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Quilotoa tour: Hints to a successful experience!

Quilotoa tour: One of the most important and beautiful natural attractions in the Cotopaxi  Province of Ecuador. The Quilotoa crater lake is one of the most impressive natural wonders of this province. A marvelous view to the lake from the lookout point located at the top of its rim will make you go WOW. This fantastic seven colors turquoise-toned lake is considered to be, one of the 13 most beautiful lakes around the globe.  Not only the lake has a special beauty but also its local indigenous people and its surroundings make this a special place great for a fabulous tour.

The Quilotoa area began its touristic development (roads, lookout points, restaurants, hotels, complimentary services) only ten years ago (the year 2010) and from there on, the community tourism has become a way of life and locals are working hard towards tourism to become its main source of income. The Quilotoa Touristic Complex includes an artisanal market, several accommodation facilities at different prices, many hiking trails, lookout points, horseback riding. Once in the lake exists a Camping area and Kayak rental.

What to expect on the road trip to Quilotoa?

Quilotoa and its surrounding towns are one of the areas that due to its geographical location, quite far apart from other towns and the lack of good access roads in the past has been the reason of keeping its indigenous essence the way it always has been, as well as almost untouched landscapes.

Luckily mountainsides are not covered with houses, yet crops cover the mountainsides from the bottom to the highest places that the community can reach, making it look like patches with the different colors of nature. Also, sheep flocks, alpacas, llamas, cows, donkeys, dogs can be spotted on the way. Don’t be surprised if you find a cow, donkey or any other animal crossing the road.

Steep mountains,  the whistle of the wind, several communities with simple people and simple lives. On the way, the “Tigua” community is one that outstands the most for its art, like the Naif style paintings on sheep´s skin, also its pine wood masks painted with the same style and technique, unique to this community. The Tigua galleries are located on the side of the road where you can do a shortstop and visit them.  The paintings display their everyday lives, and festivities, colorful hand carved and painted masks of different sizes are mostly animals.

Depending on the day of your trip to this area of Ecuador, there are two interesting markets Pujilí (Sundays) and Saquisilí (Thursdays).

Markets are full of freshly harvested vegetable, grains, potatoes among lots of other products.  Vendors with their loud voices announcing their products in the street get louder as getting closer to the main market square. People from the surrounding communities coming to sell their produce products and taking back home, other products mainly pasta, rice, oil, salt, sugar soap.

All the different colors of this rich Andean culture are what make this scenic road trip so unique.

What is a Quilotoan´s everyday life like?

Days in the Ecuadorian highlands start early morning, the morning starts by feeding the animals and/or take their few cows to a place to pasture, then continue with their not very easy jobs, work the land, preparing the soil, planting, harvesting is an endless working cycle. By midday the Quilotoas will start preparing their extremely simple food, fresh potatoes in boiling water as well as boiling fresh beans, normally lima beans, red or green beans are very usual in the highland countrysides. Pasta and chicken soup can be a specialty in this area, fruits and beef are not really a big part of their diet.

The Quilotoas have a slow paced but always active lifestyle, not many worries affect them since their work on the land and their animals, will supply them with food. Modernity and time are the things that don’t seem to affect this area of Ecuador.

When was the Quilotoa volcano´s last Eruption?

Several studies show that the Quilotoa´s last eruption took place about 738 (1280 confirmed last eruption source: Smithsonian Institution) years ago, its ash flew all the way to the Pacific Ocean (250km), and to the east reached the east side area of the Cotopaxi National Park and part of the Ecuadorian Amazon.

What is the weather like at the Quilotoa?

The weather in the Andes is constantly changing, if you pay close attention to the climate you will be able to tell and feel this changes approximately every twenty to thirty minutes and the Quilotoa is not an exception. Due to the Quilotoa´s high altitude of 3900 m (12792 ft), it can be cold and feel chilly when windy, and it can be very comfortable on a sunny day without wind.

It is very variable, so be prepared for sun and rain on the same day.

Where is Quilotoa lake located?

Quilotoa Lake is located in the heart of the West  Ecuadorian Highlands that belong to the Andean mountain range. It is in the furthermost west of the Ecuadorian Andean range,  located at 175km south-west of Quito in the province of Cotopaxi and belongs to the Pujilí Canton. The Quilotoa is part of the ecological reserve “The Ilinizas”

How long is the road trip to the Quilotoa crater lake from Quito?

From Quito, it will take you about three hours of a road trip to get there by car, and by bus, it will take about one-hour longer since you have to switch buses and wait for them to come.

Quilotoa from Quito how to get here?

There are two options to go from Quito to Quilotoa!

Option One (The most known and with the road in perfect condition, but longer)

From Quito, take the Panamerican highway south, drive past Tambillo, the avenue of the volcanoes, the entrance to the Cotopaxi national park up to Latacunga, from there you have to change direction towards the west (66km) on the route (Latacunga- La Maná)  towards Pujilí and then continue to Zumbahua, once in Zumbahua you are about 15 minutes away from the Quilotoa loop and crater lake so you can ask or follow the signs that will take you to the Quilotoa Lake.

Option Two (From Quito, take the Panamerican highway south, drive past Tambillo, the avenue of the volcanoes, the entrance to the Cotopaxi national park and then in the next town Lasso take the route to Sigchos the drive is about 1 hour (53km) once in Sigchos keep going to Chucchilan (25min-23km) this is a town where many hikers stay overnight there are several accommodations Mama Hilda ($35) Black sheep Inn (a vegetarian alternative from $25 to $80) The Cloudforest (from $15 to 20$) or just keep going to the Quilotoa Crater Lake (25 more minutes from Chucchilan- 20km) there you will also find accommodation like the Princessa Toa ($30), Hotel Chukirahua ($54), Runawasi($30). All these accommodation are right by the lake.

