AJ and I hiked the Quilotoa Loop over 3 days, starting in Sigchos and ending at Quilotoa. Over the course of the three days we ascended over 1000 meters, covered around 40km and saw incredible views, all ending with the Quilotoa crater and lake. The hiking is difficult but not impossible, the scenery is fantastic and there is a real sense of achievement in reaching the final destination at the end of each day. While the hostels in the area provide maps and helpful tips to get through the trek, we couldn’t have made it through the hike without the invaluable trek notes from A Hiker’s Guide. There were a few areas where the notes weren’t completely clear, so in this article I want to provide you with a visual guide to the Quilotoa Loop, to supplement those trek notes. At the end I will provide a summary of what I’ve learned and tips for those of you who want to trek the loop.
Everything I read recommended that you stay in Latacunga the night before you start the hike, and then get the bus to Sigchos in the morning where you start the hike to Isinlivi. Latacunga is very handy because there are places you can store your bags (Hostal Tiana is a good place, $2 per day), but if you get the bus to Sigchos it means you don’t start the hike until late morning and will more than likely get caught in the afternoon rain like we did. Trust me, you don’t want that to happen – everything we owned was SOAKED; all the waterproofing in the world couldn’t keep out the amount of rain we had to deal with. What I would recommend is storing your bag in Latacunga and getting a bus straight to Sigchos so you can stay the night there and get started hiking early the next morning.
I don’t have pictures for getting out of the town because we got completely turned around and were wandering for about half an hour before we found the way out. What you need to make sure you do is to go to the right hand side of town once out of the bus station and then turn left and head down to the end of town where you will see the signs for the road out of town. The road out of Sigchos is a dirt road so don’t be worried about seeing it.
Walk down the road until you hit a fork. Take the road to the right and follow it as it goes down into the valley. Eventually you will find yourself at a church:
Behind the church is a trail to the right. Do not take this trail; continue on down the road.
Further on down the road there’s a second trail heading off to the right. Again, ignore this trail and continue along the track.
Further on down the road you will see a trail heading off to the right straight in front of you. Take this trail.
As you walk along the trail you will see farms on the right hand side.
Further down the trail, the path will curve to the right and head uphill, there will be a faint trail going steeply off to the left. Take this trail; from the top it looks as though it doesn’t go anywhere but it soon becomes an obvious trail working its way downhill.
Enjoy the stunning views as you walk down the hill.
Eventually the trail will end at the road. You will know you’ve reached the right place because you will see an empty swimming pool on top of a building to the left.
Once you get onto the road from the trail, turn right and walk down the road. The road will curve twice and then you will see a small trail heading off directly in front of you as the road curves to the left.
Once again you’ll have a chance to enjoy beautiful scenery as you walk through the valley.
The trail will then head downwards until it hits a road again.
From the road you will see a stone bridge further downhill to the left. Ignore this and turn to the right and walk along the road. You will be walking along it for quite a while; along the way you will see helpful markers (black llamas and orange arrows) which will let you know you’re on the right path.
As you walk along the path you will see a few buildings near the start on the left; these are NOT the buildings that the trek notes refer to, ignore them. You will be walking for about 20 minutes before you hit the first house on the left. The other buildings will follow quite quickly.
Straight after the second house on the left you will see a trail heading off to the left. The road itself curves off to the right and heads uphill.
As you walk along the trail you will see a concrete footbridge. Head straight to it and walk over it across the river.
Once you cross the footbridge, turn to the right and walk along the river until you reach a muddy trail going very steeply uphill to the left. This trail is SUPER muddy and slippery; if you have hiking poles with you, now is the time to use them. (this is why I have no picture of it). The climb is steep but short, and you will hit a road at the top. Once you reach the road, turn left and walk along it; you will cross a small bridge and walk through a small village, passing a school and a church.
After passing the church follow the road around to the right, the road will then curve to the left and you will see a trail going into the woods off to the right. Take this trail.
The path will walk through the woods and then emerge out of the trees where it splits; one path doubles back on itself and heads uphill into the woods, the other path curves around the back of a field before heading back into the woods. Take the path curving around the back of the field. After it goes back into the trees it will start climbing uphill, giving you some really nice views of the valley you just came through.
The trail is very obvious and there are no other trails going off it so you just need to keep following the trail as it makes its way uphill. At this point in the day it started raining REALLY heavily; at times we were wading through small streams uphill so our hiking shoes didn’t stand a chance!
At one point you will hit what looks like a barbed wire fence – don’t freak out and take a close look at the left-hand side of the fence; you should see rope tying it to the post that you can untie to open the gate.
Once you eventually reach the top of the trail you will hit the road into Isinlivi. Turn right and walk along the road for 2km which will take around 45mins – 1hour. Take care, if it’s raining heavily then mud and dirt will be washed down the mountainside and over the road so you’ll have to make your way across some mud rivers.
Once you enter Isinlivi you need to take the road to the right; this is far before the church which you’ll be able to see at the end of the road. At the end of the road you will reach a T-junction; turn right and walk down the road.
Just a little bit down the road you will see the Llullu Llama on the left.
I would highly recommend staying in the Lllullu Llama; it’s the more expensive option in the area but the food is good, there’s a lovely warm fire to gather around and have a drink – they have a full bar and there’s also free tea & coffee available, and there are duvets on the beds, actual proper DUVETS.