Isabela Island is the largest of the Galápagos Islands and is distinctly shaped like a horseshoe. It is made up of no less than 5 young volcanoes fused together with some of them still being active with the most recent eruption on Sierra Negro being only in 2018.
The Quilotoa Loop | Our guide to this popular three day hike
The Quilotoa loop three day hike is one of the most popular hikes in Ecuador mainly because of the spectacular countryside, that walkers make their way through, on dusty paths and lush green vegetation. With the reward of the beautiful deep blue crater lake as they approach the last stop at the town of Quilotoa but let’s start at the beginning and we’ll give you all the information you’ll need to complete the loop. The main things you need to know whilst planning this trip is where will I leave my luggage whilst on the hike, where will I stay during the hike, how much money do I need for the hike, what to pack for the hike and how will I know where to go? All these things, and more, we can help you with below.
You don’t necessarily need a guide to complete this hike however we did see some people on the route who had hired one. If you don’t have a guide then it is advisable to do some preparation before setting off and we found the maps.me app really useful as well as the paper maps that the hostels provide. As well as your maps the routes are fairly well signposted so there is little risk of you getting lost and even if you do stray from the official path then just think of it as an adventure.
There have been a few landslides in recent months so some of the route is advertised as the extreme/adventure route. This route is considered to be tricky and a bit dangerous so before attempting this path its always best to check at the hostels as they will know the current conditions of all the routes from village to village.
Where did we stay in Latacunga?
After reading several reviews on places to stay in Latacunga we realised that this was not a tourist town. The accomodation was fairly basic all round and not much in the way of luxury but remembering we’re backpackers we sorted through what was available and decided on Hospedaje la Posada del Viajero. We chose this one as all the reviews raved about the owner having been a guide previously on the Quilotoa Loop and had incredible knowledge of the route, the towns we’d reach and the best places to say. This turned out to be a great decision. La Posada doesn’t look much on the outside, neither on the inside but it was clean, it had hot water, it had good internet and they store your luggage for free whilst on the hike. The owner holds evening sessions at around 8pm or 9pm where he explains the routes on each day and advises where to stay and other useful nuggets of information.
Where is the start of the hike?
You can do the hike one of two ways, either starting at Sigchos and making your way to Quilotoa through the towns of Isinlivi and Chugchilan. This is the most popular route giving you the breathtaking view of the crater lake on the last day. You can also do it in reverse and some people choose this route as it is said to be less demanding with the start being at the highest altitude on the route at Quilotoa, at approx 3900m, and descending in altitude towards Sigchos. We preferred to do it the popular way as we wanted the lake to be at the end but its up to you how you tackle it. You can also start at any point if you don’t have enough time to do the whole trek. We met some lovely people who joined us at Isinlivi and only did the last two legs.
From Latacunga there are approx four buses per day to the town of Sigchos which is where the most popular route of the Quilotoa Loop hike starts and that bus journey takes approx two hours and costs around $2.50. The best plan is to spend the night before the start of the hike in Latacunga and get an early bus to Sigchos to give yourself the best possible start to the first day of the Quilotoa Loop hike.
Preperation for the Quilotoa Loop
The Quilotoa loop is a high altitude multi day hike which needs to be taken seriously. Although the hike can be done by most people, some preparation is needed. Firstly it would be wise to get yourself acclimatetised to the altitude if you have come straight from the coast or say the Galápagos Islands. The last day of the hike will take you to nearly 4000m.
The second thing to consider is the changeable weather and the conditions under foot. One minute is can be bright sunshine and the next cold with hail showers and damp wet weather so make sure you have a good layering system with a warm hat and gloves. Good shoes or boots with ankle support preferably waterproof, there’s nothing worse than sore feet on a multi day hike it can be soul destroying.
Last but not least sun protection with a minimum strength of factor fifty. We recommend using it before you set off even if the suns not out. It’s very powerful at altitude and it will spoil your day if you get crispy.
Day 1 – Sigchos to Isinlivi – 4 – 4.5 hrs – 12km
Day 1 started early with a two hour bus ride from Latacunga to Sigchos. We chose the 8am bus which would get us to Sigchos at approx 10am to start the hike. The information we’d been given about the hike said that Day 1 was the shortest route at 12km and would take approx 4 – 4.30 hours. We arrived in Sigchos and at the bus park there are toilets which will be the last public toilets before you reach the end of the days hike. Make sure you have 0.50c handy for the attendant. The town has little stores where you can stock up on snacks for the route and water. It’s important to have plenty water as there are no shops on the route where you can buy any water or snacks.
The route starts at the south eastern edge of the town, past the main square and the animal market and is pretty well signposted. The signposts are painted red and yellow and have either Quilotoa Loop or Isinlivi on them and mark the main walking route. Don’t be tempted to take the green signs as they are road signs and that wouldn’t be a very pleasant walk.
There are a fair few ups and downs on this route but its starts with a significant downhill out of town and before long you’re away from the road, the town and into the lush green countryside. The views are spectacular opening up into deep valleys and forested areas. The path is very much downwards on the first half of the walk and when you reach the river at the bottom there is a concrete bridge to cross which is an ideal place to stop for some lunch as the second half of the walk is very much uphill. After your refreshments at the concrete bridge the path climbs quite steeply up from the river and then zig zags up the hillside until you reach the road. This part of the walk does seem endless but just focus on the views. From the road you walk in the direction of the town which you can just see ahead of you. You are only on the road for 500mtrs or so when you turn left back onto a well marked path which leads you up and down a few more hilly areas, but not too bad and then into the town.
