There are many travelers who are opting for Quilotoa day trip rather than a couple of days hike.
Laguna de Quilotoa is very famous for its mesmerizing blues and green hills. Similar to beautiful Laguna Paron in Peru, we were super excited to visit Quilotoa and we hoped to see its beautiful waters as well.
And let me tell you. Laguna del Quilotoa didn’t disappoint even a bit. In fact, it was one of the most beautiful places in South America we have seen.
Quilotoa lake should be on a bucket list of every traveler coming to Ecuador. With many cultural opportunities and outdoor activities available in Quilotoa, Ecuador will blow your mind.
And if you are not into hiking and do not want to do the whole Quilotoa loop, that’s fine. We didn’t want to hike for 3 days either. That’s why we put together a guide on how to easily see Quilotoa lake on a day trip from Quito.
ABOUT QUILOTOA LAKE
Quilotoa lake or also called Laguna de Quilotoa is located in the Ecuadorian Andes in the Cotopaxi region with the capital Latacunga. Laguna de Quilotoa is not quite a lake but more like a crater or volcanic lake. Many people (including us) thought at first that Quilotoa it’s just a pretty lake but we were wrong.
Quilotoa was created around 600 years due to an immense eruption in the Andes formed the 3 km-wide crater. And if you wonder why Quilotoa laguna has such an intense color, well, it comes from dissolved minerals in the water.
Quilotoa Coordinates: 0° 51′ 0″ S, 78° 54′ 0″ W
If you look at the water, sometimes you might see bubbles rising from the surface of the Laguna Quilotoa. As Quilotoa lake is a crater, the release of carbon dioxide gas is the reason for the bubbles.
The color of Laguna de Quilotoa really depends on the weather and the time of the day. You can compare pictures below on how the Laguna del Quilotoa looks when it’s cloudy and when it’s sunny.
What a difference, right?
We find both very different and beautiful. What do you think?
HOW TO GET TO QUILOTOA LAKE?
During our stay in Quito, one of the hotel staff at Colonial House Inn (which is a very nice hotel) suggested that they can organize a day trip to Quilotoa from Quito. The prices completely shocked us and were told $60. It is a standard price and most of the hotels and tours charge the same or even more. We found it very expensive and politely refused it. Especially knowing that you do not need a guide to hike around Quilotoa and renting a car is much cheaper.
So how can you get to Quilotoa on your own?
If you would like to go to Quilotoa lake by bus, it is possible, but a little bit complicated and requires you to change buses at Latacunga. There are frequent buses going from the Quitumbe bus terminal in Quito to Latacunga.
The journey takes about 1 hour and costs around $2.30. In Latacunga you can either take a taxi to Quilotoa crater or take a bus which takes around 2 hours and costs $2. Make sure to ask the bus driver, when is the last bus leaving back to Latacunga, so you do not end up stranded.
READ MORE: 12 AWESOME THINGS TO DO AND SEE IN QUITO
RENT A CAR
If you are planning a day trip to Quilotoa, renting a car is a great option.
It will give you a chance to stop along and be flexible with your schedule.
We missed the freedom of traveling so we decided to go for a day trip to Quilotoa laguna on our own. It wasn’t very complicated as we booked it online via a comparison website that took us to Avis. We paid $40 per day.
Quilotoa is around 178 km away from Quito. It takes between 2.5 to 3 hours to get to Quilotoa, depending on the traffic in Quito.
Unfortunately or (fortunately), there was a misunderstanding with our days crossing over with an official holiday in Ecuador. We couldn’t pick up the car at 8 AM as agreed due to holiday, so we literally had to wait outside in the cold in front of the gate. We got nicely rewarded and we could return the car to the airport the next day without paying any extra fees.
So make sure to check the dates for your pick up and the opening hours during holidays and non-holiday days. Don’t expect the rental company to adjust their opening hours accordingly.
SEE MORE: Visit the 15 MOST BEAUTIFUL PLACES IN SOUTH AMERICA
Once you arrive in Quito, we highly suggest you acclimatize your body before you come for a day trip to Quilotoa laguna. Ecuador has many mountains that lie high above the altitude we (Europeans) are used to.
Spend at least three days in Quito, otherwise, altitude sickness might hit you and ruin your whole day. Trust me. It can happen.
INTERESTING FACT: Quito is the second-highest capital city in the world after La Paz in Bolivia, with an altitude of 2,849 meters (9,350ft) above the sea level.
QUICK TIPS ON HOW TO DEAL WITH ALTITUDE SICKNESS
If you would like to read more on how to prevent altitude sickness, read our guide from Laguna Paron to find more. But just to quickly explain, that Laguna de Quilotoa lies at 3.914 meters.
