Laguna Quilotoa Rim Hiking Trail

Spectacular views of a glistening crater lake

Essential info

  • Season: January–December
  • Difficulty: Medium
  • Distance: 10.2 kilometers (loop)
  • Elevation Gain: 830 meters
  • Duration: 5–7 hours

About Laguna Quilotoa Rim

Hike around the highlight of the Quilotoa Loop - the rim of Quilotoa Crater Lake. It’s a vigorous hike and it is perfect if you want a challenge, but you don't have a few days to devote to the entire loop. While hiking you’ll get stunning views of the 3 km wide blue-green lake on one side, and a patchwork of farms and mountain landscape of the Ecuadorian highlands on your other side. If the sky is not too cloudy, you’ll even be able to see the other volcanoes in the area.

Quilotoa is located just south of the equator, which means that there are 12 hours of sunlight every day, all year round. It’s a good idea to start this hike early before it gets too sunny during the day, or too chilly in the evening. 

The lake was only formed roughly 800 years ago when the volcano erupted after 14,000 years of being dormant. There are bubbles that are in the water, which is from the release of carbon dioxide gas. No worries, the volcano is now considered dormant. 

Getting there

Car

Ther are two options for driving from downtown Quito either via Guayasamin Tunnel or via El Trebol Cloverleaf Interchange - the fastest route. It takes about 3 to 4 hours to drive to Quilotoa and can be a long day trip.

Bus

If traveling from Quito, go to the bus station called ‘Terminal de buses Quitumbe’, located in the southern end of the capital. Get a ticket for any bus heading southbound to ‘Latacunga’. Buses leave about every 30 minutes. Then transfer to a bus going to ‘Chuchilán’, which typically has 4 daily departures. The bus will drop you off in the center of this village, only about 5 minutes from the start of the trail. Quilotoa takes 6 to 8 hours to reach via public transportation, thus you should anticipate spending the night in the area. 

Trail description

It’s recommended to do the hike counterclockwise, enabling you to do the toughest and steepest parts of the hike first. This route starts between the restaurants and the lake, before continuing right on this well-maintained and rather wide trail. 

Although there is very little scrambling involved, it’s a rather vertical trail as you go up and down the jagged edges and dramatic peaks that surround the lake. There is only one part that is flat, which is dominated by sand dunes. Be aware of your footing on the sandy and loose dirt trail containing some small rocks. There are occasional highland bushes and wildflowers that you might rub up against, so it's advised to wear pants. This is an isolated Andean terrain, but you might see an occasional shepherd or roaming horse. Hike with caution.

The base of the lake can be hiked to in about 30 minutes, where you can rent kayaks for a small fee. Another option is riding a horse up or down to the lake or if you’re really tired after the entire rim hike, in both directions. 

Facts

  • This is a shortened version of the full multi-day Quilotoa Loop. 

Amenities

  • Toilets near the tourist viewpoint (paid). Only available during the day. 
  • Parking (free) 
  • Cafes and local cuisine restaurants are available in the village of Chuchilán
  • Phone reception is available. The best connection is through the network called 'Claro'.

Where to stay

It’s free to camp at the base of the crater lake. It is surprisingly warmer at the base than the surroundings trails on the rim, but make sure that you bring extra layers. 

Another option is staying at the well-known Black Sheep Inn

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