The Quilotoa Loop is arguably one of the best multi-day trekking routes in South America and one of Ecuador’s most popular treks. The hiking trails throughout the Quilotoa Loop wind through the Ecuadorian Andes to connect a series of friendly rural farming villages that are each very well-prepared to receive hikers. Yet perhaps what most defines the Quilotoa Loop trek is the gleaming Laguna Quilotoa, an awe-inducing crater lake surrounded by Andean volcanic peaks, that is encountered during one of the three days of this trekking route.
The Quilotoa Loop three-day trek is a very enjoyable hike and can be fairly easy too. With inexpensive yet super comfortable hostels spread across the hiking route, trekkers are able to keep their packs light. There’s no need to add the weight of camping gear or meals since the hostels provide comfy lodging and revitalizing feasts.
Relatively short distances of the Quilotoa Loop 3-day trek further make for pleasant hiking days, with plenty of down time at the villages to relax or explore. And detailed offline map apps now make the Quilotoa Loop easier than ever to access by seamlessly navigating on your own. The Quilotoa Loop trek can even be a great beginner trek for novice hikers who are acclimated to the altitude and well-prepared.
In addition to being such an enjoyable multi-day trek, the Quilotoa Loop 3-day trek is also one of the best-value catered hiking routes we’ve ever come across anywhere in the world. For comparison, hut-to-hut hiking in the Alps can cost well upwards of $150 per person per day. Yet our entire Quilotoa Loop budget, including transportation, cozy private rooms, and hot home-cooked meals totaled a mere $15 per day. It’s an incredible travel value!
Hiking the Quilotoa Loop should come with ease and affordability. But we found that not to always be the case. We encountered many trekkers getting lost, generally having a difficult time, and unnecessarily overspending in some instances. That can be easily avoided for those who know just a few simple logistics and plan accordingly.
This is exactly what inspired us to write this post on how to trek the Quilotoa Loop the cheap and easy way! There’s no need to take a pricey taxi with regular buses plying the same routes. It’s virtually impossible to get lost if heeding our advice by downloading a free offline map app that details the Quilotoa Loop trails. And while there are some fantastic lodges that may indeed be worth the splurge, we were pleasantly shocked at the comfort throughout the all-inclusive hostels priced at only $15 per person, per night.
So we compiled this comprehensive travel guide and tips on how to do the Quilotoa Loop 3-day trek the cheap & easy way so that anyone else pursuing this classic trek in Ecuador can be prepared to thoroughly enjoy it. It’s an incredible 3-day trek through the Ecuadorian highlands. For us, it has even proven to be a trekking highlight of the many hikes we’ve completed in mountain ranges around the world.
Quilotoa Loop Map of 3-Day Trek and Route
So what is the Quilotoa Loop?
The name of this Andean hiking route is a bit misleading. The common three-day Quilotoa Loop trek is actually not a loop hike at all. It’s a linear one-way trekking itinerary. The Quilotoa Loop trek is referenced as a “loop” only because buses connect the circuit. While it may be possible to hike this entire loop by trekking along roadways in many instances, this is rarely ever pursued.
The three-day route between Sigchos and Quilotoa is, by far, the most common Quilotoa Loop itinerary. This is for good reason. This 34-km (21-mile) stretch has beautiful scenery, well-marked trails, and excellent hostels.
Which Direction to Trek Quilotoa Loop?
The most common plan for the Quilotoa Loop 3-day trek is from Sigchos to Quilotoa. It’s a fine direction to go. Yet there are some good reasons to consider the reverse route too. In fact, that’s our recommendation for trekking the Quilotoa Loop the easy way.
But do consider both options.
The Common 3-Day Quilotoa Loop Route: Sigchos to Quilotoa
The benefit of doing the Quilotoa Loop trek from Sigchos to Quilotoa is reaching the rewarding payoff of the stunning Quilotoa Crater at the end of the trek. It can be a dramatic and gratifying way to finish the three-day trek.
But this comes with a significant tradeoff of having much more uphill hiking to tackle at an increasingly higher altitude, particularly so on the final day. Because of these additional uphill portions, trekking the Quilotoa Loop from Sigchos to Quilotoa is a more demanding hike compared to the reverse route.
Some may argue that both directions still have a considerable amount of ascending, either way. This is partially true. Whichever direction is hiked, trekkers will inevitably need to cross the Sigui/Toachi River valley three separate times, climbing up the valley’s steep trails during each crossing. This occurs each day of the 3-day trek.
But there is much more ascending occurring during the common route from Sigchos to Quilotoa.
