Trekking and camping at Quilotoa Lake in Ecuador

Ericka & Stefano

The Quilotoa Lake (Laguna de Quilotoa in spanish) is a volcanic lagoon in the province of Cotopaxi and is one of Ecuador’s most popular tourist destinations.

It is one of those sites with a stunning landscape. Just imagine being almost 4,000 meters above sea level and witnessing a large crater filled with turquoise waters.

It’s really impressive!

Quilotia Ecuador

We’ve been to Quilotoa a couple times. We don’t go very often because it’s about a 6-hour drive from where we live (Guayaquil).

However, based on our travels, we have compiled a list of travel tips for those who wish to camp or simply visit this natural wonder.

How to get to Quilotoa Lagoon?

The Quilotoa volcano and lagoon are located in the Zumbahua commune of Cotopaxi, about 66 km south of Latacunga, and are part of the Los Ilinizas Ecological Reserve.

There are many ways to get to the crater lake.

By bus

The cheapest option, which can be challenging if you don’t plan ahead, is to take public transportation (interprovincial buses) on your own.

Unfortunately, there are no buses that go directly to Quilotoa.

Regardless of where you are, you must go to the nearest Terminal Terrestre and purchase a bus ticket to Latacunga, the capital of Cotopaxi.

The cost varies based on where you are:

  • From Quito to Latacunga (Terminal Quitumbe), the ticket costs between $3 and $4 USD per person (check bus departure times).
  • From Guayaquil to Latacunga (Terminal Terrestre de Guayaquil), the fare is between $10 and $12 USD per person (Coop. Latacunga phone # 099-251-1880).

There are certain cities in Ecuador with no direct bus routes to Latacunga. So, many people frequently board buses that pass through Latacunga, asking the drivers to stop in the city.

Although it may sound complicated, it is better to plan your trip from either Quito or Guayaquil (Quito is preferable).

Once you get at the Latacunga bus terminal, you will need to board another bus to Zumbahua. Cooperativa de Transportes Interprovincial “Iliniza” is the most popular and takes you directly to the Quilotoa. It costs $2 USD.

However, the issue with buses is their scheduling. Direct buses are not always available, and if you miss it, you will have to take another bus to Zumbahua, and then another to Quilotoa.

It’s quite an adventure and you must have cash on hand (that’s Ecuador :D).

Laguna Quilotoa

By car

One other way to get to Quiltoa is by car. Foreigners can rent a car and drive to Quilotoa.

The roads in Ecuador are not too bad, however the journey can be long or short depending on where you are.

The trip takes about three hours from Quito, six hours from Guayaquil, and about eight hours from Cuenca.

The majority of roads have tolls. Each toll is one dollar.

Before reaching the lagoon, you can visit the Toachi River Canyon (Cañón del Río Toachi), which was formed by pyroclastic flows from the eruption of the Quilotoa volcano thousands of years ago; or the Zumbahua’s indigenous market.

When you get in the Quilotoa lake area, you will be charged $2 USD per person. This fare includes parking.

See also: Do you need an International Driving Permit in Ecuador?

Entrance fee to Laguna de quilotoa Ecuador

Book a tour

Lastly, you can book a trip through a travel agency. You don’t have to worry about logistics here; just relax and enjoy.

Try to book tours that last more than one day so you can do as many activities as possible.

We personally don’t recommend one-day tours because you only have a few hours to go down to the volcano’s crater, do activities, and then get back on the bus.

The altitude is a big problem. If you are not used to being at high altitudes, it is better to avoid day tours in order to avoid altitude sickness and enjoy everything Quilotoa has to offer.

What can you do in Quilotoa?

Trekking, kayaking, and camping are all available here. You can also go on picnics or simply relax in nature.

Laguna de Quilotoa is open from 07h00 to 17h00, monday through sunday.

Before you descend, stop at the viewpoint to see the panorama of the Quilotoa crater and its turquoise lagoon.

The area offers two viewpoints: the conventional one with a panoramic view, which is free, and the Shalalá viewpoint (Mirador Shalalá), which costs $2 per person.

Shalalá viewpoint is much more sophisticated and elevated than the previous one.

Laguna Quilotoa

The most popular way down is the “Playita de Quilotoa” trail. You must first register at the reserve’s booth before descending.

It is 1.7 kilometers downhill and has no paved trail. It’s actually volcanic dust that will foul your shoes and make the descent slippery. So proceed with caution.

We recommend that you wear trekking or sports shoes.

