Hiking the Quilotoa Loop: walking directions
Hiking the Quilotoa Loop remains one of our fondest memories of our time spent in Ecuador. Despite walking some sections in the rain, wind and fog, we loved every second of our three day trip.
Before we set off, we were armed with a few different sets of directions from various hostels, and we found that some of them were more accurate than others... so we combined the parts that made sense to us, added a few bits of our own, and the below walking directions were born.
Let us know what you think about our directions, and don't forget to check out our complete guide to hiking the Quilotoa Loop.
Sigchos to Isinliví
Regardless of where you get off the bus in Sigchos (we were dropped in the middle of town but the bus carries on towards the top of town) you want to make your way to the ‘bottom right’ of the town, facing away from the mountains, i.e. towards the way the bus came.
Fortunately we met a large group of locals taking part in a traditional ceremony who pointed us in the right direction!
Ignore any signs that you see for Chugchilán and after a while you will start to leave the village and come to a fork in the road with two signs. Take the route pointing to Hostal Llullu Llama, not the one stating 'Isinvili auto' – this is the road that cars pass, and you want to take the walking trail. Walk the winding trail until you reach a second fork in the road. Take the right-hand, more rugged, path.
You will pass a small church on the right-hand side and follow the road with slight incline, before levelling out. You will see a couple of farms alongside a muddy path, and soon the path will take a second incline
The path starts to get steep and curve slightly round to the right – look to your left as you will see a small, grassy unmarked path (less than a metre in width) heading down the hillside. You should also see, as you near the bottom, an empty swimming pool. Head down towards it!
If you take the steeper, uphill path, you will be out of breath and will, after around ten minutes, get to this farmhouse. If you see this, you have come too far.
Once you take the correct, grassy path down the hill and meet the road, you will see a gated area to a swimming pool. Turn right down the road. As it starts to curve to the left, you will notice a small, grassy trail directly ahead of you. This curves down the hill and meets the road once again further down.
Take a further right, so that the river remains on the left-hand side, for around twenty minutes. You will pass a number of houses, and as the road starts to curve uphill to the right, you should see a house to your left and a small grassy pathway to the right-hand side of it. Take this path down to a trail, where after a few minutes you will see a large concrete bridge with signposts to Isinliví and Sigchos painted on.
Cross the river and turn right, walking for a few minutes, before taking the muddy footpath to your left up the hill. There will be trees to help you up - it can be quite slippery. Once you reach the road, turn left and continue into the village.
You will pass a school and church, after which the road will curve to the left. Take the grass footpath to the right.
This is the final hard slog to the road that leads you to Isinliví. It will take forty-five minutes or longer to reach the top, and is a series of switchbacks. You will come to a barbed wire fence around half way up – this gate encloses a herd of cows, so retie the rope once you have passed.
You will pass a second fence after around ten minutes, and after a gruelling final stretch you will reach the road once more.
This is the road that enters Isinliví, so give your legs a stretch and meander for around thirty minutes or so. You will reach the town, take a right until you see Hostel Taita Cristoball. Hostel Llullu Llama is just next door, and we highly recommend it.
Isinliví to Chugchilán
Wake up early and eat a hearty breakfast for your second day of hiking.
If you stayed in Llullu Llama, leave by the front door and take an immediate right. If you didn’t, find Llullu Llama and take the path directly to the left of the entrance.
You will take the earthy path down, around 20 metres. If you’re lucky, you may get to meet a llama to your left! Continue onto the trail that heads right.
Follow the trail all the way down the hill towards the river, ignoring any other tracks that head left or right. As you get closer to the river you will see a small bridge to the left. Ignore this and continue on. You will see a yellow marker on the rock next to the path and in fact, you will see splashes of paint along the trail throughout the day. These will primarily be red, orange or yellow, with the occasional white arrow. This is reassurance that you are heading the right way.