It’s simple math. The elevation at the Sigchos bus terminal, where trekkers get dropped off, is exactly 2,893 meters high. The Quilotoa bus stop where trekkers finish is exactly 3,855 meters in elevation. That’s nearly a full 1,000 meters of elevation gain during the three-day Sigchos to Quilotoa trek. Here are the exact altitude gains of common Quilotoa Loop route from Sigchos to Quilotoa:
- Day 1: ⬆️ 41 meters (135 feet)
- Day 2: ⬆️ 260 meters (853 feet)
- Day 3: ⬆️ 661 meters (2,169 feet)
The Quilotoa Loop Reverse Route: Quilotoa to Sigchos
The reverse route enjoys significantly more downhill portions, particularly so on the first day when descending the crater rim. Since it is less demanding, it can make for a more enjoyable trek. The route itself is the same; it’s simply the reverse direction.
Going this reverse route on the Quilotoa Loop is a much better option for novice trekkers. Yet even experienced hikers may prefer the added ease of less uphill segments.
But make no mistake, there is still plenty of challenging uphill along this reverse route too. There is less of it though, compared to going the Sigchos-to-Quilotoa route. Here is the elevation change of the Quilotoa Loop reverse route:
- Day 1: ⬇️ 661 meters (2,169 feet)
- Day 2: ⬇️ 260 meters (853 feet)
- Day 3: ⬇️ 41 meters (135 feet)
Another potential benefit to going the reverse route, Quilotoa to Sigchos, is that it’s less common to pursue. So those looking for a more serene trek may enjoy going this direction, while passing oncoming hikers who inevitably cluster together when walking from Sigchos to Quilotoa.
Additionally, while taking the reverse route, the altitude only gets lower. The trekking time lessens slightly each day too. So each subsequent day trekking the Quilotoa Loop reverse route only gets easier and easier.
The trade-off, of course, is that the reverse route begins at the Quilotoa Crater. So the trek starts by hiking several kilometers alongside the most scenic portion of the Quilotoa Loop. It can be a great way to begin with a bang! Yet it lacks the rewarding finish the more common direction can provide.
When going this reverse route, trekkers finish in Sigchos. It’s a pleasant town with a nice central square and a few decent cafes. It’s the largest town along the 3-day Quilotoa trek and makes for a fine place to wrap up the trek. But ending in Sigchos pales in comparison to the raw natural beauty the Quilotoa Crater delivers.
Deciding the Direction Between Quilotoa & Sigchos
So to decide on which direction to go, you’ll simply need to choose which you value more:
- A more demanding hike that comes with a rewarding finish: Go Sigchos to Quilotoa
- An easier trek with more downhill and decreasing elevation: Go the Reverse Route – Quilotoa to Sigchos
Because this guide is for the easy way to trek the Quilotoa Loop, we are covering the reverse route. It’s easier!
But should you decide to go the common direction from Quilotoa to Sigchos, the remainder of this Quilotoa Loop trekking guide should still prove helpful to follow in the opposite direction.
Planning Tips: Before Setting Off on the Quilotoa Loop Trek
If we were to only give one single piece of advice about the Quilotoa Loop, it would be this: download maps.me to your phone. This is a must.
You Won’t Get Lost With Maps.me
This free app is critical to have if trekking the Quilotoa Loop. The app has all the Quilotoa Loop trail routes clearly marked on it. The app works offline with your phone’s GPS, so there’s no data or wifi required.
With this app in place, you can easily see exactly where you are and the trails you can take to get to the next location. It makes it virtually impossible to get lost. When trekking the Quilotoa Loop, you’ll notice many different unmarked trails that fork off along the way. Maps.me takes away the guessing work so you can clearly determine which way to go to get to your next destination.
Once you have the app on your phone, search “Laguna Quilotoa.” That will get you in the vicinity. Once you’re zoomed into the right level, all the trails will appear. But just know that it’s not one single Quilotoa Loop trail marked on the map. The app will shows many different trails in the area. So there is some navigation that’s needed to figure out the exact route you want to take. Yet it’s pretty clear to work out, for example, when looking at the different trails options between Quilotoa and Chugchilan.
Alternatively, many of the Quilotoa Loop hostels provide some rough hand-drawn paper maps with directions. These maps are okay. But those who rely solely on them, do tend to get lost. Those hand-drawn Quilotoa Loop maps aren’t necessary anymore as long as you have this maps.me app.
Just be sure you have the app downloaded before you depart. Also, open the app while still connected to wifi to download the regional map of the Quilotoa area. You can do so within the app by simply navigating to that area of the Cotopaxi province and a prompt will pop-up to ask if you want to download them.
Plan to Acclimatize Before the Quilotoa Loop Trek to Avoid Altitude Sickness
People can begin to feel symptoms of altitude sickness at about 2,400 meters in elevation. As the highest elevations of the Quilotoa Loop trek hover around 4,000 meters in altitude, it would be foolish to immediately embark on this trek if arriving from sea level. It is definitely possible to experience altitude sickness on the Quilotoa Loop.
