During our adventure filled week in Baños I found a photo online of a crater lake with a magnificent green colour that looked way too good to be true. It was one of the most stunning places I have ever seen and we decided that we HAD to go and see it. Further research revealed a wonderful hike around the Quilotoa Loop, but unfortunately, we didn’t have sufficient time to hike all the way around.

If you are planning on only visiting Quilotoa for a day and are travelling by public transport, you will not have sufficient time to do any of the hikes. The time from Quito to Quiltoa is 3 hours without considering the time to get to the bus terminal. So, our Quilotoa day trip turned into an overnight stay so that we could wake up at sunrise and have this incredible lake to ourselves. We also recommend you plan for an overnight stay in Quiltoa for a more enjoyable time.

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Some Fun Facts About Quilotoa

Quilotoa volcano last erupted in 1280, leaving behind a gaping caldera 3 kilometres across, which is now filled with turquoise water. It sits at around 3,700-3,900 meters. If you’re in the town of Quilotoa, the hike around the rim of the crater is about 7.5 km with an easy to follow trail (as long as you’re still on the rim, you can’t get lost).

Camping is permitted down near the lake and you can enjoy activities like camping, bird watching, hiking, kayaking and photography. Beyond the rim of the lake, there are many indigenous families, villages and farms which you will see and pass if you hike any portion of the rim.

For those who love a good hike, a 3 to 5-day hike is available from Latacunga > Sigchos > Isinlivi > Chugchilan > Quilotoa > Latacunga. This direction involves roughly a 2,152-metre ascent and a 1,184-metre descent and a total distance of about 30 kilometres.

Being at altitude, the weather is generally cold with year-round temperatures of 15 – 20°C in the day and around 5°C at night.

How to get to Quilotoa from Quito or Baños

There is no direct bus from Quito or Baños to Quilotoa so your only option is to go through Latacunga. Buses in Ecuador are comfortable, easy to navigate and are cheap so there’s no reason to fork out loads of cash to get to around.

Quito to Latacunga bus:

  • Buses leave from Terminal Quitumbe (south side of Quito) every 30 minutes.
  • The bus takes a little over an hour to arrive in Latacunga.
  • Tickets do not need to be booked in advance.
  • Cost: $1.50 USD
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Tip: To get to Terminal Quitumbe, take the public Trolebus south but make sure you leave Quito by 8:30 am to allow sufficient time to get to Latacunga. The Trolebus makes a lot of stops so you may want to consider taking a taxi to the terminal to save time. A taxi from New Town Quito to the Quitumbe Bus Terminal costs $10 to $15 and takes about 45 minutes depending on traffic.

Baños to Latacunga bus:

  • The bus takes around 2 hours
  • Tickets do not need to be booked in advance.
  • Cost: $2 USD

Tip: Leave Baños station no later than 9:00 am to allow sufficient time to transfer at Latacunga.

Latacunga to Quilota bus:

Our bus from Baños didn’t arrive at the same terminal where the bus departs to Quilotoa so we took a taxi here for $2 USD. Depending on where you are coming from, you may find yourself in the same predicament so just ask locals for the bus to Quilotoa and they will point you in the right direction.

  • There are only 3 buses a day from Latacunga to Quilotoa: 12:15 pm, 1:15 pm and 4:15 pm.
  • The bus takes 2 hours.
  • Tickets do not need to be booked in advance.
  • Cost: $2.50 USD

Tip: For updated bus schedules check out this website.

Hiking Part of the Quilotoa Loop

Map of Quilotoa Loop

Note: The entrance fee for Quilotoa is $2 USD per person.

Hike to Mirador Shalala (approx 2 hours return): We decided to hike a small section of the Quilotoa loop trail to Mirador Shalala where is there is a beautiful wooden deck and platform. The hike is mixed terrain with some rocky paths. Though the hike itself isn’t necessarily difficult, being at altitude makes everything a lot harder.

Along the trail, we encountered some horses, donkeys, cows and sheep. The landscape, depending on the season, is filled with vibrant green grass and colourful flowers. We passed small wooden barns and local farmlands that stretch out over the hills. The views surrounding this hike are stunning no matter which direction you look.

During our hike, we had a friendly four-legged companion who decided to join us and guide our trail. It’s not surprising for South America given there are a lot of strays around but most are quite friendly. With no tourists in sight, volcanoes and mountains in the backdrop, we both agree that this is one of the most beautiful places we have ever been.