Isinlivi is quite a small town with only one main street and a few offshoot streets. There are two main hostals in the town and the one we chose was Hostal Taita Cristobal which was the cheaper of the two main ones. The hostal was warm, comfortable and included dinner bed and breakfast. The dinner and the breakfast was delicious and there was a small store where you could buy snacks. They also provided a packed lunch for the next day at an extra cost. One great thing was at dinner they provided us with a map of the next days walking route and advised the best paths and any other information that was relevant to the days walking. We really enjoyed our stay here. The other option was Llullu Llama Mountain Lodge which was a bit more expensive but the people we met on the route who stayed there said it was really nice.
Day 2 – Isinlivi to Chugchilan – 14km – 5 hrs
After a hearty breakfast at the hostal we headed out on the route armed with the map. The route started right at the side of the hostal and again was very much a downward path to begin with. We had been advised that there were two routes. One that took us up and over the nearby hill which was a shorter route but had a fair amount of uphill walking than the one that went around the hill. This one was a flatter but longer route however there had been reports of wild dogs on the flatter route so we opted for the up and over on the high route. The path took us steadily downwards to the little village of Itualo. There is nothing in this village but a little church and a signpost saying easy route pointing to the yellow handrails snaking their way up the hillside to the right. The other route which follows the road straight is significantly more difficult with more ascent and rough terrain. We chose the yellow handrails and although it was a slog up the side of the hill the reward at the top was a lovely local family who had cold drinks, fruit and artisan products for sale from their house. After purchasing some refreshments they informed us that it was only 40 mins more approx and mostly flat which was a slight fib but it was a great route.
As we entered into the town of Chugchilan we walked through until our hostal for the night, Hostal Cloud Forest, appeared on the right hand side. This was an amazing hostal and had wood burning stoves in the main communal areas and the dinner and breakfast was really delicious. Like the other hostal there were maps and guidance available for the following days hike, which was by all accounts the hardest and longest day. The hostal also had a sauna and Turkish bath that you could book and a few people we met did this and enjoyed it immensely. There are other hostals available in Chugchilan such as the Black Sheep Inn which a few people we met had stayed in and they said it was really nice.
Day 3 Chugchilan – Quilotoa – 16km, 5 – 6 hrs
This day was billed as the longest and toughest day with it having more km and reaching the highest altitude of the hike. We set off early as usual and like the other days walking the route started with a fairly steady downhill path until we reached the river at the bottom. The path then snaked round the ravine with several ups and downs but the same stunning views we’d experienced on the first two days. There are two paths you can take on this walk. The regular path and the adventure/extreme path which makes its way along a fairly exposed Ridgeline. We were advised not to take the adventurous path due to recent landslides making the route quite dangerous so we just stuck to the normal path.
As the path made its way through the valleys with inclines and decents we found ourselves, after about 5.30hrs of walking heading towards the rim of the crater lake and it was amazing. We were taken aback by how suddenly cold it got and the wind was fierce. It was so cold I had to put both my jackets on and hat and gloves. Upon reaching the crater lake the walk would take us another 2km round the lake on a fairly decent path before we could see the town of Quilotoa in front of us. It was a tough day’s walking but the views across the lake were an amazing reward.
That night we decided to say in Quilotoa as we wanted to do the circular lake walk the following morning. We stayed at the Marita’s house hostal and I’ll be honest with you I’ve never been so cold. The rooms had a small electric heater and the communal areas had a wood burning stove. The meals were ok, nothing to write home about. There are other places in Quilotoa to stay such as Hotel Princess Toa where a few walkers we met were staying. Unfortunately in the morning the weather wasn’t great, with rain, mist and fog so we decided to abandon our circular crater walk and head back to Latacunga on the bus.
Our view of the Quilotoa Loop 3 day hike
We absolutely loved this hike. From the views and lush green countryside, to the cosy hostels with lovely welcoming hosts to the friends we met along the way. If you like hiking and enjoy the outdoors then I would certainly recommend this hike. Its easy to get to, easy to navigate and the sense of achievement you get when you finish is amazing.
Booking resources for your visit to Latagunga
Tours & Tickets
You can book your visits as you go at the entrance to your chosen attraction or site. Or you could use the following links to book in advance or just to find out what your choices are in the area. GetYourGuide and Tiqets are our go to choices you could try Viator to see how they compare.
For a full list check out our resources page. Don’t forget always shop around to find the best deal for you. What works for us should be good for you but it’s always reassuring to check.
Some of the links on this page contain affiliate marketing links, which means we may get paid commission on sales of those products or services we write about. You will never be charged a fee for shopping through one of our affiliate links. You may even get a discounted rate and we will make a small commission. Our editorial content is not influenced by advertisers or affiliate partnerships.
San Cristóbal is the fifth largest and easternmost island of the Galapagos. It is comprised of three or four fused volcanoes, all extinct.
How to visit Chimborazo Volcano as a day trip. Breathtaking views and an excellent hike to 5000m.