Those who have been traveling through the Andes will likely be just fine and have nothing to worry about. But others should build in several days into their Ecuador itinerary to acclimatize at moderate altitudes before pursuing the Quilotoa Loop.
At an elevation of 2,850 meters, Quito is a great place nearby to get acclimated and there’s so much to do there. This separate post about the 20 Best Things To Do in Quito Ecuador will help fill any extra time you may need while acclimatizing to the altitude.
Additionally, to help keep any potential altitude sickness symptoms away, be sure to stay very hydrated and consider laying off the booze for a few days.
You may also want to consider bringing this Altitude RX natural altitude supplement that helps to increase oxygen, maximize energy, and prevent fatigue at altitude. Check price and reviews here on Amazon.
For the 3-Day Trek, Plan 4 Days Into Your Travel Itinerary
The Quilotoa Loop 3-day trek actually requires four days to complete. The reason for this is because an additional travel day is needed to reach the town of Latacunga on the day prior to beginning the Quilotoa Loop trek. Latacunga is the gateway to Quilotoa Loop and has all the bus connections. To embark early on the trek on “Day 1,” it’s necessary to arrive in Latacunga the day before. (We call this “Day 0.”)
If it’s not possible to budget four full days in your itinerary, shorter Quilotoa Loop routes are possible, pending on how much time you have. It’s feasible to do any portion of the three-day trek outlined in this guide and use public transportation to return to Latacunga.
It’s also possible for more avid hikers to combine two days of trekking into one, hiking 22 kilometers in a day, in order to complete the three-day route in two days. That said, part of the appeal of the Quilotoa Loop is going slow and enjoying the surroundings, so it’s not recommended to rush through.
Stock Up On Cash
There are no banks or ATMs along the Quilotoa Loop trekking route between Sigchos and Quilotoa. The hostels and stores only accept cash. So before setting off, be sure to have the required cash. It’s possible to complete the entire trek on about $50 per person. We provide a complete budget breakdown later in this post to show exactly how.
Yet we’d strongly recommend bringing at least $100 per person, in case of additional expenses, emergencies, crafts you may want to purchase, and/or a few cervezas along the way. There are many good ATMs in Latacunga to retrieve cash before beginning the Quilotoa Loop trek.
Day-By-Day Quilotoa Loop Trek 3-Day Itinerary
The following day-by-day Quilotoa Loop itinerary gives a breakdown to know exactly what to expect when trekking the reverse route of the Loop, from Quilotoa to Sigchos. Be prepared with knowing the logistics for the bus times, the best Quilotoa Loop hostels to stay at, and what to do in each of the Andean towns along the way.
- Day 0: Arrive to Latacunga, explore the town, eat a chugchucara dinner, rest up.
- Day 1: Bus from Latacunga to Quilotoa. Admire crater, maybe hike down. Trek 12km Quilotoa to Chugchilán.
- Day 2: Trek 11km Chugchilán to Isinliví, the Loop’s ultimate chill-out town.
- Day 3: Trek 11km Isinliví to Sigchos. Bus from Sigchos to Latacunga.
Beginning the Quilotoa Loop in Latacunga: Day 0
Latacunga, Ecuador is the ideal spot to initially base yourself for a Quilotoa Loop 3-day trek. This pretty Andean town has regular bus connections to begin the trek in either Sigchos or Quilotoa. All of the hostels in Latacunga anticipate hikers and hence have secure storage rooms to hold heavy luggage so you can trek the Quilotoa Loop with only a light day pack.
Given Latacunga’s position along the Pan-American Highway, it’s an easy city to reach by bus from Quito, Baños, Ambato, Riobamba, and further points throughout Ecuador, with frequent connections.
It’s recommended to arrive to Latacunga one day before beginning the Quilotoa Loop. Doing so will allow for the early start that’s required on the following day for the 2-hour bus ride that precedes more than 10 kilometers of trekking. Staying overnight in Latacunga also gives the opportunity to leave that heavy luggage at your accommodation.
While in Latacunga, take an afternoon to explore the town. Poke around the local market, Mercado Cerrado. Climb to the viewpoint of Mirador El Calvario. Amble across Latacunga’s central park square, Parque Vicente Leon, and pop into the adjacent Cathedral and Municipal Palace.
Finally, have a gut-busting dinner of Latacunga’s local specialty, known as chugchucaras. It’s an enormous meal composed of fritada (well-seasoned fried pork), a fried plantain, a potato, cheese empanadas, tostado (toasted corn), mote (boiled hominy), popcorn, and chicharron. This huge dinner will surely help to fuel the hike ahead. The restaurant La Mama Negra Chugchucaras A Leña is widely recommended as having the best chugchucaras in town.
