Quilotoa is a water-filled caldera nestled in the heart of the Ecuadorian Andes in Cotopaxi Province. Formed by a collapsed volcano this stunning and unique lake is drawing more tourists every year. For now, at least in low-season (Nov-Mar) it is relatively peaceful with perhaps a few dozen at most trekking down and back up the path to Largo Verde (the green lake). If you want a truly authentic Andean experience, and have 4-5 days to spare, worth hiking the Quilotoa loop, something we seriously considered but we didn’t have quite enough time. I also wouldn’t recommend the hike in the rainy season, as the weather tends to be very unpredictable, with heavy cloud, fog and rain. If you’d like to find out more about the Quilotoa loop I’ve attached a link here. An excellent post with some really helpful tips.
We decided to visit Quilotoa just for the day, basing ourselves in Latacunga, a large town well-connected by Ecuador’s extensive bus network. It’s also an ideal base for climbing Cotopaxi Volcano. Latacunga is unassuming and doesn’t feel touristy. The locals friendly and helpful, food and accommodation is inexpensive. We stayed at Hostel Sendero de Volcanes, a friendly, laid-back place full of hikers, about a 30-40 minute walk from the main bus station. The hostel also has some delicious home cooked . On the same street as the hostel is Kartul Restaurant, which does excellent burgers and fast-food style Ecuadorian fair at very cheap prices. It’s clean and quaint and packed with locals so go early if you want a table.
Getting to Latacunga
Latacunga’s main bus station has direct buses from Quito and Riobamba. However depending on your route sometimes the bus will drop you off outside the town on the highway (this was the case for us, arriving from Banos). For $5 you can take a taxi into town or wait for a local bus.
Getting to Quilotoa
There are day tours to Quilotoa for around $10, but we found it easy to simply take a local bus for $2.50 each way, departing from the bus station. The journey to Quilotoa takes around two to two and a half hours. In the rainy season, it tends to be slower. The bus drivers we had in Ecuador were actually careful and seemed value their lives! The roads, while mountainous and winding are of western standards, smoothly paved, with reflectors and barriers. This was a welcome relief after some hair-raising journey’s in Peru! The scenery is absolutely stunning, with glimpses of traditional Andean life amongst the small villages we passed through.
The bus stops anywhere, whenever anyone wants to get on or off. I have no idea of the schedule, the bus left Latacunga at 9:30am and after visiting the lake we simply waiting at the edge of the road and one appeared after 15 minutes. The last major village before reaching Quilotoa is Zumbahua, which has a local market on Saturdays. Although if you a truly local experience I’m told that Saquisilí is the place to visit (17km north of Latacunga).
The lake is just north east of the road and a small village, which is mostly a collection of accommodations, restaurants and cafes. There is a large wooden viewing platform looking out over the caldera and from here you take a track down to the base of the lake, or from the left there is a path around the top of the Caldera. We took the track down to the lake which took around 45 minutes. Allow an hour an a half for the trek back up, as it’s quite steep (you can hire a horse if needed). At the base you can hire Kayak’s or take a turn on the swing (Ecuador loves their swings, they are very proud of their Swing at the End of the World). It’s a perfect place to take a picnic and relax on the grass, absorbing the view.