A stunning aquamarine crater lake is the centerpiece to the increasingly popular Quilotoa Loop, a day hiker’s paradise with a spectacular canyon, friendly rural communities, and traditional markets along it’s breathtaking route. Reaching the crater from Quito takes about 3.5 hours and, though visiting this area in one day makes for a looooong day, it’s still one of the wildly different worlds you can access from the capital city and a wonderful glimpse at even more diversity here in the Andes. If you can manage an overnight here, you won’t be disappointed. Highlights include:
Highland Paramo Plains
Depart Quito at 7am and settle in for an approximately 3 hour ride. Once you leave the main highway, you’ll find yourself passing rural agricultural communities, tiny towns, and wilderness areas as you wind alongside the Toachi canyon and enjoy lovely views. Once you reach the tiny town of Quilotoa, stretch your legs and head down into the crater. I bet the first glimpse of the crater lake leaves you breathless!. To return to the crater rim, you can either hike or have a horse carry you upwards. After a late lunch overlooking the crater, your guide will transport you back to Quito.
Depending on the day of the week, you may also stop on your way to the crater in order to enjoy a local traditional market. On Thursdays, you can catch the market at Saquisili. Saturday’s market is held in Zumbahua.
Price (per person):
Wear: warm layers will be your key to comfort today. Quilotoa is at a higher altitude than Quito and the weather can change dramatically throughout the day. Long underwear, long pants, a scarf, winter hat, gloves, wool upper layer, and rain coat should keep you cozy. When the sun is out, you might want to peel down to a long sleeve shirt. The scarf and rain coat are primarily for blocking the wind. Make sure you wear comfortable hiking shoes in order to conquer the instability of the loose volcanic material filling the trails.
Bring: water, sunscreen, camera, the usuals. Make sure to have enough CASH for the day (you won’t have access to a reliable ATM on this journey) and bring along small bills if you’re visiting a local market. $1s, $5s, and $10s are best.
If staying overnight in the area, you can use the small town of Chugchilan as a great base for exploring the Quilotoa Loop. Here, there are three tiers of accommodation:
Black Sheep Inn is the higher-end option and, though I wouldn’t designate this lodge as “luxurious,” it is certainly comfortable, unique, and well run. Accommodation options range from a shared, three-story “bunkhouse” all the way up to private cabins with private bath and wood burning stoves. The expansive property sets BSI apart from its competitors and boasts several hiking trails, friendly farm animals, a frisbee golf course, sauna, hot tub, outdoor gym, and on-site organic garden. The staff will make you feel right at home and are a wonderful source of detailed information about what to see & do in the area. All meals are included in your rate.
Mama Hilda is a comfortable, family run inn just down the road. They don’t have much to offer in terms of their property but rooms are comfortable and less than half the price of BSI’s private cabins. Make sure to get a room with wood stove and ask them to light it before your arrival to warm up and dry out the room. We receive feedback often that the bathrooms are poorly lit and sometimes feel gritty but the hot water is plentiful and the meals are hearty and delicious. This is a great option if you’re looking for something on the budget end but comfort is important to you. All meals are included in your rate.
Hostal Cloud Forest is the backpacker’s best option in Chugchilan. All meals are included in a rate of approximately $15/person. You can book a bed in the bunk room or go for a private room with private bathroom and wood-burning stove. Nights are cold here so I’d go for the heat!