Quilotoa or Cotopaxi? Trekking Guide to Ecuador’s Best Walks

by on 11th May, 2020


Kathy Jarvis, Andean Trails director, gives her expert opinion and thoughts on hiking in the Cotopaxi and Quilotoa areas of Ecuador.

She writes:

I am a great fan of walking, whether half days, full day walks or multi-day treks, so whenever I am heading to the Andes I do a bit of research and plan to spend as much time as possible out walking. Even though I have been walking in South America for over 25 years I still have an ever growing, long bucket list of treks yet to do.

Ecuador is probably the most varied of all of the Andean countries. It is relatively small making  it quick and easy to get around and allowing you to explore several mountain areas in a holiday of a week or even more if you have longer.

Ecuador is the ideal country for walking and home to some of the best walks in the Andes. The Andes mountains run right down the centre of the country, a series of isolated volcanoes rather than one continuous range. There are several fabulous multi-day treks and Ecuador also offers some of the best one and half day walks throughout the Andes.

Cotopaxi and Quilotoa are two of the best known of the many volcanoes in Ecuador. They are both  big visitor attractions for their volcanic scenery and offer a range of walking opportunities.

Kathy Jarvis

Kathy out walking with her son

Walking in Cotopaxi National Park

Cotopaxi, at 5897 m, is a classically conical volcano, very popular with mountain climbers aiming to get to its icy summit. The national park is expansive and offers the visitor many opportunities for tough treks and also less demanding walks.

The easiest walk in Cotopaxi national park and justifiably popular is the route round lake Limpiopungo. This walk, which takes just a couple of hours at a gentle pace, is ideal for watching birds and being flat is suitable for all.

Cotopaxi Limpiopungo walk Ecuador

Limpiopungo lake walk

For a more demanding day we recommend a full day walk, taking in Inca ruins, wild horses and a bubbling fresh water spring on the lower slopes of the mountain. This scenically stunning trek also offers the possibility to see an array of Andean birds such as Ibis,  the Andean Condor and Black chested Buzzard eagles, plus wild horses and Andean fox.

One of the tougher walks in the Cotopaxi national park is the ascent of the central summit of Ruminahui (4630m), a rugged volcano on the edge of the park. The walk starts at Lake Limpiopungo (3800m) and has four hours of steep rocky ascent to the top of the mountain with a good two hours down again. In clear weather you’ll have views of El Corazon, Illinizas north and south, Sincholagua and Cotopaxi. This is an excellent peak to aid acclimatisation if going on to attempt any of the higher summits such as Cotopaxi, Cayambe or Chimborazo.

Cotopaxi NP, Ecuador

Cotopaxi conical volcano

The walks above can be linked together with overnighting at comfortable, welcoming highland hacienda accommodation.



Another hugely popular part of Ecuador good for walks is the Quilotoa area. At the heart of this beautiful mountain area is Ecuador’s most western volcano, Quilotoa, with its water filled crater. It is 3 km across and 11 km around the rim.

Quilotoa crater hike, Ecuador

On the Quilotoa crater hike

The Quilotoa area has become increasingly popular with tourists and locals in recent years as the roads have improved and more people get to know about it. It is well worth a visit. The patchwork farmed landscapes are beautiful.

This remote farming area is home to the indigenous Kichwa community of Tigua, well known for their colourful paintings on sheep skins. The stunning landscapes, patchwork green fields, deep valleys and steep mountain sides criss-crossed by paths make it ideal for day walks or multi day treks.

We offer a multi day trek that will take you through the local farming communities and up to the crater rim over three or four days.

The shorter options include a half day where you walk from the crater rim 280 metres down into the crater to the lake shore. Once at the waters’ edge you can kayak or relax and take in the views. The walk down takes about 40 minutes going down but beware, it is a steep walk back up and would take an hour or so.

Quilotoa Loop sign, Ecuador

Quilotoa Loop sign

The best one day walking option is the 5 hour roller coaster route around the crater rim of Quilotoa.

See our recent blog on the description of the walk around the crater rim.


For longer trekking options that take in both Cotopaxi and Quilotoa have a look at our Lodge to Lodge trekking tour. We combine some of the best walks in Ecuador on this eleven day trekking holiday. You stay at beautifully located highland guest houses and haciendas, while seeing the best of Ecuador, on foot. What could be better!

Aerial view, Hacienda Porvenir, Cotopaxi, Ecuador

Hacienda Porvenir, Cotopaxi


Top Tips Ecuador Trekking Kit List

Kathy’s top tips for what to take with you for walking in Ecuador:

  1. The weather in Ecuador is very changeable so wear layers.
  2. Take good waterproofs and comfortable worn in walking boots
  3. Beware of strong sun – a hat, sunglasses and sun block are essential
  4. Protect yourself from the sun with long sleeved light weight shirts and trekking trousers.
  5. Carry snacks and plenty of water.
  6. Walking poles are useful.
  7. Binoculars are essential – the birding in Ecuador is second to none.



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