One of the most popular trails to do when hiking in Ecuador is the famous Quilotoa Loop trail. The main destination for this trail is the beautiful volcanic crater lake, Laguna de Quilotoa.
You can actually just take a bus directly to Laguna de Quilotoa if you want. But many people, including myself, choose to do the three day hike known as the Quilotoa Loop.
You can do the trail in either direction. For me, I preferred to have Laguna de Quilotoa as my final destination. Save the best for last. For this reason I started my hike in the small town of Sigchos
How to get there.
No matter where you are coming from, you are probably going to have to change buses in the city of Latacunga. I chose to spend a few nights there before heading to the Quilotoa Loop. From the bus terminal in Latacunga there are buses to Sigchos starting at 5am, then 6am, 8am, and then every hour. I personally took the 8 am bus and wouldn’t recommend going much later than that.
The road to Sigchos is currently under construction at the time of writing. It was a pretty rough journey with some hair raising switchbacks on a dirt road for half of the way. For the second half of the journey, you will be treated to some spectacular views, though it can be a little scary looking down at times. The bus took 2 hours and 45 minutes to reach Sigchos from Latacunga.
From the main square in Sigchos where the bus will drop you it is just a short walk to the start of the trail. Just head downhill three blocks from the square to Calle Sigchilas. From there take a left and you will soon reach the trail. The trail from Sigchos to Isinlivi is quite well signposted to begin with, but not so much later on. I highly recommend downloading a map on Maps.me before you leave. There are not so many people around to ask directions.
What to pack.
The answer to this is as little as possible! You will be hiking at high altitude for several days on steep trails. You don’t need to be carrying unnecessary stuff. Try to leave your bigger bags at your hotel or hostal in Quito or Latacunga. I stayed at the wonderful Hostal Rosita in Latacunga and stored my stuff there for free while I hiked
- Layers of clothing – I personally hiked in a t-shirt the whole time and was never cold. But at this altitude, the weather can be very unpredictable and you should be prepared for much colder temperatures than what I had. Although I hiked in the same clothes every day, an extra set was essential for changing into at the hostals. You need time for your sweaty clothes to dry out, and it is cold at night so you will need some warmer layers.
- Hat and sunscreen – The sun is strong at this altitude. Make sure you have a good hat and sunscreen. Bring sunscreen from home if you can, it is very expensive in Ecuador.
- Good hiking shoes – The trail is quite tough in places. It can be very dry and slippery at times so a pair of shoes with a good grip is important.
- Food and drink – You really don’t need to stock up on much before you go. Snacks and drinks are readily available in each town, and you will eat well at the hostals along the way. They will even make you a box lunch for the next day if you ask. Just make sure you have enough food and water to last the day until you arrive at the next village. There were several small shops along parts of the trail but none of them were open when I visited, probably due to the lack of tourists at the time.
- Camera – Don’t forget your camera and more importantly, your charger!. You will be hiking for at least 3 days, you will need to recharge your batteries.
- Cash – Make sure you have enough cash for your whole trip. Credit cards are not accepted anywhere and there are no ATM’s. $20-30 a day should be enough as there is not much to spend money on.
Quilotoa Loop Day 1 – Sigchos to Isinlivi
Once you have found the trail in Sigchos plan on about a 4 hour walk to Isinlivi. I did in in just under 4 hours as the weather was not great for photos that day so I didn’t stop so much.
The trail starts out downhill and much of it is on a dirt road to begin with. There are several smaller trails that branch of the road and save you some time. They are well signposted for the first half of the trail.
For the first couple of hours you might be thinking this is an easy trail. That’s because you just descended into the Toachi Canyon and then walked along the bottom of it. But Isinlivi is on the top of the other side of the canyon!
Eventually, after following the signs you will cross the river via a concrete bridge. This is where the signs seemed to end and there were just yellow marks on a few rocks. This is also where the uphill begins.
After the misleading sign pictured above is where maps.me really comes in handy. There is a small trail that heads left off the road after passing the small village. You could easily miss this trail. This is probably the hardest part of the day. It is a long, steep climb up to the next road, and probably with a few animals to negotiate your way past.
Once you finally hit the next road, your hard work for the day is over. It is now an easy stretch of road to Isinlivi. If you pay attention to your map there is a nice short cut on a small trail off the road. This will take you through some nice meadows and into the village of Isinlivi.
Once you reach the village your accommodation can’t be too far away. Isinlivi is tiny. At the time I visited there was absolutely nothing open except my hostal and the small store at the hostal. I stayed at Hostal Taita Cristobal. It wasn’t really by choice, it was the only place open. But it was a good choice. I had a great room with a nice dinner and breakfast included for only $17. They have a small store for drinks and snacks, including cold beer for only $1.50! As I was the only guest that night, it was early to bed for a good night’s sleep.
The popular Llullu Llama Hostal is right next door but was closed for renovation when I visited. I took a quick peek inside and it did look very nice, although a little more expensive than Taita Cristobal. By the time you read this, it should be open for business again.
There really isn’t much to do in Isinlivi. There are a couple of miradors (viewpoints) that are worth checking out. They were both covered in clouds when I got there but I still took a walk to the closer one. I decided this would be a great spot for sunrise if the weather cooperated. It did. Although sunrise is around 6am it takes a while for the sun to get over the mountains. At around 6.30am I was treated to a spectacular view of the valley below.
After a great breakfast at Hostal Taita Cristobal, I packed my bag and got ready for day 2 of hiking on the Quilotoa Loop.