When is the best time to tour the Quilotoa?

This emerald green water lake can be visited all year round although the best months are  April May, June,  October, and November since the cold wind will not blow making it very pleasant for hikes, taking pictures, kayak, bicycle riding or horseback riding.

The rainy season in Ecuador starts mid-October until March so it is likely to rain in the afternoon between January and April the rain can be even more frequent during the day. So just be prepared for summer as well as for fall during the same day.

How many inhabitants live in the Quilotoa area?

Approximately 1050 people live in the Quilotoa Area adding up Zumbahua, Quilotoa, Guayama, Shalala

What is the temperature at the Quilotoa lake?

It can vary between 11°C y 14 °C but this will be the average temperature all year round though in the months of June July August it can feel colder due to the cold winds blowing.

What is the elevation of Quilotoa?

3900 m (12790 ft) and the highest point is 4050m (13284) which is the elevation seen on the east side of the Quilotoa´s Rim

What to do in Quilotoa?

  • Hike into the lake approx. 4 hours round trip ( difference in altitude between the lookout point and the lake 440mts (1443 ft) Difficulty in a scale of o to 10 a 6
  • Hike the Rim approx. 4 hours (about 10.5 km- 6.5 miles)
  • Visit the handicraft market with about 30 different vendors
  • Horseback riding ($20 per hour)
  • Bicycle rental
  • Kayak ($3 dollars per 0.5 hours)
  • From Chucchilan, visit the cheese factory and the cloud forest
  • Hike and hike the famous Quilotoa loop or part of it!

What is the Quilotoa Loop?

The Quilotoa loop is a circuit, quite famous among hikers of the world, where you can spend several days hiking in several directions, going into deep and steep canyons, going across the rural areas and several Andean hamlets where you can stay overnight.  All these hikes take place in the surrounding area of Quilotoa Lake, and they all involve a different difficulty level. For example, we did the route Chucchilan-Quilotoa going through Guayama which was quite difficult on a scale from 0 to 10 some people gave it a seven(7) and others an eight (8) of difficulty, it depends on how fit you are.

The landscapes are just breathtaking, we decided to do this because some people from the group had problems with their knees while going down, so to avoid this we did the hard way, Chucchilan- Quilotoa (going up) but at the same time it was a very satisfactory hike since  we ended the hike at the Quilotoa Lake where we had our lunch box with a stunning view of this huge and beautiful lake in front of us. After all this effort we did to get to the edge of the rim, the discouraging part was that we still had one more hour to get to the main viewing point, where our tour bus was waiting for us.

For this amazing Quilotoa tour and loop, we had an English Speaking guide, a local guide and, a horse which was so helpful since he carried water and snack supplies to keep us hydrated, also the horse was available in case anybody from the group would feel altitude sickness.

We started this hike at 8:30 am in the morning, right after breakfast, and we were at the Quilotoa´s main lookout point at 2:30 pm (end of the hike).

The changes in elevation for this Chucchilan-Guayama- Quilotoa hike where:

Chucchilan´s elevation 3150m (10332 ft)

Descend into the canyon to 2700 m (8856 ft)

Go up to Guayama hamlet 3400 m (11152 ft)

And keep going up to +/-3900 m (12790 ft) this elevation varies along the rim but keeps its approximation.

What does Quilotoa Mean?

Its name come from two Quichua words, “Quiru” means tooth and “Toa” means princess

So the “tooth of the princess” would be the translation for Quilotoa

Hiking the Quilotoa Rim

Hiking the Quilotoa Rim will take you about  3.5 hours to 4 hours, depending on your pace, people say that the nicest way to start this hike is counterclockwise, there are some areas where it gets a bit steep but the views are very rewarding all the way around, after about one hour walking you will reach the wood and glass lookout point  and community, Shalalá.

Quilotoa Tour and loop what to pack?

Carrying only your essentials in a small daypack it’s important to not be weighed down by unnecessary items whilst still ensuring you have enough to protect against the cold and the sun. Given the difficulty and  elevation (up to 3,800m / 12,500ft) and long distances

Backpack to adequately hold everything needed. Something around 20 liters should be ideal.

  • Snacks sweets or candies will give you some extra energy you will sure need
  • head torch
  • camera + lenses
  • refillable big water bottle
  • vaseline or lip balm
  • watch
  • small toiletries set
  • emergency numbers
  • pen and paper
  • phone with GPS suggested
  • first aid kit

What to wear for Quilotoa tour and loop?

Be prepared for very cold temperatures although you might be lucky and have a sunshine day and no rain, it can very well be the other way around, so be prepared. it’s always better to have extra layers rather than not enough to put on when it’s cold.

  • hiking boots or shoes
  • hiking socks
  • set of thermals
  • long sleeve t-shirt
  • hiking trousers
  • waterproof jacket
  • wooly hat
  • scarf
  • hoody
  • sun-cream
  • gloves (optional)

Quilotao loop: Some recommendations for hikers.

While hiking the Quilotoa loop you will need, a pair of hiking poles , water to keep yourself well hydrated,  if you don’t have hiking poles take a dog stick, at some point you will need it to scare away some noisy dogs that will most likely be close to populated areas and as hiking poles too!

Taking a lunch box can be very helpful since depending on the hikes they can last several hours.

Plan the trail before you leave and use your common sense as much as possible to avoid getting lost or taking the wrong trail.

Quilotoa Tours we offer!

If you came this far reading this article and are interested in our amazing Quilotoa tours (one full day tour) or Quilotoa loop tour and experience, please follow these links to learn more about them.

Quilotoa day tour (full day tour)

Quilotoa loop tour ( three  days two nights)

Volunteering in the Quilotoa Area!

Would you like to have a volunteering experience in this area of Ecuador we leave you this link below