Hiking Quilotoa: around the lake in one day

If you have looked into traveling around Ecuador you have probably seen photos of Quilotoa, a beautiful crater lake. It is worth your time to visit even if you don’t plan to do the multi-day trek.

Blog posts we read before our trip said the entire loop takes 2-3 days. Since we didn’t have that much time to spend here, we didn’t research much further. We figured- let’s just day hike around and enjoy the views. When we arrived we saw on the map that there is a 10km hike around the crater. That is definitely doable in a day so we went for it! There are multi-day treks if you are interested in spending more time here. Those treks take you from various small towns around the area with several options for hostels to stay at along the way.

The trail we took can be found here. It took us about 3-3.5 hours.  We found the trail to be well marked with red and blue dots along the way. The map at the entrance did make it seem like we wanted to be on a yellow trail and we never saw any yellow dots marking any trail. We were slightly concerned at first, but we used Gaia GPS to track our progress and felt confident we were on a trail we could complete in one afternoon. On the trail, you hike up and down several peaks around the lake which is at 12,841 ft elevation. The hike was challenging but worth it! The plants/vegetation change as you hike around the crater and we saw several types of beautiful wild flowers.

We got into town and started our hike around 11:30 am. For us, the view of the lake only lasted about the first 25% of our hike before the clouds started coming in. We would highly recommend getting there early in the day  to start your hike. The weather seems to be better in the mornings. The clouds/rain seemed to come in during the afternoon hours throughout our entire trip through Ecuador. We were there in November which is the start of the wet season. Bring your rain coat and/or windbreaker for sure. The weather can change quickly here so be prepared rain or shine!

To visit the crater you will need to pay $2 per person at the entrance to the town of Quilotoa. Once in town, there are a few parking lots you can park for free and take the very short walk to the crater. There is a large viewing platform you can take pictures of the lake from before you begin your hike. The trail starts on either side of the viewing platform. In town you will see several restaurants and shops but overall it is a very small town. 

After our hike we ate at one of the small restaurants right off the trail. We had one of the best hot chocolate’s here and tried cocoa tea and canelazo as well. All the warm drinks were exactly what we needed after a long afternoon on the trail.

We would highly recommend trying canelazo! It is a traditional warm drink in this region of the Andes. It’s made from naranjilla which is a sour orange fruit, water, sugar, cinnamon and sometimes other spices along with aguardiente liquor.  When we ordered it the liquor came in a shot glass on side so you could chose if you wanted to add it or not. With and without the shot, the drink was delicious! We wished we would have had it more. Canelazo is pretty readily available in the mountains but don’t expect every coffee shop or restaurant you go to have it. When you see it, try it! The hot chocolate in Ecuador is another thing not to be missed! We found ourselves ordering it every chance we got!

While we were in Quilotoa, we also tried the coy asado which is grilled guinea pig. This is a very common dish in the region. The order here was probably a quarter of a guinea pig. Most places sell the entire thing as a large platter which is too much for the two of us. We were glad to be able to try a smaller portion. It was very good, but difficult to eat with the plastic utensils we were given (this may very well have been due to COVID). It would have been much more enjoyable with proper silverware.

Google maps doesn’t seem to have all the restaurants in the area listed so we can’t seem to find the name of this place.  Most of the restaurants in the area appeared to have the same types of traditional foods. After a long day of hiking you can’t go wrong wherever you chose to go to warm up in Quilotoa!

After our day hike around Quilotoa we stayed at Hostel el vaquero. They don’t have a website but you can book on booking.com

This hostel is in one of the small towns you can stay at if you do the multi-day trek. We would highly recommend this place, they served breakfast and dinner included in the price of the room. They have a large common area with a wood fire burner and plenty of space to relax. They also have a sauna for $3 a person which we didn’t get to enjoy but would have loved to. The people were very nice and accommodating and the meals were excellent.

If you visit Quilotoa we hope you enjoy your hike! Tell us what your favorite hikes/treks are. Leave us a comment below

 For more on our trip through Ecuador:

Visiting Cotopaxi Volcano National Park

A weekend in Quito

Best Street Food in Quito

The edge of the Amazon- Visiting Banos

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