🌱 Vegetarians need not worry, as there are plenty of veggie options found throughout Latacunga too. Check HappyCow for up-to-date recommendations.
Where To Stay in Latacunga
It’s suggested to stay near the center of Latacunga, which is safe, has the easiest access to many restaurants, many ATMs to withdraw cash, and is close to the aforementioned attractions. It’s also just a 15-minute walk to the Latacunga bus terminal. Here are three recommendations for where to stay in Latacunga, depending on what you’re looking for.
|Bed in dorm
|Hostel Sendero de Volcanes
|Outskirts of town
|Hostel Cafe Tiana
|Right on main plaza
Tight Budgets: Hostel Sendero de Volcanes is a solid cheap option with a social atmosphere. But it’s in a further location on the outskirts of town, nearly a half-hour walk to the bus terminal. For those on a shoestring, it could be worth saving a few bucks to stay over here. Dorm beds start at $8, while nice private rooms with private bathrooms start at $23 and includes a basic breakfast. Yet while these prices are among the lowest in Latacunga, just be aware they charge $1 per day for baggage storage. (Others offer it for free.)
Solo Travelers: Hostel Cafe Tiana is oft-recommended and it’s a good option. With its central location, included breakfast, social atmosphere, free secure baggage storage, and dorm beds starting around $10, we suggest Hostel Tiana as the best choice for solo travelers.
Couple travelers will find better value at Hostal Central for private rooms with private bathrooms at $30 per night. The rooms even look out over Parque Vicente. We personally stayed here and recommend. Hot water & wifi were both good, and they have free secure baggage storage.
Trekking the Quilotoa Loop Day 1: Quilotoa to Chugchilán
Pursuing the reverse route of the 3-day Quilotoa Trek, the first day involves a bus ride from Latacunga to Quilotoa. After admiring the magnificent crater lake, the trek begins along its rim before descending down a river valley. The hike culminates with a final climb to the town of Chugchilán.
Latacunga to Quilotoa by Bus
As of March 2019, the Latacunga to Quilotoa bus times are at 6:00, 7:30, 8:00, and 10:00 am. While there are also later buses, taking one would prove rushed, difficult, or impossible to complete the trek before nightfall around 6:30 pm.
The Latacunga to Quilotoa bus fare is $2.50. The bus from Latacunga to Quilotoa takes a bit more than two hours. So an 8:00 am Latacunga departure would ensure a Quilotoa arrival just after 10:00 am.
And you’ll arrive at this glorious site from high atop Quilotoa Crater.
Arriving to Quilotoa + Optional Trek Down to Laguna Quilotoa
The bus drops passengers off just a few minutes’ walk from the Quilotoa Crater rim, where there are a handful of hostels, stores, eateries, and a lookout platform. Admission is free for those arriving by bus and then walking in. There’s a $2 fee imposed only by those coming by car or group tour. Regardless of paying admission, it’s still required for everyone to stop to register.
At the Quilotoa crater rim, it is possible to hike down the well-defined trail to the bottom to reach the Quilotoa Lagoon. To do so, plan on taking up to two hours to get to the bottom of Laguna Quilotoa and back. It’s an easy 1.8-km trek down to the crater lake. But just keep in mind there will be a steep return back up to the crater rim, hiking at an altitude that’s nearly 4,000 meters high.
Towards the bottom, there’s also a fun swing for a cheap thrill ($1). Check out the video below to see what this awesome swing is like!
Trekking Quilotoa to Chugchilán
Before beginning the Quilotoa Look trek, take some time to admire the natural wonder that is Quilotoa Crater.
The three-kilometer wide caldera is so large, it’s tough to fit it into an entire picture. This former volcano collapsed from an eruption that is estimated to have occurred about 600 years ago. Today, the former volcano lays filled with water, transformed as a deep crater lake. And it’s an awe-inspiring sight. Enjoy it.
It’s suggested to set off from Quilotoa by Noon-ish, at the latest, to ensure enough time to hike to Chugchilán by nightfall. Doing so leaves some wiggle room for rest breaks, slower hiking, and/or any wrong turns.
This trek begins right along the western half of the Quilotoa Crater rim for the first three kilometers. It’s an absolutely stunning hike, with fantastic photo opportunities along the way.
Depending on how many times you stop to enjoy the sweeping vistas, this 3-kilometer hike along the rim should take about an hour or two to reach a viewpoint that is a signed-posted junction to turn-off towards the town of Chugchilán.
From this junction, it’s a descent on an easy-to-follow trail that goes right down the side of the Quilotoa Crater. Eventually, you’ll reach a decision point with a sign:
- The safe route to Chugchilán
- The adventure (extreme) route to Chugchilán
Assess your stamina and timing to decide which direction to go for the remaining 7-8 kilometers. The safe route is a bit flatter, nearly a half-kilometer (~¼-mile) shorter in length, and spends more time along dirt roads rather than trails.