We also recommend that you cover your mouth while you descend, as the dust will hurt your throat (as it did to us the first time).

Remember to wear sunscreen and sunglasses since the sun will burn you.

Quilotoa Loop

The time it takes to descend and return depends on your physical condition and whether you are affected by altitude.

Locals take 15 minutes to descend and 30 minutes to ascend back up.

Mortals like us take between 30 and 45 minutes to go down, and an hour to return. Some people need a bit more time.

The last time we camped there, it took us an hour to go down and two hours to go up due to the weight of our camping gear.

Try to walk slowly. Keep in mind that you are 3,518 to 3,885 meters above sea level.

If you notice that your physical state is no longer optimal, don’t push yourself. Otherwise, you may get altitude sickness (the famous “soroche“).

You can rent a donkey or horse to take you up or down at a cost of $10 per person.

Playita Quilotoa trail

Once you reach the lagoon area, you can rent kayaks, buy traditional dishes, or take as many pictures as you want.

The only thing that is prohibited is swimming in the lagoon.

Camping at Quilotoa

Camping is free in Quilotoa, and there are various camping areas near the lagoon.

We recommend that you buy firewood in the village before descending because there is none down below. And as it regularly rains, you won’t be able to use wood or tree trunks because they will be wet (this occurred to us as well).

At the crater lake, it is not as cold as it is at the viewpoint.

At the top, winds are deadly, but as you go down, they get weaker and weaker until there are no winds at all.

However, there is generally fog, especially after 5:00 p.m.

The nights are cold. During our camping trip, the temperature dropped to 0° C.

For us who live on the coast, it was cold, so make sure you have all the gear you need for camping in cold and wet weather.

There are facilities in the lake area too, but they are only available until 5:00 p.m.

Although the Internet is poor in this area, we were surprised to find signal and Internet down in the camping area, which we did not have at the viewpoint (we have a Claro chip, just in case).

See also: Climate and Weather in Ecuador

Camping at Quilotoa Lake
Camping at Quilotoa Lake

Quilotoa Loop hike

If you’re feeling more daring, you can hike the Quilotoa Loop.

Honestly, we haven’t done this route yet (it’s on our bucketlist), but we know that it takes 2–5 days and goes through Quilotoa and other villages nearby.

It is a 40-kilometer route that can begin or conclude in Sigchos or Quilotoa, depending on your preference.

The most popular route is from Sigchos to Quilotoa because you leave the lagoon as your final stop.

If you begin your hike in Quilotoa, you should take the Quilotoa – Chugchilan Trail.

You don’t have to be an expert hiker to do it, but you do need to be in good shape and have a spirit of adventure.

The path is better marked than in years past, but if you want to be extra safe, you can hire a guide.

Until we do the Quilotoa Loop, you can read this guide from other explorers who have done it.

Tips for visiting Quilotoa

To close this guide, I’ll leave you with a few tips that we’ve already stated.

A visit to Quilotoa is more than just going down to the lagoon or walking its trails. We also invite you to visit the surrounding area.

There are a few tiny grocery and craft stores. There are also accommodations if you want to spend a few days in the area.

The best months to visit Quilotoa are from June to September since there is less precipitation and the skies are clearer.

What should you wear?

Strong winds are common in the village and around the viewpoints. So dress warmly and bring a scarf.

Also, don’t underestimate the sun. Even when it is gloomy, the sun burns you. Bring along a hat, sunglasses, and sunblock.

To go down the paths, you need trekking shoes or sports shoes. You will get dirty, so wear appropriate shoes.

Try to bring cash with you if you want to shop in this area. Once we wanted to get some coffee, but one of the establishments didn’t accept credit cards. So it’s better to be safe than sorry.

If you are traveling on your own and want to do all the activities in Quilotoa, it is best to stay in the area for the night. The day tours are really exhausting.

Last but not least, the Quilotoa region is over 4000 meters above sea level. So, for at least the first day, avoid quick walking or jogging, eating heavy foods or milk, and drinking beer or soda.

The altitude alters your digestion, causing you to produce more flatulence. And excessive physical activity can result in altitude sickness, which can cause fatigue, vertigo, migraines, and even vomiting.

See also: What to wear in Ecuador?

Laguna Quilotoa


About the author

Hey there! We are Ericka and Stefano. As longtime citizens of this amazing country, we are honored to serve as your tour guides and offer our firsthand experiences, insider advice, and must-see attractions in Ecuador. So be prepare for an exciting journey through Ecuador’s unique treasures.

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