1.8312° S, 78.1834° W
EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT TREKKING THE STUNNING QUILOTOA LOOP IN ECUADOR, INCLUDING THE DISTANCES BETWEEN DESTINATIONS AND WHAT TO BRING WITH YOU.
Hiking the famously beautiful Quilotoa Loop is a great way to immerse yourself in the culture of Ecuador, get out and really stretch your legs and see some of the prettiest countryside around. Even though the loop goes through a very populated valley, somehow you still feel like you are off the beaten track and cut-off from the congestion of the modern world.
But don't go in thinking it is going to be a simple walk in the park. While it is mostly on dirt roads, there are still some steep uphills and make-your-knees-creak downhills along the multi-day loop; but even if you aren't an avid hiker - it is not like you are hiking up to Everest Base Camp. Meaning, it is a tough couple days, sure, but you definitely won’t die of exhaustion.
Knowing this, if you are still a tad worried about the trek, or are wondering what the experience is really like, here are 15 tips to help put your mind at ease and make sure you absolutely LOVE your 3 days out on the trail.
15 THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT TREKKING THE QUILOTOA LOOP
1 | The Distances Between Towns are Not Too Long or Hard
We did the first two days in one. Now granted we are pretty fast hikers who are used to LONG days on the trail but trust us, the hike from Sigchos to Islinivi only took us three hours and had only one tough uphill part. And then from Islinivi to Chugchilan it was another four hours, this time mostly on a dirt road. While I am not saying you should cut the loop down to two days like we did, expect to have a fair amount of downtime after hiking. Or even better, feel free to have a nice slow morning because the time it takes between towns (and your next sleeping quarters) is not very much.
2 | Bring Plenty of Water
We brought two liters between the two of us and that was juuuust enough. But a bit more water would definitely have been helpful. While there are a couple of small towns along the way, only the ones where you can stay the night (Islinivi, Chugchilan, and Quilotoa) had stores to buy more from.
3 | And While You Are At It, Don't Forget the Sunscreen
Even when it was nice and cloudy out, Luke somehow still got burned. This is because you are at a very high altitude (over 10,000 feet and up to 12,000 in some places). At that elevation you get burned quickly, so put it on right in the morning before setting off and reapply often, especially if you are sweating it off while climbing up the steep hills.
4 | The Hostal Food is Pretty Good
We only stayed at one, Cloud Forest Hostal in Chugchilan, but the included dinner and breakfast were both really yummy. The breakfast was surprisingly tasty and different and best of all, FILLING. Unlike other hostel breakfasts it wasn't just bread and jam but yogurt, granola, fruit, coffee or tea, toast, and an egg. Dinner was also yummy and included a soup and a nice fruity dessert alongside the main dish of rice, mashed potatoes, veggies, and chicken. All of this, including the room, was only $15 a person, a real deal.
5 | But You Still Will Want to Bring Snacks
Maybe it’s because we were just hiking a lot (16.5 miles total), but we were hungry during and after the hike on the first day. We finished at 2:30 PM and dinner was not until 7 PM - way too long to wait - so we were really glad we decided to bring snacks with us on the trail. While the hostels had snacks to buy, most of it was just chips or candy.
6 | Speaking of Snacks, Make Sure to Get Them in Latacunga
Unless you're fine with bringing chips and cookies on the hike, I suggest stocking up in Latacunga beforehand. We stocked up in Sigchos and were lucky to find granola, but besides that the options were not great. Next to the bus terminal in Latacunga, there is a big supermarket with a lot more options. We definitely regretted not stopping in there before catching the bus out to the trailhead.
7 | Latacunga is a Fine City
Before heading there we had heard so many people talk about how bad the city was, but honestly we didn't mind it. We only stayed one night after the hike, at Hostel Tiana, but the city squares were pretty, it was clean and we found a bomb sandwich place for dinner (El Submarino). While I don't think we would head there only for the city, it is not what you would call a "destination" city, it was perfectly fine for a night and a day of exploring.
8 | The Crater is 100% Worth the Three Days of Hiking
We did the route from Sigchos to Quilotoa and we were so glad we did because ending at the lake, including the LONG hike up to the rim, totally made it all worth it. We met a few people who did it the opposite way and they all were feeling pretty skeptical of finishing the whole loop since they had already seen the big-ticket item. While the route from Quilotoa to Sigchos might be easier (don't worry there are still some nice uphill parts) we just felt that having the crater as the finale was more motivating.
9 | The Short Route Around the Lake is Enough
In the beginning we considered doing the long route around the lake (the three-hour trail) but once we actually got to the lake and felt how cold and windy it was we quickly changed our minds. And honestly the views were just as good on the one hour route (the right side) and obviously took way less time and had a lot fewer hills (you will be thankful for this once you get to the end).