The adventure route really isn’t that extreme, as the sign suggests. But it is more scenic, passes through the additional village of Guayama San Pedro, and involves more actual hiking paths rather than dirt roads. While it may go against our “easy” mantra of this Quilotoa Loop trekking guide, we do suggest extending the bit of extra effort to take this more interesting adventure route.
Passing through Guayama San Pedro, there is a small tienda (store) to restock up on water or snacks. From there, it’s westbound towards a great viewpoint of the Sigui river valley down below, that you’ll then trek down into. After crossing the river, it’s a final push up some steep trails to ultimately reach Chugchilán.
What To Do in Chugchilán:
Chugchilán is a small Andean town of about 6,000 residents or so. If arriving in Chugchilán with some extra energy and wanting to explore more, here are a few suggestions of things to do in Chugchilán:
- Walk around town (5-15 minutes)
- Visit Chugchilán’s church (5 minutes)
- Go on the loop trek to Mirador Pugara, clearly marked on maps.me (1-hour).
- Relax in a hammock with a cerveza at your hostel.
- Visit the Country Bar – happy hour is every day from 5:00-600 pm and there’s karaoke on Fridays.
- Unwind in the sauna and spa at Hostal El Vaquero ($3).
- Ask the locals to join in a game of Ecuavolley (it’s a local variant of volleyball).
Where To Stay in Chugchilán:
There are some great places to stay in Chugchilán, depending on your budget.
The Hostal Cloud Forest is the most popular choice in Chugchilán for good reason. They have clean, inexpensive rooms with comfortable beds, exterior hammocks that sport great Andes views, and notoriously filling meals. The plentiful dinner and breakfast is delicious and included in the room rate.
Really, the only negative aspect about Hostal Cloud Forest is that we found the showers can be a bit wonky, alternating from very hot to cold to hot again. But the water does get hot and is very manageable, and hence Hostal Cloud Forest is our cheap and easy hostel recommendation in Chugchilan for its incredible value!
Their private rooms with private bathrooms are only $15 per person ($30 for the room), including the full breakfast and dinner! Below is what was served during our stay. Water bottle refills are $0.50 and a packed lunch for the following day is $3.
So what’s for breakfast and the 3-course dinner at the Hostal Cloud Forest? Expand the drop-down below to find out.
While we found Hostal Cloud Forest to be very comfortable, there are some other great accommodation options in Chugchilán to consider for those with bigger budgets.
🏨 A quieter option with a spa: Hostal El Vaquero is a solid back-up if Hostal Cloud Forest is full. El Vaquero is about a five-minute walk from the center of Chugchilán and receives excellent reviews. It is a more quiet setting and also has a spa. It is slightly more expensive for couples with private rooms starting at $20 per person, yet dorm beds remain $15 per person, both rates inclusive of meals. Check current rates on Booking.
🏨 An excellent place to splurge: Black Sheep Inn is Chugchilán’s premier accommodation option. You’ll find amenities such as orthopedic mattresses, finely furnished rooms with wood-burning stoves, yoga classes, gourmet vegetarian meals, and more. But you’ll pay for it. Dorm beds are $35 and private rooms with private bathrooms start at $80 per person ($160 for the room), inclusive of meals. See recent reviews on Tripadvisor.
Quilotoa Loop Trek Day 2: Chugchilán to Isinliví
Day 2 of this Quilotoa Loop trek brings about another scenic day of hiking. With no buses to catch and about 4 hours of hiking in total, it’s a nice day to take your time and relax a bit at the start or end points. Isinliví makes for an ultimate chill-out location in the Andes to do just that.
💡 Don’t forget lunch! Before setting off on the second day of this Quilotoa Loop trek, grab a packed lunch from your hostel. At Hostal Cloud Forest they’re only $3 and include a sandwich, chips, breadsticks, apple, banana, chocolate bar, and a drink!
Trekking Chugchilán to Isinliví
Day 2 of this Quilotoa Loop trek brings about another scenic day of hiking. The trek begins with a mostly flat easy stint departing Chugchilán along the main dirt road for the first two kilometers. After passing the Chugchilán cemetery and a chocho factory, there’s a trail to turn off towards Isinliví.
The trail descends down into the Toachi Canyon, where there’s a scenic wooden bridge to cross at the bottom. Once on the other side of the canyon, that’s where a climb up to Isinliví awaits. There are a few tricky sections here that aren’t clearly marked and would be difficult to navigate without using the maps.me app.
