The Quilotoa Loop
The ‘Quilotoa Loop’ can refer to a few different things… first of all it can mean the road that links the remote Andean villages west of Latacunga. Going along this road allows you to start in Latacunga, make a loop through the various villages and end up back in Latacunga again.
There is no public transport around the whole loop, but there are various buses that can get you part of the way around, and also between some of the villages once you are out there. Because of this, backpackers started walking some parts of this journey – the road is gravel and barely used, and there are also lots and lots of ‘shortcut’ paths that the villagers use to get from place to place. This led to the ‘Quilotoa Loop’ also being used as a term for a multi-day hike thorugh these villages – spending the night in villages along the way.
And finally, the ‘Quilotoa Loop’ is named after the village of Quilotoa – which is famous for having a spectacular volcano crater lake right next to it (also named Quilotoa). There is a circular walking trail around this lake – yes, you guessed it – some people refer to this as the ‘Quilotoa Loop’…
All good so far….!? So there are many different ways to visit this area – but as more and more people came to visit using the walking trails, a ‘standard’ way to ‘do the Quilotoa Loop’ emerged. The villages involved are Sigchos, Isinlivi, Chugchilan, and Quilotoa.
Sigchos is actually pretty big, and is more like a town, and Quilotoa has become a big tourist mecca with daytrippers from Quito coming to see the crater lake. These two places are easily accessed by bus from Latacunga, and so the most common ‘loop’ involves a bus to one of these two villages, a walk between them, and then a bus back to Latacunga. The walk between Sigchos and Quilotoa takes 3 days via Isinlivi and Chugchilan, and is around 10 – 14km each day. The walk part can be done in either direction, and there are nice places to stay in both Isinlivi and Chugchilan. This walk has also come to be known as the ‘Quilotoa Traverse’ – although lots of people still refer to it as the ‘Quilotoa Loop’ – because including the two bus journeys, it does form a loop.
The decision as to which direction to walk depends on a couple of things. First of all, Sigchos is at an elevation of 2800m, and Quilotoa is at an elevation of 3914m – yes, so that’s an elevation difference of 1114m. Some people prefer to do the walk ‘downhill’ from Quilotoa to Sigchos. Let me say now that this is no downhill walk! This is the Andes…the walk goes up and down at LEAST 500m on every stage – however in this direction you get to walk DOWN a lot more.
The disadvantage of this direction, is that you start from Quilotoa – and so you see the crater lake at the start of the walk. The crater lake is really the highlight of the walk, and so some people think it’s nice to have the ‘wow’ moment at the end of the walk as a reward for all the effort.
In the end, we decided to walk from Sigchos to Quilotoa – yes, we are DEAD TOUGH and not scared of going uphill 🙂 🙂 We figured that it would be nice to see the crater lake as the grand finale.
We weren’t 100% sure if we really wanted to do the loop at all – the internet was full of stories of people getting lost, falling down cliffs, having a terrible time, getting totally soaked every day, not seeing the crater lake because the weather was so bad…etc etc. But the owner of the hostal that we were staying at in Latacunga, convinced us by telling us that a) the weather forecast for this week was unsually sunny – a GREAT time to go, and b) the route was WAY more clearly marked than it used to be, and had been modified to make it a bit safer.
He also had a map which he used to show us the route, and explained that we didn’t need to worry about more time for altitude acclimatisation – as the first part of the route was at a similar altitude to Latacunga (2800m) (we had only come up from sea level a couple of days earlier). In the end, his map turned out to be wildly inaccurate as far as any elevations were concerned – and was next to useless…. luckily we were prepared and had printed out some other maps that we found on the internet.
He did book the hostals along the way for us though, and also allowed us to store our big backpacks at the hostal for free while we were away (we went with our small day backpacks).
So – we we were ready! It would be a 3 day hike with overnight stops at Isinlivi and Chugchilan. It would also be our first ‘staying overnight’ hike of the trip! 🙂 Yes, I know that SOME people think that if you stay in hostals and get breakfast and dinner provided then it doesn’t really count as a ‘proper’ hike… 🙂
We would also be starting our hike on New Year’s Day…