Hiking in Ecuador – The Quilotoa Loop

Hiking in Ecuador – The Quilotoa Loop

Quilotoa Loop Day 4 – Vuelta al Crater

Laguna de Quilotoa, hiking, Ecuador, Vuelta al Crater
Vuelta al Crater

Seriously, you just hiked for three days to get to one of the most beautiful places you will ever see. Why are you in such a hurry to leave?

Well I wasn’t in a hurry to leave so on Day 4 I decided to hike the trail around the lake, Vuelta al Crater. This was by far the best decision I made the whole trip.

I decided I wanted an early start and got up to see the sunrise over the lake. Well what a waste of time that was. When I left the hotel at 6am I couldn’t even see across the street, let alone the lake. It was completely socked in with fog. Back to bed until breakfast it was. After finishing breakfast at 8am I still couldn’t see anything. Did I really want to stay another night here in weather like this?

I peeked out of my room at about 8.30am and the fog was starting to dissipate. I packed just my camera, a jacket and a bottle of water into my backpack and headed out. With a few snacks from the bakery and an Ecuadorian Red Bull in me, I was on my way.

Laguna de Quilotoa, hiking, Ecuador, Vuelta al Crater
The trail ahead

I decided to tackle the trail counter-clockwise so I had the most difficult climb of the day first. Mt Juyenda is the highest point on the trail at 3930m above sea level and it’s quite a climb to get there. The trail is steep and narrow all the way to the top and quite slippery in places.

Laguna de Quilotoa, hiking, Ecuador, Vuelta al Crater, Monte Juyende
Mt Juyende

The summit was the perfect place to sit down and have a snack and just enjoy the view. I still find it hard to believe that I can go to such beautiful places and have them to myself. I’m sure that this would not have been possible before COVID came along. I was tired after the last 3 days of hiking the Quilotoa Loop, and not in a hurry to get anywhere, so I found myself sitting like this in a few places along the way.

Laguna de Quilotoa, hiking, Ecuador, Vuelta al Crater, Monte Juyende
All alone at the summit

Although the climb to the top was quite difficult, it felt much easier today carrying a lighter backpack. But this made no difference on the descent. The descent got a little scary in places. It was steep and slippery with nothing on either side to catch you if you slipped. From what I was told, I was lucky to have no wind that day otherwise things get even more dangerous up there. This was probably the toughest part of the trail for the day and I was glad to get it over with.

Laguna de Quilotoa, hiking, Ecuador, Vuelta al Crater, Quilotoa Loop
The trail at 3900m

From here on out the trail still had plenty of ups and downs but nothing quite as difficult. The views were amazing the whole way with the lake on one side and the farmlands in the valley below on the other. The clouds rolled in and out and were constantly changing the color of the water below.

After about four hours I reached the viewpoint and drink shack from the day before. I was all excited for another cold drink, only to find she was closed that day. I think she must get word passed along from other villagers when there are people on the trail so she knows when to open. I’m pretty sure there were no other hikers out there that day. I sure hadn’t passed any on this trail.

Laguna de Quilotoa, hiking, Ecuador, Vuelta al Crater, Quilotoa Loop
The drink shack

After enjoying this place to myself for a while, it was time to tackle the last 1 1/2 hours back to town. This time I had more energy left in me than the day before and knew what was ahead. I took my time to take in some of the viewpoints that we didn’t have the energy for yesterday. And they were definitely worth the effort!

Laguna de Quilotoa, hiking, Ecuador, Vuelta al Crater
What a view

Finally, after about 7 hours I arrived back in town and was ready for a cold beer at my hostal. And boy, did it taste good!

As my hostal was right across the street from the lake, I thought I should go and photograph the sunset if the weather cooperated. There was a viewing platform for all the daytripper’s right there and I didn’t have to look much further than that. The sky behind the town turned bright orange, but the ugly Ecuadorian half-finished buildings ruined that shot. I came to photograph the lake one last time anyway.

The skies cleared in the distance to reveal more mountains and volcanoes and the light was great. And as an added bonus, a full moon decided to rise above the summit of Mt Juyende where I had been earlier in the day!

Laguna de Quilotoa, hiking, Ecuador, Vuelta al Crater, sunset, Quilotoa Loop
The end to a perfect day in Quilotoa

The temperature had plummeted by this point and I was ready to head inside. But this was just about a perfect ending to a great day.

It’s crazy to think that I hiked for about 24 hours over the last 4 days to get this shot when I could have just taken a bus ride for 2 hours and $2 for the same result!

This really was an amazing four days on the Quilotoa Loop, probably my best in Ecuador so far. I have to recommend this trail, or even just a daytrip to Quilotoa, to anyone who is visiting Ecuador.

Have you been to Quilotoa? Did you have the same great experience that I did? Do you have any recommendations for similar trips in Ecuador or South America? Please let me know in the comments below.

Don’t forget to check out some of my other hikes in Ecuador

Hiking in Ecuador – Laguna de Cuicocha

Hiking in Ecuador – Laguna de Mojanda & Fuya Fuya

Hiking in Ecuador – Ruca Pichincha

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