3 days / 2 nights hiking the Quilatoa Loop

Nature
The wow factor for nature - does it show nature at its best? Doesn't need to be the wilder-beast migration or diving with hundreds of hammerheads. Rather make you pause as you realise just how awesome the natural world can be
9
Culture
How much does this experience showcase some of the better and finer things that us humans can offer? Sure, it can be ancient ruins and renaissance churches, but it can also be festivals or soaking up some of the great modern cities of the world
5
Fun factor/activity
Very simple - was it fun? This is usually linked in with doing some kind of activity - i mean, walking along some cliffs is nice, but paragliding from them, now that is fun. Its a vastly underrated factor in a truly great experience
9
Avoid the crowds
Big tour groups and being surrounded by loud fellow tourists can sap the life out of even the greatest of travel experiences. This score is to reflect just how much you can avoid this. But. . . The score also takes into account if the crowds actually add to the experience, such as with a party town or a bustling food market
9
World famous
How world famous is the experience?
2
unique
How hard is it to have a similar experience in other places round the world?
6
Overall Score
The highest score of nature or culture, + fun factor, + avoid the crowds, + the highest score of world famous or unique. Then turned into a score out of 100. More details at the bottom of the page
82 *What the scores mean and where do they come from
continent
South America
country
Ecuador
Length of time
3-4 days
Rough cost
Obviously people have different tastes, so this will depend on those tastes, but this is a rough idea of price of the whole experience based on 2 people able to split the accommodation costs and excluding travel there and back
$ 80
Time of year visited
February
Primary Tags
Click on any of the tags to see all travel experiences with the same tag
RANKING
How this travel experience ranks compared to all the other experiences on this site
22nd/334 This travel experience's ranking compared to all the other experiences on this site
Top 10% SUMMARY RATING: Unmissable

Summary

The Quilatoa loop was the highlight for us of mainland Ecuador.  3 days of hiking through luscious mountain valleys like something from a Lord of the Rings movie, stopping off in hostels to share stories with fellow travellers whilst also having hours where you don’t see anyone else, passing by the local villages with their friendly smiles and bowler hats, and finishing off with the view looking over the Quilatoa Crater itself

Great few days and a must if visiting Ecuador

highlights

#1 Walking through the beautifully lush valleys of this gorgeous part of central Ecuador

#2 Looking over the famous volcanic crater of Quilotoa as you walk around its side

#3 Walking through and stopping to talk with some of the locals in the blissful villages that are scattered along the route

#4 Meeting with fellow travellers as you stay in some of the lovely backpacker friendly hostels along the way

#5 That adventure feeling as you head off with just the (light) things you're going to carry in your backpack and a, vague, idea of where you're going

Rough itinerary

  • Day one:
    • Leave your bags you don’t want to carry in one of the hostels or hotels in Latacunga
    • Take one of the regular buses to Sigchos
    • Hike the relatively flat(ish) 14km  / 3 hours to Isinlivi
    • Stay at the Hostal Taita Cristobal
  • Day two:
    • Hike the 12km / 4 hours to Chugchilan to have lunch
    • Hike the difficult 6kms / 3 hours to the foot of the Quilatoa Crater
    • Stay at Hostal Rosita
  • Day three:
    • Hike up to the Quilatoa crater and walk around the crater from the North West point to the South West point
    • Take a bus back to Latacunga

