Posted by: Jena Davison | September 26, 2011

Quilotoa, Ecuador: Small Village, Big Crater

Since I arrived in Ecuador nearly two years ago, I have heard loads of good things about the entire Quilotoa loop. This rugged route in the Andes mountains consists of a string of small indigenous villages (Pujilí, Saquasili, Tigua, Zumbahua, Chugchilán, Isinlivi, Sigchos) connected by some of Ecuador’s best hiking routes. Along the way, you can stop at traditional produce and artisan markets and get a taste of the region’s food (grilled guinea pig, anyone?) and art. The quilted countryside is absolutely beautiful and is relatively uninhabited minus these small villages and a few tiny communities along the way. Getting from town to town is all part of the fun, since bus schedules are unreliable and leave at unreasonably early hours. Hopping on the back of camionetas or milk trucks or hitchhiking part of the way is common.

Quilotoa Loop Countryside

The loop typically starts in the city of Latacunga (almost 2 hours from Quito), but can be followed in either direction. No matter which way you go, a stop at Quilotoa Crater is a must. The massive volcanic crater is filled with green-blue waters. It is possible to hike around the entire crater (4-6 hr) or to descend to the bottom of it. When I was there, I did the latter, and it was a steep, sandy slope. There are a few different viewpoints along the way, perfect for picture-taking. At the bottom, there is a very basic community-run hostel and a camping area (bring your own tents, free to camp!), along with access to the lagoon. You can rent a kayak and paddle to the other side of the crater or simply leisurely boat around the lake.

Hiking Down the Crater

Laguna Quilotoa

Getting back up the crater is the most fun, though. You have two options: huff and puff your way up on foot or hire a horse or mule to do it for you. Again, we chose the latter, and I’m glad we did. It was not the most relaxing thing I have done, that’s for sure. The horses got so damn close to the edge of the trail that one misstep of the hoof and bam! both the horse and I would be tumbling to our deaths. Also, our horses did not get along and thought it was funny to try biting each other and tried to get ahead of one another, leading to my earth-shattering screams.

Horseback Riding up the Crater

Horseback Riding Up

Quilotoa as a village is fairly unimpressive. One main paved road, a few dirt paths and a handful of family-run hostels and restaurants offering the same chicken-and-rice meals. However, the community has worked together to generate income and together it runs a community restaurant and a small horse-riding business, a fantastic example of community tourism. The locals are all indigenous and dress in traditional clothing, making it an excellent cultural experience as well.

Traditionally Dressed Locals

We stayed at a lovely hostel called Hostería Alpaca, which was the most luxurious option there. It had a rustic cabin feel to it and the rooms were huge with two comfy queen-size beds, a private bathroom, pretty views and a furnace (absolutely necessary in the freezing cold brrrr). It costs $25 a night and includes both breakfast and dinner (typical, chicken, rice, boiled veggies).

Quilotoa Crater

Quilotoa was one place on my list of “places to go to before I leave Ecuador” that I had yet to make it to, and I’m glad I was finally able to check it off  two weekends ago. Now, I’m intrigued by the rest of the Quilotoa loop and hope to make it to some of the other villages during another trip.



  1. Many years ago an American named Johnny Lovewisdom lived on Quilatoa and did a 105 day fast. He became famous in some circles as a live food eater and eventually moved to Vilcababa before the town got discovered by foreigners. I spent a few days horsebackriding around the area years ago. It is typical cold Andean climate. Wonderful land

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