Things To Do in Isinliví:
Isinliví is the quietest and smallest town along this 3-day Quilotoa Loop trekking itinerary. After a half-day of trekking, it makes for a fantastic setting to simply relax and enjoy the Andean small-town life. Should you want a little more excitement, here are a few suggestions of things to do in Isinliví.
- Walk to the Calvary Point viewpoint, a pre-Incan hill fortress close to town (15-20 minutes)
- Roam around the town of Isinliví (5-15 minutes)
- Check out the town church (5 minutes)
- Shop for local products at Mama Quilla, supporting this social enterprise of local women who make natural products
- Pet a llama
- Kick up your feet and enjoy the Andes view
Where To Stay in Isinliví:
There are two great places to stay in Isinliví that are located directly next to one another:
Which of the two you choose depends on your travel style and budget.
Hostal Taita Cristobal is extremely comfortable, friendly, has consistent hot showers with great pressure, surprisingly decent wifi, clean rooms with excellent mountain views, delicious meals, and three resident llamas. Hence Hostal Taita Cristobal is our cheap & easy hostel recommendation for Isinlivi.
We had a great stay at Hostal Taita Cristobal. And at $15 per person, inclusive of meals, the value is mind-bogglingly excellent.
So what’s for breakfast and the 3-course dinner at Hostal Taita Cristobal? Expand the drop-down below to see what we were served.
Meanwhile, Llullu Llama has become the darling of accommodation on the Quilotoa Loop and boasts rave reviews to support that. This Andean lodge is nicer than a typical hostel.
For those who enjoy yoga, spas, and finer amenities, then the extras at Llullu Llama can be worth the splurge. Llullu Llama boasts cozy in-room fireplace in their private cottages, nicer furnishings, included daily yoga sessions, and an on-site sauna. But couples will spend $50 more for these luxuries when compared to the ensuite private rooms at Hostal Taita Cristobal.
At Llullu Llama the private cottage rooms run $40 per person ($80 for the room), inclusive of meals. Dorm beds are $20 per person, inclusive of meals, providing better value for solo travelers.
Quilotoa Loop Trek Day 3: Isinliví to Sigchos
This is arguably the easiest day of the Quilotoa Loop and can even be completed in about three hours at a very steady pace. Yet it’s nice to take time to enjoy the beautiful Andean scenery, before departing by bus from Sigchos back to Latacunga.
Trekking from Isinliví to Sigchos
It’s bittersweet to set off from the peaceful enclave of Isinliví to complete the three-day Quilotoa Loop reverse trek. When leaving town, be sure to consult the maps.me app to find the trail which acts as a better alternative and a shortcut to walking along the dirt road. Yellow blazed trail markers also help lead the way.
Eventually, those trail markers steer hikers back down towards the Toachi River, where you’ll cross a concrete bridge. On the other side of the river, it’s one final push uphill to make it to the town of Sigchos to complete the 3-day trek.
Sigchos is the largest of the towns during the trek and it requires walking a good kilometer or so from the outskirts of town to get to the bus station. Along the way, be sure to pass by the town park and church. You’ll also find a handful of cafes to consider having lunch at.
Sigchos is a nice town, but it’s tough to justify lingering for the night. So have a look around and then continue on with your Ecuador travels.
Sigchos to Latacunga by Bus
The bus times from Sigchos to Latacunga seem to change often. In fact, we noticed the buses were operating at a different schedule from the times posted at the Sigchos bus terminal.
For what it’s worth, as of March 2019, the posted weekday departure times for the bus from Sigchos to Latacunga are: 9am, 10am, 11am, Noon, 4pm, and 5pm. Saturdays have departures at 12:30pm and 3:00pm.
Bus times will likely change further, but with somewhat regular departures you shouldn’t have to wait too long. We were told with confidence that the final bus departs at 5:00 pm every day of the week.
So remember: arrive before five! (Hey, that rhymes.)
The Quilotoa Loop trek may be one of the most inexpensive catered hiking routes in the world. It’s certainly the cheapest we’ve ever encountered. It’s only $15 per day to have a nice room in the Andes with filling 3-course dinner and full hot breakfast included. The value is almost unfathomable.
The adjacent chart reveals our exact Quilotoa Loop trekking budget, for the 3-day hike described above. All three days of hiking the Quilotoa Loop came to a grand total of $44.70 per person. While we were able to pursue the 3-day trek for less than $50 per person, we’d suggest bringing more cash than that, just in case.
More Quilotoa Loop Important Travel Tips:
📱 Again, download maps.me. This is so important that it’s worth repeating. Ensure you have this free app and check it regularly while trekking the Quilotoa Loop.
