a day and staying at the Quilotoa crater.

How Much Is Accomodation On The Quilotoa Loop?

Accommodation will be your highest cost on the Quilotoa Loop but this isn’t a bad thing. A bed in a dorm cost’s on average $20 a night. But, for most hostels along the route,  the hostel price will include accommodation and two meals (dinner and breakfast the next morning).

 

The first two stops along the route are Isinlivi and Chugchilan. These are tiny villages with nothing more than the hostels you stay in and a small shop. Therefore, the hostels provide you with food.

Llullu Llama is a great hostel on the Quilotoa Loop and it’s also on my list of top hostels in South America. To see the rest of these hostels, head to the post below:

 

Do I Need To Bring My Own Food On The Quilotoa Loop?

No you don’t need to bring your own food. The hostels along the route provide everything you need.

 

Almost all of the hostels include dinner with the price of the room for a night, and some even include breakfast as well.  Each town has a small shop where you can buy snacks and water. When you reach Quilotoa there are several restaurants as well. 

Quilotoa loop itinerary

Popular South America Posts

For more popular posts on South America that include everything from expertly curated itineraries to detailed country guides, check out some of the posts below:

 

 

 

 

 

Popular Ecuador Posts

For more popular posts on Cusco from restaurant guides to hostel lists, check out some of the posts below:

 

 

 
 
 

 

 

 
 
 
South America 1 Month Itinerary PDF COVER

Sign up for a

FREE 30 PAGE TRAVEL ITINERARY FOR SOUTH AMERICA