Take a Quilotoa day trip or join the ‘Quilatoa Loop’ hike, but whatever you do, don’t miss Quilatoa off your Ecuador itinerary.
WHY TAKE A QUILOTOA DAY TRIP?
The views from the top of Quilotoa Crater are incredible. When we rounded the corner and came face to face with the shimmering water of Quilotoa Lake, it stopped us in our tracks. The conversation went dead and we all stood in stunned silence watching the shadows of clouds dance in patterns across its surface.
If you’re only on a day trip, you also have more time to play around at the crater, including the chance to rent a kayak on the lake.
HIKING INTO QUILOTOA CRATER
If you’re just on a Quilotoa day trip then there’s a fantastic walk to the lake and back. Descending into the crater takes about 40 minutes, but this path should come with a warning. It’s all very well bounding down through the scree towards the crystal clear aquamarine lake, but the hike back out again is a tough one.
Quilotoa Lake is located at almost 4000 metres’ elevation, which makes simple tasks like bending over to tie your shoe laces strenuous activities. The relentless sun and complete lack of shade on the footpath add to the challenge. And finally, all that loose scree that carried you down the steep slopes on your care-free descent threatens to drag you back down with every step. If you’re really struggling to get back out, you can hire a mule.
DOING THE QUILOTOA DAY TRIP BY BUS
To ensure your Quilatoa day trip actually is a day trip, you should leave your hostel at 7 am or shortly after.
There’s a bus that leaves for Zumbahua from the main bus terminal at 8 am, taking about 2 hours, and – at the time of writing – cost between $1.25 and $2.00 each way.
In Zumbahua, you can negotiate a lift in the back of a pick-up truck. This cost us $2 per person on the way out and $3 on the way back and took about 20 minutes. Safety shouldn’t be an issue. This isn’t like hitch hiking. All the locals – even the school children – use these vehicles to get around because buses are so few and far between.
It costs an additional $1 to enter the crater-viewing vicinity so make sure you travel with some spare cash. It also wouldn’t be a bad idea to bring enough to get you shelter or a longer ride just in case you can’t rely on public transport.
On our bus back to Latacunga, there had been a landslide in the road, and a massive queue of lorries and buses had to wait more than an hour while they cleared it. While it’s always worth factoring extra time for unforeseen events like this, I saw so many roadworks going on that I wouldn’t be surprised if, in a few months’ time, there were regular, easy buses navigating the roads between each of the tiny towns in the region.
If you’re planning on doing some serious hiking at altitude in the region, a visit to Quilotoa crater is handy as acclimatisation.
A lot of people who are preparing for the Cotopaxi Volcano climb do a multi-day hike that incorporates Quilotoa Crater called the Quilotoa Loop. It passes through small indigenous villages and highland markets. The accommodation is minimal and transport along the bumpy dirt tracks is hard to come by, but I hear the remoteness makes the journey that much more rewarding.
It’s also possible to hike around the rim of the crater. This should take between three and five hours.