🏨 Book accommodation in advance or not? If you want to ensure you get into your first choice for accommodation, it can be a safe idea to book in advance. Popular places like Llullu Llama do get booked full. This holds particularly true on weekends and during Quilotoa’s high season, which runs roughly from mid-June through August. If trekking during a weekday outside of that timeframe, you will probably be fine to just turn up to these towns and find a place to stay, likely even your first choice. But booking in advance will ensure that, so there will be no disappointing surprises upon arrival.
🐕 Beware of the dogs, but don’t worry much. There are some farm dogs that act as alarm systems for the homes along the way. We found that these tend to be small yappy dogs, not big ferocious canines.
No matter the size, if a dog is acting aggressive, know what to do. Don’t look them in the eye and don’t ever run. Slowly back away. Pick up a rock or a stick and threaten to throw it at them. If there isn’t anything to pick up, fake it. Most often the dogs will back down. If you must actually throw something to protect yourself, do so. Or swing your pack at them. It is extremely unlikely it will come to that. And we, personally, didn’t find dogs to be a problem during the Quilotoa Loop trek. We encountered just a few small dogs that rushed up to our feet.
🐂 Beware of the cattle. Perhaps more concerning than the dogs are the occasional bulls found along the way. Give them as wide a berth as possible.
Also, do realize that you’ll pass through grazing areas that the Quilotoa Loop trail cuts directly through. You are allowed to enter. Just be sure to secure the gate behind you.
💰 Don’t encourage children begging for money. There are children along the trail that pull at your heartstrings asking for money or plata (silver, meaning coins). While it can be difficult and seem harsh to refuse their pleas, it may be in their best interest to show them some tough love. Giving them handouts, whether it’s money or candy, only reinforces this learned behavior. It encourages the parents to continue sending their young children to beg along the hiking trails.
Should you want to contribute to the communities, we suggest buying the locally-made handicrafts found in the villages. If you want to contribute further, ask your hostel what you can do to help or inquire at the town church that is better equipped to distribute donations to those in need.
🚿 Know the shower routine. It can be a smart idea to shower as soon as you get to your hostel. If a large group all gets in at the same time, you may then find the water pressure to be low or that the hot water has been used up.
Also, be courteous with water consumption. Conserve both water and electricity. It’s not only an environmentally friendly thing to do, but it also helps Quilotoa Loop hostels to keep their prices low.
💦 Stay hydrated. Be sure to drink plenty of water while at the hostels before departing each day. Then pack a minimum of a liter of water for each trek. All hostels have purified water refills (some free, some charge) so you don’t have to add to the plastic problem.
🥛 Reduce plastic. Be a responsible traveler. The tap water is generally unsafe to drink along the Quilotoa Loop, often forcing trekkers to buy many plastic bottled waters. Yet it can be possible to pursue the trek with a single 1.5-liter plastic bottle and fill it up again and again at the hostels. Or bring your own bottle altogether. Also, don’t toss empty plastic bottles in the garbage bins. There are places to recycle. Lastly, consider packing a way to purify water, like this Lifestraw bottle or portable Lifestraw that removes bacteria and parasites from tap water, allowing you to drink it.
⚠️ Be Sure To Have Travel Insurance: With all this trekking on steep terrain, there’s certainly lots of room for the possibility of accidents. Whether it’s a sprained ankle, a run-in with a dog, or something worse, like an earthquake, you’ll want to be covered to get out of a horrible situation while in this relatively remote section of the Andes. We never travel to South America without travel insurance, as this minor expense covers injuries, accidents, theft, trip cancellation, emergency evacuation, and so much more. We use World Nomads as we find they have the best coverage for the price and are one of the few travel insurance providers that still allows you to buy travel insurance even if your trip has already begun. But it’s best to enter your travel dates here to get a quick quote before your trip.
What To Pack for the Quilotoa Loop Trek
It’s best to pack as light as possible. Bring only what you need. We easily managed to fit everything we needed for the three-day trek into small day packs. There’s no need to bring a big bulky backpack. Pack light and be comfortable while on the Quilotoa Loop trek. Below is a list of suggested items of what to pack, a few items to potentially consider, and what not to bring on this trek.
Pack List for Quilotoa Loop Trek:
☔ Rain Gear: The Andes weather is highly unpredictable and there’s a potential of rain at any time of year, so be prepared. A thin poncho may not cut it during a heavy downpour. Definitely bring a proper rain jacket like this and perhaps even consider rain pants. You should also pack a rain cover for your backpack to prevent all your belongings from getting soaked.
🧥 Jacket It gets chilly at night, so be sure to pack something to keep you warm in the evenings.
😎 Sun protection – The high altitude equatorial sun is no joke. Even when it’s cloudy, you still stand to get burned. Hats, sunglasses, and sunscreen is a must. We found prices for sunscreen in Ecuador to be very expensive (over $10 for a small bottle), so stock up before you go. Amazon has good prices on Banana Boat. Also, pack lip balm that contains SPF.
