The road northwest of Latacunga loops through a series of remote indigenous villages. The spectacular scenery in this region—in particular the incredible beauty of Lake Quilotoa—makes this a very popular hiking destination.
The lake itself can be reached on a day trip, or you can spend anything from a couple of days to the best part of a week hiking through the undulating landscapes.
Transportation around the entire loop is limited to two direct buses per day, and less than half of the 200 kilometers of road are paved, with the remainder made up of rough dirt tracks that are sometimes impassable in the rainy season. While this makes getting around a little complicated, it’s also part of the reason why the loop remains refreshingly remote and unspoiled.
In addition to the breathtaking scenery, the indigenous communities have held on to their traditions. Along with the villages around Otavalo , this is one of the best regions in the Andes to experience thriving Kichwa culture.
The luminous turquoise water of this lake in an extinct volcano is perhaps the most breathtaking sight in Ecuador . On a clear day, the spectacle of the sky reflected in the mineral-rich waters 400 meters below the rim, with the snow-capped peaks of Ilinizas and Cotopaxi  in the distance, is jaw-droppingly beautiful.
Laguna Quilotoa was formed about 800 years ago after a massive eruption led to the collapse of the volcano. Locals believe that the lake is bottomless, and geologists estimate its depth at 250 meters.
Now part of the Iliniza Ecological Reserve, the entrance fee is a mere $1 pp to enter the village of Quilotoa (elevation 3,900 meters) and access the lake. Note that the lake is sometimes shrouded in mist (most commonly in the afternoon), so it’s best to plan an overnight stop here to avoid disappointment.
The hike around the rim (4–5 hours) is the best way to appreciate the stunning views. The walk down to the lake (under 2 hours round-trip) is also spectacular. Donkeys ($5) are sometimes available to carry you back up, and canoes ($5 pp) can be rented on the lake.
Accommodations can be found along the turnoff from the main road, where a few Tigua artists run humble hostels with fireplaces, wool blankets, and simple home-cooked food. It gets very cold at night here, so bring plenty of warm clothes. Local artist Humberto Latacunga’s Hostal Cabañas Quilotoa (Vía Quilotoa, tel. 3/281-4625 or 9/212-5962, $8–10 pp, breakfast and dinner included) has simple guest rooms with fireplaces and hot-water showers. Humberto’s beautiful paintings and carved wooden masks are for sale in the restaurant.
Another option farther up the hill is Princesa Toa (tel. 9/455-6944, $8–10 pp, breakfast and dinner included), which offers cheap set lunches ($2.50).
The only mid-range lodging in town is the Quilotoa Crater Lake Lodge (tel. 2/252-7835 or 9/794-2123, $40 s or d, breakfast included), which overlooks the lake and boasts panoramic views. Guest rooms are warm and comfortable, and the restaurant is the best in the village.
There’s no escaping that getting around the Quilotoa Loop can be a challenge. There are only two buses daily, often jam-packed with locals and even the occasional animal. If you miss the bus, you can try your luck at hiring a pickup truck to take you to the next town.
Two regular Transportes Iliniza buses travel the entire loop daily, one in each direction. All times listed below are the official times. You must arrive on time or risk missing the bus (and most likely not getting a seat). Bear in mind that the bus is often late. The bus traveling on the most popular route leaves daily at noon from Latacunga’s bus terminal, heading clockwise around the loop.
It passes Zumbahua at 1:30 p.m. ($1.50), Quilotoa at 2 p.m. ($2), and arrives in Chugchilán at about 3:30 p.m. ($3). The other bus heads counterclockwise around the loop from Latacunga to Chugchilán, leaving from the Latacunga bus terminal at 11:30 a.m. It passes Saquisilí at 11:50 a.m. ($0.50), Sigchos at about 1:30 p.m. ($2), and Chugchilán around 3 p.m. ($3).
Both buses stay overnight in the plaza at Chugchilán, leaving before dawn the next morning as they head in opposite directions back to Latacunga. The counterclockwise bus leaves at the ungodly hour of 4 a.m., passing Quilotoa at 5 a.m., Zumbahua at 5:30 a.m., and reaching Latacunga at 7:30 a.m. In the other direction, the bus leaves Chugchilán even earlier at 3 a.m., passing Sigchos at 4 a.m., Saquisilí at 7 a.m., and arriving in Latacunga at 7:30 a.m.
If you miss the daily bus, all is not lost. Going clockwise from Latacunga, there are hourly buses to Zumbahua (2 hours, $1.50) bound for Quevedo near the coast. From Zumbahua, you can hire a pickup truck ($5 pp, $10 minimum per group) to Quilotoa. Hiring a truck to Chugchilán is more difficult because of the quality of the road, and it costs at least $25 from Quilotoa and $35 from Zumbahua.
Going counterclockwise, there are several buses hourly from Latacunga to Saquisilí (20 minutes, $0.50), and seven buses 9:30 a.m.–6 p.m. to Sigchos (2 hours, $2). Getting to Chugchilán from Sigchos is tricky, but you may be able to hire a pickup truck for about $25.