A Guide to the Quilotoa Crater Loop, Ecuador

by on 21st June, 2019


Kathy, Andean Trails’ director since 1998, was in Ecuador recently checking some of our walking options.

She writes: “I recommend taking a few days to explore the Quilotoa area on your journey through Ecuador.


The Quilotoa Area

This is a beautiful remote farming area home to the indigenous Kichwa community of Tigua. The Tigua are well known throughout Ecuador for their colourful folk art: wooden carved masks and paintings of rural life. They are llama and sheep herders and paint onto sheep skins. The bright paintings are small in size with an amazing amount of detail; they generally depict farming life, beliefs, festivals, legends, and traditions.

Quilotoa Loop looking in Chugchilan direction, Ecuador

Looking in Chugchilan direction

The landscape here is stunning, a patchwork of fields across steep mountain sides, with deep gorged out valleys. The many mountain paths that criss-cross the area are ideal for day walks or multi day treks and there is an excellent selection of interesting, comfortable places to stay.

Quilotoa crater lake flowers, Ecuador

Local flora

At the heart of the area is Ecuador’s most western volcano, Quilotoa, with its water filled crater 3km across and 11 km round. It is thought that Quilotoa has erupted at least 8 times in the last 200,000 years with the last known eruption  in 1280. There are signs that the volcano isn’t extinct yet, hot springs on the crater’s eastern flank and fumaroles on the lake floor.

Quilotoa Lake walk, Ecuador

Trekking around the lake


Plan your walk

I would include in your plan a full day at Quilotoa to enjoy the classic walk which takes you around the perimeter of the crater. I recommend walking anti-clockwise. Keeping the lake on your left 400 metres below you, a patchwork of fields spreads out to your right.  Hope for some sunshine – the lake colour changes with the weather – it’s at its most brilliant on bright sunny days, plus if it’s clear some of Ecuador’s many other volcanoes will appear in the distance.

Quilotoa crater hike, Ecuador

Pause on the hike

I suggest you spend several day at altitude before embarking on this walk as the highest point on the path is a breath taking 3,914m. Allow 5 to 7 hours to get round. It is easy to follow the routes as it ascends and descends the rocky terrain. Walking poles are handy and you definitely need good footwear, as it can be rough underfoot, with some sandy sections and some scrambly bits. The walk is great for kids too, I’d suggest from aged 8 upwards.

Quilotoa Loop sign, Ecuador


The route is scenic, the path in places lined with colourful flowers, yellow, orange, pink, that contrast with the emerald lake below.  You’ll see the occasional horse, mule, llama or donkey and a few local farmers herding their livestock, and perhaps a few fellow trekkers.”

Quilotoa Lake view point, Ecuador

Enjoying the view

Top Tips

Kathy’s top tips for what to take with you for walking the Quilotoa crater loop:


  1. Take long sleeved light weight shirts and trekking trousers as the sun is strong.
  2. Take sun block and a sunhat.
  3. Take water and a picnic.
  4. Take walking poles.
  5. Binoculars are useful– watch for Andean kestrels and black chested buzzard eagles.
  6. Comfortable walking boots and good socks are essential.


We can organise a driver and English speaking guide, or you can choose to self-drive this lovely area.

Ask us about tours and trekking in the Quilotoa are and the rest of Ecuador.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Contact Us
Get in touch