Travel tips

  • The Quilatoa loop is technically from the Panamerican highway through Tigua, the Quilatoa Crater, Sigchos and back to the highway at Saquisili – a whopping 180kms.  But most focus on the section between the Crater and Sigchos, which is around 40km
  • You can start / finish at Sigchos or the Quilatoa crater.  We went for Sigchos first and ending up at the crater mainly because we thought it would be nice to finish with the crater and made sense with the altitude to go from the 3180m of Sigchos / 2700m of Isinlivi to the higher 3900m of the crater
  • Most take between 2-4 days for the walk.  We did 3 days / 2 nights which was perfect.  You could definitely do it in 2 days / 1 night if you started in Isinlivi.  You could also take longer so that you have the afternoons free, especially if you’re a bit worried by the distance and the altitude.  But we found the 3 days / 2 nights was ideal for the distances and having the first morning and last day afternoon for buses from Latacunga to Sigchos and then the Crater back to Latacunga fitted perfectly
  • Pack light – you’ll be carrying whatever you take for the 3 days, so pack light and leave your bags in Latacunga.  There are a few hostels / hotels that allow you to leave your bags there.  We took a private room in Hostal Tiana for the third night (and then on to Cotopaxi) and was perfect
  • First day – get any of the regular buses from Latacunga to Sigchos and then its a easy(ish) 14km walk from there to Isinlivi.  Word of warning though – makes sure you get the bus all the way to Sigchos rather than doing what we did which was try to be clever and get off just beforehand.  This turned out to be around 15kms beforehand so we got lost and needed a major detour.  So, key point – don’t be an idiot
  • First night make sure you stay at Hostal Taita Cristobal which has wonderful views of the valley and, through eating all together for dinner and breakfast, gives you a great chance to chat with fellow travellers and share routes / tips for the days ahead
  • Second day – you have two choices on where to stay depending on how far you want to walk that day.  Option 1 is the standard route which is to walk Isinlivi to stay in Chugchilan.  We decided against this because we arrived there for lunch (Black Sheep Inn is fine) and had the energy to keep going.  So, your second option is to continue for an additional roughly 7kms to near the base of the Quilatoa crater.  We stayed at Hostal Rosita which doesn’t have the views of Hostal Taita Cristobal and is more basic, but its location is perfect
  • Third day – you will walk up to the crater, walk around the rim from the North West point to the South West section where there are shops and restaurants, and from where you can take a bus back to Latacunga.  Only around 7kms for the day
  • How hard is it?  The total walk is around 40kms and, according to my iPhone, 80k steps and 580 flights of stairs climbed, so its fairly challenging especially if you are not acclimatised to the altitude.  If fairly fit, I’d say the 3 days should be more than manageable.  For those not so fit, the 4 days gives you the time in case you’re super knackered.  Bear in mind a few things though to put you at ease.  Firstly, you can be very flexible with regards to places to stay on the second night, so can adapt depending on how you’re feeling.  Secondly, the walking path regularly passes by some of the roads, so you can ask someone to pick you up and take you to the next town if needed (as we did on the first day when we got hideously and idiotically lost).  There is no climbing or anything like that.  Only walking
  • You’ll get lost – the route itself is not as clear as could be at times, which is all parts of the fun and adventure.  To make things even more fun, the locals often give you the wrong directions and the google maps / maps.me etc routes are not always correct.  Just accept that you’re most likely going to get lost!  But to help, follow some of the other hikers and ask for some clear directions from the hostels / hotels who tend to be spot on
  • Rain – it could well rain, so so make sure have waterproof boots, jacket, backpack etc
  • Altitude – it’s something you have to deal with in this part of the world and, generally speaking, giving yourself some time to acclimatise is key.  You can do various things to help such as take various pills (we took acetazolamide and felt like it helped), drink coca tea (less so in Ecuador interestingly), take pain killers to help with the headache etc, but the main way is simply to give your body time to get used to it.  For the Quilatoa loop, you should be fine by spending a couple of days in Quito at 2850m and then the first two days of the hike are at lower altitudes before the push on the last day to the crater at 3900m.  For those who haven’t been at high altitudes before, expect yourself to become tired quicker than normal and, as you get higher, the feeling a bit like various degrees of a hangover.  The good news is though that the nasty feelings of altitude sickness disappear as you descend.  I’ve had some brutal feelings of altitude sickness and have always been pleasantly amazed at how quickly they disappear by going down
  • Safety – we felt safe throughout the time walking the Quilatoa loop
  • Bring cash.  No ATMs on the route
  • For something more challenging, try Climbing to the summit of Cotopaxi Volcano
  • For general tips on having a great week in Ecuador, see A week for the best of mainland Ecuador

Experiences nearby

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Score Detail

Background - how many times have you asked someone what a travel experience was like and the response was "amazing" or "awesome"?  That response is nice to know, but it makes it hard to differentiate that experience compared to others.  That is exactly what these scores are trying to do - differentiate the experience by giving a score out of 10 based on 6 categories and then giving an overall experience score

This overall experience score is calculated by:  take the highest of the "Culture" or "Nature" score (1-10) + "Fun factor" (1-10) + "Avoiding the crowds" (1-10) + highest of the "Unique" or "World Famous score" (1-10).  Then convert into a score out of 100

Extra detail - the logic being that I find all of the 6 individual scores important, but I don't want to mark an experience down just because it doesn't cover both "Culture" and "Nature", or because it isn't both "World Famous" and "Unique".  Take the examples of Safari in The Serengeti and walking through Rome - they both appeal at opposite ends of the nature / culture spectrum, and you can have a fantastic time without needing to appeal to both sides.  So, their overall scores aren't penalized for their lack of one or the other, and I've done the same for "World Famous" vs "Unique".  But . . . I do think that the "Fun factor" of an experience is important, irrelevant of other factors, and so is "Avoiding the Crowds" (or where there are crowds that add to the experience).  So, both of these scores are standalone