Some people do well with altitude and some don’t. I am not particularly coping well with the altitude sickness, however, it is possible to make it. Make sure to drink enough water, take many breaks and never push yourself. If you do feel unwell, it’s better to stop.
I know that it can be annoying to always stop and everyone is overtaking you (horses and people) but forget about it, listen to your body.
Also, what would definitely help is to make a coca tea or just take some coca leaves with you.
If you are looking for another awesome day trip from Quito, then you need to check out MITAD DEL MUNDO guide, which will tell you how to get to the middle of the world.
“EASY” DAY HIKE AT QUILOTOA
Once you arrive at the small village of Quilotoa, there is a huge parking lot. From there you need to walk through the hill to the Quilotoa Lake. Laguna de Quilota is not very far, around 5 minutes’ walk. We stopped at the small restaurant which is next to the parking lot as it was raining. We waited until it stops and then we continued. They have a very nice hot choco.
The first impression of Laguna de Quilotoa is amazing. This spot is mostly very busy as some travelers just want to have quick snap and are not into hiking that much.
The hike is not very difficult, as at first, you will go down the path. It should take you around 1.5 hours. If it’s raining, the path is often muddy and slippery, which makes it a bit dangerous. If you feel like that you can’t handle altitude sickness, then you also have an option to hire a horse (especially going up).
Although I had the impression that the horses are small, the path is tough and full of rocks too. And I can imagine that many horses must get injured. So we decided not to support this activity and go on our own.
We also didn’t want to take a horse as we wanted to stop on the way and take photos. Quilotoa is a very fascinating place. We couldn’t believe that such a place exist.
For many locals, this activity is the only source of income and as a tourist, you will be definitely asked if you want to take a horse. Very similar to Rainbow mountain hike where locals also offer that service which actually saved my life. Some of the curves are a bit tight and I have to say that it can be annoying and a bit scary to have horses walking so close next to you.
EXTRA TIP: I can also imagine, that when it’s dry and it doesn’t rain, that the path can get really dusty, because of the horses, so maybe have a scarf to cover your mouth.
Depending on how much time you have and how you feel, you can continue all the way down to Quilotoa lake and get very close to the water.
Just keep in mind that going up the hill is very hard in the mountains with such an altitude. Ascending the 280m back up will definitely take you much longer than 1.5 hours. Again, do not push yourself as the air up there is thinner and makes it very hard to breathe. If you do not feel well, just stop and catch your breath.
The sky was closing really fast and the bad weather with rain picked up, so we decided to stop our hike in the middle and go back. I won’t lie, going up was very challenging and I wasn’t the only one. There were many people around who had trouble breathing.
Nico was doing fine but I was really struggling. I didn’t take any coca leaves with me, so I guess I was punished for my stupidity. Do not make the same mistake.
KAYAK AROUND LAKE QUILOTOA
If the weather is nice, we would definitely suggest you rent a kayak and paddle around beautiful Laguna del Quilotoa.
If you are missing some good beach vibes, then you need to visit one of the nicest beach towns in Ecuador. It is called Montanita and we wrote a full guide on how to get there best things to do on Montanita Playa. Also, Puerto Lopez is a great getaway to Isla de la Plata and Los Frailes beach.
QUICK STOP AT THE CRATER QUILOTOA
There is a huge canyon very close to Quilotoa Lake, which was also created due to eruption in the Andes. The crater is located just 200 meters from Quilotoa laguna. You can stop here either before you get to the parking lot and once you will be leaving Quilotoa. It is very impressive for sure.
STOP ALONG THE WAY
On our way back to Quito we stopped a couple of times to admire landscapes of Ecuador. And let me tell you, the scenery is so stunning.
We just stopped and observed either people chasing their lamas, alpacas or sheep and just soaking in the beauty.
Locals are a bit shy and since we don’t speak Spanish fluently, it is hard to communicate, but we really loved the experience. Locals were waiving at us and we were just curiously staring at each other. And this is the main reason why we rented a car for our day trip to Quilotoa. While traveling in South America, we took mostly buses and we never really had a chance to be flexible. We were really happy with our decision.
WEATHER IN QUILOTOA
The weather in the mountains is always changing and you cannot know for sure how the weather will be like. Checking the weather forecast app won’t be very helpful either.
However, as you are surrounded by the Ecuadorian Andes, the weather is mostly cloudy, especially in the afternoon. Mornings are often sunny, but that really depends on the season. That is why it is very important to start your hike to Quiloota early in the morning, so you can experience the sun in the morning and see how the color of the water is changing.
