On Thursday, June 14th, I got up at 5:30AM to take a bus from Quito to the Quitumbe bus terminal. The bus system in Quito is great, not too difficult and buses are cheap (0,25$). From Mariscal, it was a bit more than an hour to this bus terminal but this early it wasn’t too crowded yet.
From there, I took a bus to Latacunga. It only cost 2,5$ and took about 90 minutes. The bus was very comfortable and the landscape was beautiful.
In Latacunga, I took a taxi to the Hostel Tiana. They have very cheap luggage storage: only 1$ per day if you stay at least 1 night in this hostel and the day of your stay the storage is free. So, I only paid 3$ and was rid of all my heavy luggage for my hiking trip. They also gave me a very good description about where to go during the Quilotoa loop – you can’t really call it a map. Still, it was very helpful.
All tours stop at the famous Thursday market of Saquisili and so, me too, I wanted to go there before starting the loop. When I got there, I was pretty disappointed; it was a small market and they had almost no handcraft goods. Maybe I went to the wrong part of town, I don’t know… There are, apparently, 8 markets in Saquisili and I’m not sure if people had indicated me to the right one. This town is actually pretty big and it’s difficult to find your way around. I would not go back there and I would suggest you rather go to the market in Otavalo instead.
You find many different indications online about where to get a bus to Sigchos, but they are either not very precise or not up to date.
The truth is that, from Latacunga, there are buses going to Sigchos every 2 hours all day long. They don’t stop, like some blogs say, at 2 PM. From Saquisili, you can get a bus directly to Sigchos. It costs 1,75$ and takes 90 minutes. I don’t know when and how often they go, mine left at 11:30AM and I’m pretty sure they go all day long every hour. It’s a bit difficult to find where your bus leaves from, because there is not one big bus terminal like in Latacunga, but just ask every bus driver you see, they will point you in the right direction.
When you arrive to Sigchos, you can buy some food and water in one of the shops or in the bakery around the main square. The hike from Sigchos to Isinlivi takes about 2 1/2 hours, maximum 3 hours. First, the trail goes down steeply, then it stays flat for some time and, at the end, it goes up steeply again. It’s nice for a first day of hiking, like a warm-up.
In Isinlivi, I stayed at the Llullu Llama hostel and I can only recommend you do the same; this hostel is amazing. Food is great, the common area is very cozy, showers are hot, the staff is super friendly; you can buy some beer and some wine and they have different lunch options. Also, there are free yoga classes.
From Isinlivi to Chugchilan, the way is a bit tricky; I got lost two times but managed to find my way again. On this part, you should also watch out for dogs, but I had only one bad encounter with them. Usually, they will leave you be if you don’t pay them any attention.
This part of the trail is more exhausting than the first one; it goes up pretty steeply at one point and then keeps going uphill until Chugchilan. It took me around 4 hours, but I took my time during the hike.
In Chugchilan, I stayed at El Vaquero hostel and I warmly recommend you do the same. The hostel is great. The rooms are nice, the beds and the common area are cozy; the food is delicious and the owner, Victor, and the staff are super friendly. In addition to that, they even have a sauna! Heaven after a long day of hiking.
From Chugchilan to Quilotoa, there are 2 different trails: one that goes to Moya via the main road and one that goes up steeply to a viewpoint. I did this part of the hike with Tim from Australia and Allanah from Ireland. We chose the trail that goes to Moya and we believe that it’s better than the other one for two reasons: 1) it goes up steadily but not too steeply; 2) you have an amazing view over the canyon from there. Both trails are pretty hard and exhausting and you should be in a good condition, not just to hike this last part, but for the Quilotoa trail in general.
When you finally get to the crater, the feeling is overwhelming! It’s really beautiful and the hike was absolutely worth it.
From there, you’ve got two options: either you go directly to Quilotoa (about 1h) or you hike around the crater and then go to Quilotoa (3-4h). My suggestion is to hike around the crater but eat something first, so bring lunch with you, because the small shop there sells only some chocolate and some chips and it is very expensive. The hike around the crater has some breathtaking views for you and, in my case, the hike took 4 hours because I was constantly taking pictures or admiring the view.
Things to know when you do the Quilotoa Loop:
– Get maps and way descriptions in hostels before leaving.
– Have a stick or hiking sticks with you for protection against – rare but possible – dog attacks.
– Don’t bring any candy! Along the way, there will be many children asking you for candy and fruit, but I don’t think it’s a good idea to give them any because it’s bad for their health, you can’t carry candy or fruit for 50 children, and because they will always connect hikers with people who give them free stuff.
– Have some chocolate or fruit for the way on the first 2 days, plus lunch for the third day.
– You don’t have to book hostels in advance; there is always space even if on booking.com it says there is no more space. They don’t really use the internet here…
– On the last day, even with doing the hike around the crater, you will finish around 2 or 3PM and still be able to take a bus to Latacunga. Hostels and food there are way cheaper and better than in Quilotoa.
– You can combine the 2 first hikes (Sigchos-Isinlivi-Chugchilan) and do them in one day if you’re in a hurry, but I’d say that the Llullu Llama Hostel in Isinlivi is too amazing to be left out.