The Quilotoa Loop is a hike near Latacunga Ecuador that passes through many traditional Andean villages and is full of spectacular scenery, including Quilotoa Lake: an impressive lake situated in an active volcanic crater, though the volcano has not erupted since 1797. The hike itself is fairly strenuous as you descend and ascend several valleys all while at an average altitude of about 3000 meters (9800 ft). The towns in between have very nice hostels that provide breakfast, dinner and a room for around $15-25 USD a night.
I took a bus from Latacunga to Quilotoa (approximately 2 hours) and started my ~5 hour hike from there to the village of Chugchilan. Starting in Quilotoa (alt. 3800m), I first hiked down the crater of Quilotoa to the lake below, and rather than backtrack the way I came, I hired a kayak for a ride across the lake and hiked up the other side of the crater. The uphill hike on that side was not well marked and very steep, but it saved me about an hour overall – otherwise I would have had to gone backwards to reach the town of Quilotoa again and then circumnavigate the rim to get to the other side. After climbing uphill from where the kayak left me and reaching the rim (alt. 3400m), I began walking downhill, through the village of Guayama, across the valley of the river Toachi (a 400m descent and 400m ascent), and then arrived in Chugchilan (alt. 3200m). I stayed at the Hostal Mama Hilda, which I would highly recommend. Rooms were very clean, spacious, and inexpensive – and they came with dinner and breakfast. And I also ran into two couples whom I briefly met in Latacunga, and we decided to hike together from there.
The second day we hiked from Chugchilan to Isinliví, which took about another 5-6 hours. It was hot and tiresome, though again filled with incredible views, and our entire group was very glad to arrive at Hostal Llullu Llama to rest our legs and have a beer. The food here was very good.
On the third day our group of five walked form Isinliví to Sigchos, which still required another valley crossing though the hike was shorter and took about 3.5 hours. We then bussed it back to Latacunga from Sigchos.
Overall the 28km hike was incredibly beautiful, passed many traditional Andean villages, and is full of friendly locals. Though the maps and routes can be hard to read at times (there are many trails that lead in other directions and finding the right one can be a challenge – though it looks as if more signs are being posted), I think all-in-all it made for a very nice four-day adventure. There are options for making the hike shorter or longer if you’d like (best to speak to the hostals about that). And if the hike is not your cup of tea, I would still highly recommend a visit to Lake Quilotoa.