Ecuador easily competes as THE top nature lover’s destination in South America. Why? Apart from the diversity in landscape, flora and fauna, you’ll find many protected areas that you can explore on foot. Some of these treks take you to the summits of active volcanoes and others, like the Quilotoa Loop, take you across Andean forests, craters and indigenous villages.
Quilotoa Loop, more than a hike around the rim of the Quilotoa Crater
Upon landing at Quito’s International Airport, you’ll likely see an entire wall depicting Quilotoa Crater in high resolution and think, “Whoa, how do I get there?”
Quilotoa, located a four-hour drive from Quito, was once an active volcano before it erupted 600 years ago. Today, what you’ll find is an impressive 3km (1.9 mile) wide crater, or caldera. From the crater’s rim, or summit, at 3,914 meters in altitude (12,800 ft), you’ll look over a magnificent Andean landscape, as well as the frigid, turquoise lake found within the crater.
Many visitors to Ecuador may only spend a day or two exploring Quito and its surroundings, including Cotopaxi Volcano and Quilotoa Crater. Upon arriving in Quilotoa, they might hike down to the lake, go kayaking, and then climb back up to the crater “summit”.
What they may not realize is that there’s much more to experience in this neck of the Andes!
Another popular hiking route goes around the crater’s rim. This hike is 10km-long, often steep and sandy, and a bit treacherous on a foggy day. Always try to make it to Quilotoa early and with good weather to catch the best views and, in the case of hiking along the rim, to ensure everyone gets back in one piece!
The hike along Quilotoa crater’s rim is often mistaken for the Quilotoa Loop, which is actually a multi-day hiking route that takes you through small villages in the area. To be fair, the name “Quilotoa Loop” is misleading; the reality is most people don’t usually complete a loop on the Quilotoa Loop and, instead, start at point A and end at point B. A better name for this hike might be the “Quilotoa traverse.” Regardless, this hike is definitely worth 4 days of your vacation in Ecuador!
The Quilotoa Loop, or Quilotoa Traverse, begins in Quilotoa and crosses through the towns of Chugchilán, Isinlivi, and Sigchos. While it might sound like a backpacking route, you really don’t have to carry much in your pack because you’ll find cheap hotels and restaurants at each of the towns. All you really need is hiking gear, rain gear, water and snacks. Oh, and your camera/phone, of course (skip the selfie stick, though…).
For the avid, and even not so avid, hikers among you, the Quilotoa Loop may very well be the best way to acquaint yourself with the Ecuadorian Andes, its landscape and culture. Don’t be fooled by the comfortable hostels at the end of each hiking day; you’ll get your dose of adventure when trying to navigate through narrow trails, forests and ridges. Best of all, it’s a very affordable outdoor experience across breathtaking landscapes.
Wanderbus: the best way to visit Quilotoa
Quilotoa is relatively easy to get to by regular bus from Quito, although it might take you about four different buses to actually reach it. A better option now exists that you might want to consider: Wanderbus Ecuador. Wanderbus is a convenient hop on, hop off bus service that takes you right up to the entrance of Ecuador’s top destinations, including Quilotoa crater.
Though Ecuador’s bus system is mind blowingly cheap, it’s not very convenient. In fact, safety is an important factor when traveling by bus through the country. Pick up and drop off locations almost always at bus terminals and at odd hours of the night, whereas Wanderbus departs from convenient locations (think 2 blocks from your hostal) and drops you off at the entrance of many national parks.
Another perk to traveling on the Wanderbus is that you’ll have a bilingual tour guide available for every leg of the journey and recommendations on accommodations and restaurants are provided at every stop.
Wanderbus departs regularly from Quito to Quilotoa and stops through a few other must-see destinations in the area, so if you’re thinking about planning your Quilotoa Loop trek, make sure to check out their passes or inquire with them directly.