However, if you would like to visit Quilotoa you can come all year round. The only difference is the temperature.
As you might know, Ecuador is crossing an imaginary line called the Equator. That means the length of days is more or less always the same. Amazingly, Ecuador has 12 hours of sun every day for the whole year.
And if you would like to see the equatorial line, you need to head to Ciudad Mitad del Mundo, which is located only 25 km from Quito. We wrote a full guide on how to get to MITAD DEL MUNDO and what to do there, so have a look before you visit.
EXTRA INFO: At Equator, latitude is defined to be 0° and Equatorian line divides our planet Earth into two hemispheres: Southern and Northern hemisphere.
WHAT TO PACK FOR YOUR HIKE IN QUILOTOA LAKE
If you are going for a day trip to Quilotoa, there are a couple of things you should have on you.
- SNACKS: There are few little stores in the village of Quilotoa if you didn’t pack any before your hike. Make sure to choose sugary snacks, rich in proteins, which helps you to deal with altitude sickness.
- WATER: Don’t forget to pack enough water to prevent getting severe headaches and dehydration.
- WATERPROOF SHOES AND JACKET: It does rain a lot in the Andes, and we got pretty wet there. I guess that poncho would be also a great thing to have.
- A WATERPROOF CASE FOR YOUR BACKPACK: We didn’t have any cover for our backpack, which obviously was a mistake as it was heavily raining. Nico had to walk back faster, so he could get our backpack with photography gear to safety.
- SUN LOTION: Despite it is a mountain trip, you need to be aware that you are at around 3.800 meters above the sea level. And when the sun shines, you can get easily burnt. We love to use Raw Elements, which are chemical-free (use Gigi10 for 10% off on your entire order).
If you thinking about being adventures and still do a hike there is an optional hike around the Laguna de Quilotoa. It is often called a multi-day village to village hiking track.
This can be a great way to explore Quilotoa more in-depth, as you will be stopping at several villages along the way such as Sigchos, Isinlivi, Chugchilan, and Quilotoa crater.
The entire Quilotoa loop is 40 km and it takes from two to five days, depending on how much time do you have. And if you are scared that you will get lost, don’t worry, the Quilotoa trail is well-signposted.
- SIGCHOS 2850 meters
- ISINLIVI 2950 meters
- CHUGCHILAN 3200 meters
- QUILOTOA CRATER 3800 meters
As you can see the Qouilotoa loop graduates regarding the altitude which is actually nice as you can acclimatize better. If you are interested in checking the Quilotoa loops and its stops, click here for a full guide.
Into exploring the area of Quito? Check 2 or 3-Day Tour to Baños with Cotopaxi & Quilotoa
IS DRIVING TO QUILOTOA SAFE?
Absolutely! We felt super safe when driving to Quilotoa and would recommend to anyone willing to be free and flexible.
The roads are very well maintained and with many lanes. It is very different than driving in Colombia, as they have speed cameras on the highways. So the only thing which you should be careful about is speeding.
We always stick to the speed limit, but once we went over 10 km per hour by an accident. Because we are international travelers we were charged a hefty fine which was 120 euros ($135). There are some rules which apply differently to foreign drivers, so watch your speed and you should be fine.
If you are still wandering about the safety in South America, make sure to check out our comprehensive guide on SAFETY TIPS IN SOUTH AMERICA
WHERE TO STAY IN QUITO
If you only coming to visit Quilotoa lake for a day, then you need to find accommodations in the capital of Ecuador, Quito. In Quito, you can choose from many options. We definitely suggest you stay close to the city center.
We stayed in two hotels and we really liked them, check out Colonial House Inn and Hostal El Arupo. They have both affordable rooms in the heart of Quito. You can also have a look at Airbnb, and if it’s your first time using Airbnb, get $37 off on your first stay.
We really felt like that day trip to Quilotoa was just enough and we really enjoyed the trip. However, you also have an option to do the Quilotoa Loop and hike for several days, if you like.
Enjoy your hike to Laguna de Quilotoa and we hope that you will have a great time. Don’t forget to stop along the way and look out for cute alpacas and llamas.
Not sure where to go next after visiting Quito? We highly recommend visiting the Pacific coast of Ecuador. Definitely check out: Montanita beach, Isla de la Plata and Los Frailes beach. We wrote full guides about them, so check it out before you go.
Would you also like to visit Quilotoa? If you like the article, make sure to pin our guide DAY TRIP TO QUILOTOA FROM QUITO.
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