👟 Hiking boots are preferable, but trainers with good grip can work for those who are accustomed to them. We hiked the Quilotoa Loop in trail running shoes and faired okay.
📱 Mobile phone with maps.me downloaded on it. And don’t forget the charger.
📷 Camera (or just use your phone).
🔦 Flashlight: It’s nice to have a compact flashlight if walking around town at night, but better yet to have just in case getting caught trekking in the dark. We use this Mini LED Flashlight, which we love. We find it to be the most powerful flashlight for its small size and price.
🧻 Toilet Paper: The hostels all have toilet paper. But there aren’t any toilets along the trails, so it may be wise to pack just a bit of TP if you gotta go while in the midst of trekking the Quilotoa Loop.
💊 Pain Reliever: Whether you’re sore from a day of trekking or have a headache from the higher altitude, pack something to help you deal with any pain that may arise. We like ibuprofen (Advil), but use what works best for you.
🚰 Bottle of Water: Pack a minimum of a liter of water to start off with. Two liters may be a better idea and drink it to lighten your load. But it is possible to refill at hostels or buy more in the towns you overnight at. Consider a Lifestraw bottle like this to drink the tap water and reduce plastic use.
✨ Hand Sanitizer: It’s always a good idea to pack some travel-sized Purell.
🆔 Identification: It’s required to carry ID with you in Ecuador. Some may feel more comfortable leaving passports in secured storage in Latacunga. That may be okay, but we always carry our passports with us on any overnight adventures and recommend doing so.
💵 Cash Money: While costs can remain under $50, it’s recommended to bring a minimum of a hundred dollars per person just in case. You’ll need to bring even more cash if staying at some of the nicer hostels along the way. There are no ATMs on the Quilotoa Loop route, so you’ll need enough cash to be able to buy bottled water, extra drinks, snacks, souvenirs, and to pay for your hostels.
Also Consider Packing:
🔋 External battery: If your phone battery doesn’t last an entire day, you should consider bringing a backup charger so you will be able to navigate the trails using maps.me. Plus realize that constantly using GPS and taking photos will help to drain your phone battery more quickly than usual. Consider a back-up power source to keep charged. This compact Anker PowerCore Backup Battery is the smallest and lightest backup battery we know of that still has 10,000 mAh power, providing the ability to charge a phone many times over. So it’s exactly what we use and recommend, as we’ve been extremely happy with ours.
👙 Bathing Suit: If you want to take a dip in one of the spas or use a sauna, you’ll need your bathing suit.
🍪 Snacks: There’s no need to stock up too much, as we found plenty of opportunities to buy snacks along the way. You can easily find cookies, chips, nuts, and more at stores in the towns along the Quilotoa Loop. We suggest just packing a snack for the first day and go from there.
🛀 Shampoo: If you want to wash your hair along the Quilotoa trek, bring shampoo. None was provided at the hostels we stayed at.
❌ Don’t Pack for Quilotoa Loop Trek:
🧼 Towels or shower soap – This is provided for you even at the cheap Quilotoa Loop hostels, so it’s unnecessary to pack.
💻 Laptop – It’s not needed. Unplug and enjoy the Andes.
🛏️ Sleep sheet – All the hostels have clean bedding and extra blankets to keep warm.
🏋️ Anything heavy – Keep your pack as light as possible.
🧳 The rest of your travel gear – Leave it all in secured luggage storage at a hostel in Latacunga.
Trekking the Quilotoa Loop in Ecuador?
We hope that this detailed Quilotoa Loop Travel Guide helps to plan this awesome trek through the Ecuadorian Andes, the cheap and easy way!
If you have any questions about the Quilotoa Loop trek, feel free to give us a shout in the comments below. Or if you’ve been, please share your experience, provide any updates you encountered, or suggest tips of your own to further help other travelers.
Where to next? If you’re trekking the Quilotoa Loop, chances are you’re passing through Quito.
- So be sure to check out our complete travel guide reviewing the 20 Best Things to Do in Quito Ecuador.
Also, if you like outdoor adventure and are continuing onward travels through Ecuador, then be sure to consider stopping into Riobamba. This underrated Andean city is only two hours south of Latacunga and sits at the base of Ecuador’s tallest mountain, Chimborazo. There are so many awesome adventures to pursue here. This includes hiking to a lesser-visited crater lake (El Altar) to embark on an even more challenging overnight trek.
- Read about this adventure hub here: Riobamba Ecuador Travel Guide: Best Adventures & Things to Do.
Better yet, browse through our comprehensive list of travel ideas across the entire country. The following mega-post reveals all of Ecuador’s best travel experiences.
- Find it all here: 20 Best Things to Do in Ecuador & Interesting Places to Visit.
Happy travels amigos!