Hike down to the lagoon (approx 1.5 hours return): There is also a path that leads down to the lake where there are a number of activities such as kayaking available. The hike down is fairly easy and will take around 30 minutes but be prepared for the strenuous hike up.

Staying overnight in Quilotoa

We arrived in Quilotoa at 8 pm and ended up going the first hostel we could see. Accommodation is basic but expensive for what it is. We paid $24 USD for a double room and unfortunately, we ended up with below average food, no hot water and a rock hard bed in a freezing room. There is also an option to camp down near the lagoon. Be sure to keep warm and keep the area clean and free of rubbish. Check out your options before visiting here.


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Quilotoa is a very small village so there aren’t many places to eat outside of your place of accommodation. If you plan on waking up early to start hiking, bring plenty of snacks and water as nothing is open until a lot later.

What to bring

Clothing: warm layers that you are comfortable hiking in and additional layers for the night. We recommend wearing a thermal layer with a comfortable outer shell or warm mid layer. It’s also best to have a good pair of thermal socks for the night.

Sneakers or hiking shoessomething that you’re comfortable hiking mixed terrain in.

Food & water: Bring enough snacks and water for the day.

Altitude sickness tablets: if you are someone who is prone to altitude sickness, come prepared. Make sure you give yourself ample time to acclimatise before doing any strenuous hikes.

Travel flashlight: Being a small village, there aren’t any street lights so you will need a flashlight to navigate yourself if arriving late.

Camera: You won’t want to miss getting some epic shots of Quilotoa and to do so, you want a fairly wide lens to capture it all. If you don’t have a wide-angle lens, we suggest getting a GoPro which has a wide angle lens or trying a clip on wide lens for your phone.

Watch our Ecuador Highlights video here:

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Plan the perfect Quilota day trip with everything you need to know about day hikes, how to get there by public transport, costs, what to bring and where to stay. #Ecuador

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14 thoughts on “Backpacker’s Guide: Quito to Quilota – Quilotoa Loop, How To Get There & What To Pack

  1. Kreete | AdventurousTrails says:

    Sounds awesome! Love the rim hike you did and that lake looks so pristine. What happened to Alfredo once you were done hiking? I had no idea that you can’t balance yourself in Ecuador, but you can balance an egg on a nail? What kind of sorcery is that haha! I would have taken a cab home too, as I would be a bit worried about safety in South America.

    • La Vida Viva Travel says:

      Alfredo knew we were done, we said goodbye and he wondered off! Maybe to help someone else. Yes, it’s quite bizarre that you can’t balance yourself but it’s something to do with the egg yolk being perfectly centred at the equator making it easier.

  2. Hendrik says:

    I love your photos – what to say. Really impressive. Makes me immediately want to be in Ecuador now. Alfredo seems to like the camera a lot – maybe he should become a Model? 🙂

  3. tourdelust says:

    Wow that colorful crater looks amazing!!! All your photos are stunning and it is going on my bucket list! I have never really thought about visiting Ecuador but I will in the future. Alfredo is so cute too! =)

  4. Stacey says:

    Those pictures are unreal! I kind of want to visit Ecuador as well! So many places to see! This lake will now be at the top of my Ecuador list!

  5. rhiydwi says:

    Oh bless you both for mistaking the hostel! I skipped out on Quilotoa when I was in Ecuador because I was running short on time and money. Couldn’t make head nor tails of how to get there without paying an extortionate amount for a tour, but on seeing your pictures (which btw are absolutely stunning!) I definitely wish I’d cut back in Banos and made more of an effort now. I’m so jealous you’re an Egg Master!!! Definitely wanted one of those certificates, will have to make do with my middle of the world passport stamp instead haha.

    • La Vida Viva Travel says:

      Ahhh what a shame! perhaps next time you’re in Ecuador! I looked at tours and was outraged so was determined just to do a short tour on our own 🙂 We missed on getting the stamp because we left our passports at home!!!

  6. My Wanderlusty Life says:

    Your pictures are AMAZING. I especially love the one of Alfredo 🙂
    And those equator experiments–you for real? You’re telling me you can balance an egg on a nail? But you can’t balance yourself? I’m so amazed by this! I want to go just to try these things out!

  7. fionarabbit2013 says:

    The crater lake definitely looks amazing. And you said there was no other tourist in sight, so it must have been an off-the-beaten-track attraction? I’ve never been to this part of the world but it looks very tempting from your photos 🙂 Such a wonderful experience there!

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