The Quilotoa area is one of the most stunning places in Ecuador, set in the Cotopaxi province, just south of Quito, it is a site that is considered as a must see place for any Ecuador holiday. The area is comprised of several small towns and villages that are located around the Quilotoa caldera – a crater lake with steep sides. The lake is a green-ish color. The Quilotoa crater lake is in itself a lovely spot, but there is lots to see and do in the surrounding area too. In this Quilotoa travel guide we will provide information on what to do, when to go, food, accommodation and how to get there. Thinking about the number of days to spend in the Quilotoa Loop, it is worth noting that getting to this fairly remote area does take some time. Therefore, while you can do it in just a couple of days, you probably will not get the most out of your experience that way. It is recommendable to spend three or more days here, so you can enjoy your trip in a more restful manner, and get to do some hiking or other activities.
One of the highlights of a visit to the Quilotoa region is the hiking. The Quilotoa Loop is a well-known hike that is particularly special and is completed over a number of days. The other main highlight is a visit to the spectacular lake itself, which is one of the most amazing lakes in Ecuador.
As indicated above, hiking is one of the activities you can do in Quilotoa Ecuador. You can hike around the Quilotoa Crater Lake, or you can undertake the multi-day Quilotoa Loop hike. There are also a range of other day hikes that might interest you. Other activities in Quilotoa include visiting cheese factories or heading to local markets to observe rural life. You can organize a horseback trip as well. This area is also a good place to simply kick back and relax for a few days.
It is possible to visit the Quilotoa region all year around, and the experience can be good at any time of year. The best months to visit are the drier ones however, such as between June and September, and there is usually a drier spell in December and early January too.
There is not a particular high season in Quilotoa, though you can expect that on Ecuadorian public holidays, and over Christmas and New Year, accommodation is likely to be heavily booked, and more at a premium than at other times.
You might want to combine a trip to Quilotoa with a visit to Latacunga’s Mama Negra festival. This colorful festival including costume, procession, fireworks and music is held in late September and in early November. We are experts in Ecuador travel, and we can confirm the correct weekend on which the festival will happen each year, if that interests you.
Some people choose to go to Quilotoa by public bus. This can be done by taking a bus from Quito to Latacunga and connecting in Latacunga bus station. While it may be an interesting experience, it is not the most time-efficient way to travel. You may prefer to visit Quilotoa in private transportation. Some may prefer a four-wheel drive, as the roads can be muddy in places.
Quilotoa lake is an area that is very rural, and there are a variety of fascinating small villages here. In these villages you can observe life going on more or less as it has done for centuries – with some notable exceptions. Here are some of the villages you might visit:
Quilotoa – this is a town perched on the edge of the Quilotoa Crater Lake. From here you can walk around the crater lake, which takes between 3-5 hours.
Isinlivi – this is a very small town where you can hike, take a cheese factory tour, go on a cow milking tour or visit a wood carving workshop.
Tigua – this town is interesting for its artists and painters, who paint on sheep hides.
Chugchilan – this town is slightly bigger than some of the others on the Quilotoa loop. This is a great place to see local markets, take a horseback tour or visit a cheese factory.
Sigchos – this town is larger. Here you might see local markets.
In Chugchilan you might choose to stay in the Cloudforest Hostal. The Black Sheep Inn is popular too, the nicest lodge for sure in this area with a great approach to eco-sustainability.
At Quilotoa, many of the eateries are part of the accommodation that you stay at, and at least in some cases there is not a lot of choice. The typical gastronomy in this region is Ecuadorian highland food – commonly meat with rice and/or potatoes and a small salad. Some accommodations offer more westernized options as well. It is worth noting that vegetarians and vegans report having both “the best” and “the worst” food during their Quilotoa trips, so it is pretty much the luck of the draw it seems!
One of our Insider recommendations for your time in Quilotoa is to walk down to the edge of the lake. The walk down does not take very long – maybe 20 minutes to half an hour or so, though it can be a bit steep in places. From there, you can take a mule back up out of the crater again, to save you walking up, and this can be good fun. Or, if you are feeling energetic, why not walk back up? But do bear in mind that it will most definitely take you longer to walk out than it did to walk in!
We offer a range of different customized and personalized tours that can include the Quilotoa crater lake, or the whole Quilotoa Loop, if you prefer. Get in touch today and we can help you organize your Ecuador trip to include this wonderful part of the Ecuadorian Andes where you will step back in time.