Earth : South America : Ecuador : Andean Highlands (Ecuador) : Laguna Quilotoa
Quilotoa is a water-filled caldera of the most western volcano in the Ecuadorian Andes. Probably owed to tourism, the name Laguna Quilotoa and the turquoise waters are reminiscent of South Sea lagoons, but Quiltoa is not a lagoon. However, it is the highlight of the Quilotoa Loop and the Quilotoa Traverse. Located 14km north of Zumbahua, it sits at an elevation of 3,500m offering stunning views of both the lake and the mountain ranges surrounding it with views of Cotopaxi in the distance. Hikers can go around the rim of the crater (approximately 5 hours) or descend 280m from the viewing deck to caldera lake (about 1 hour.) The small village of Quilotoa (now mainly dedicated to tourism) lies to the southwest of the lake, and basic accommodation run by indigenous people are available.
Flora and fauna
At 3,800 metres altitude the climate is that of a mountain and can change quickly from warm and sunny to cloudy and very cold. The nights are cold.
There are several buses a day travelling from Latacunga to Quilotoa and back, leaving almost every hour up until late afternoon. The journey is approximately 2.5 hours and costs $2.50.
To get to Latacunga you can take any bus running from Quito to Cuenca or více versa. The bus will drop you at highway at roundabout near Latacunga from where you need to take taxi to the city centre. The taxis are already waiting there for passing busses and charge 4usd (at least if you are gringo).
From Latacunga there are more buses each day running to Zumbahua, a small town approximately 14km north of Quilotoa. Taxis / ride-shares can be arranged from Zumbahua to the Laguna. A taxi should cost $5 one way, regardless of how many people (some might ask more though). From Zumbahua you can also catch a bus ($1 p.p.) by waiting on the road.
Bus schedules and shuttle reservations can be found at andestransit. The shuttle trips are custom designed for small groups of passengers and usually proceed to Baños after your hiking is done at Quilotoa.
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It costs 2USD to enter the village in a vehicle or 1USD on a motorcycle. For travellers without a vehicle it is free.
Quilotoa is very small village and you can walk anywhere in 5 minutes.
Hike down to the caldera. It takes approximately 45 minutes to walk down and about 90 minutes to climb back up the 280m vertical escarpment. The path is unpaved and climbing at this altitude (from the lake at 3,500m asl) requires a relatively good level of fitness.
Kayaks can be hired for 2$ per person per hour
Hike along the Quilotoa loop in either direction. The next villages are approximately 12kms in either direction through beautiful Andean mountain scenery.
A hike around the caldera (whose diameter is just over 3 km) can take anywhere between 3-7 hours depending on fitness level. The caldera rim is highly irregular and reaches its maximum elevations (3810 m to the N, 3894 m to the NW and 3915 m to the SE) at three lava domes. The 10km hike is sandy and steep in places and can be quite taxing, particularly if there is fog.
There is a small tourist crafts market near the entrance to the laguna walk.
There are several reataurants both in Quilotoa and Zumbahua. Note that they close early!
You can either sleep in Quilotoa or in Zumbahua.
This small village is now mainly dedicated to tourism and feels a bit like a gringo place.
There are many basic places to stay, charging from 10usd p.p.
Quilotoa Cabanas - directly opposite the gate to the village. 15USD per person for the basic but comfortable ensuite cabins. Wood burner, logs, breakfast and dinner included. Dormitory beds also available.
It is possible to camp at the "beach" near the lake, where there is also a basic hostel.
Zumbahua is 14km from Quilotoa. While there is no real sight here, it offers more of a real local experience than Quilotoa. Accomodation and food is cheaper than in Quilotoa but you will need to hike/catch a bus/take a taxi to get to the laguna.
There are several hotels around the main square.
A relatively new hotel on the left side charges 10usd p.p. On the right side, Hostal Condor Matzi charges 7usd p.p. The family running it is very friendly. It includes free water and tea.
There are a several buses a day from Quilotoa towards Zumbahua/Latacunga leaving around every hour or so. Costs 2.50USD per person.
There are a lot more buses from Zumbahua to Latacunga (every hour or so). You might need to walk 10min to the main road to catch a bus.
If you are stuck in Quilotoa, take a taxi (5usd) to Zumbahua and catch a bus from there.