The river should stay to your left as you take the narrow, muddy path down. You will cross a small log bridge before continuing along the path. The trail will incline and you will walk along a thin path with a steep drop to the right-hand side. As the trail curves to the left, you will see a farm directly in front of you, and then another farm on the right-hand side. Continue walking across a pasture, keeping to the right.
Once you reach the end of this field, take the trail that heads to the right. After a short time you will reach a fork in the road – stay left. Soon after is a second fork that crosses a stream – keep right. You will descend down a narrow track deep between cliffs. Make sure you take a trail to the left, instead of heading right – this will take you down into the canyon.
The trail remains steady for around half an hour, with white cliffs and green pastures ahead. Once you progress around the cliffs, so they are on your left side, you will reach another fork in the path. Head to the right, downhill, towards a squelchy path closer to the river. The river should be on your right-hand side, and you will curve left with fields on both sides.
You will pass a wooden gate, and shortly after a barbed wire gate. After a time, you will spot a field to your left with a large boulder in the middle. Clamber over some rocks before reaching a field with eucalyptus trees behind. There will be some barbed wire and logs forming a fence, once you cross this field diagonally to your left. To the right there will be some small steps down. There will be a field on your left as you take the path close to the river.
After a few minutes, you will see a large log bridge with handles. Cross this and head upstream to your left, where you will see fields of cows to your right. After around fifteen minutes you will spot a suspension bridge to your left, and you should take the path heading right, away from the bridge.
At the top of this path you will reach a T-junction, with a small store directly in front of you. Take a left, and you will be on a winding path to the village of Itualo.
Once you pass the church, there will be a right shortly after, with a sign to Chugchilán that may even have a pig sleeping beside it (if you’re lucky). This is the steep track that takes you to the town of Chinalo; have some lunch here before the gruelling climb. It’s a long but obvious path, with plenty of switchbacks.
When you make it to the top, take a left as if you're walking back on your self, and go to the mirador, which offers great views of the valley. After, return to the top of the trail and take a left. You will soon be on an asphalt road, and this leads directly to Chugchilán. You will pass a ‘Welcome to Chugchilán’ sign around forty-five minutes from the centre.
Chugchilán to Quilotoa
Keep looking out for splashes of orange/red/white paint and arrows today. Bare in mind that you could be stuck in the clouds, especially in the afternoon, so follow these directions and the markings carefully, as it can be easy to get lost.
Regardless of which hostel you stayed at, you will want to head in the opposite direction to the way you entered the village, which is on a slight incline.
After reaching the blue library, head left and you will soon come to a junction with a sign stating Quilotoa is 10.24km away (not sure how accurate this is…)
Take the left-hand trail downhill as the sign suggests, down a dirt road. You will pass a few farms and houses before reaching a small stream. The road curves and you will begin to head uphill, and then round to the right.
Stay on this dirt road and you will eventually reach the village of La Moya. Pass the store on your right, a sports field on your right, another sports field on your left, and then bear right.
After a few minutes, there will be a grassy path off to your left alongside a fence – take this path uphill for around 200 metres until you reach the top. You will then turn right and begin to descend into the valley.
Listen out for the waterfalls as you head down the muddy path. You should be able to see a wooden lookout on the opposite side of the valley – that’s where you’re headed.
There is no bridge across the stream, so take care as you clamber to the other side. Head uphill, past the wooden lookout, and after a few minutes you will reach a road. Take a left as the sign suggests until you reach the village of Guayama Grande.
At the school, you will see signs on the right-hand side pointing to Quilotoa. Follow these signs across the field which ascends and joins a small trail.
Continue on this path, passing a few houses to your left. After a while, you will spot a large gate to your left, and a smaller gate to your right up a steep slope. It does not matter what gate you take, as you ultimately want to be at the top of this small hill; either cross the large gate and head right on the trail that hugs the fence around ten metres in front of you, or walk up the hill to the small gate.
You will see a bench to your left and a few pine trees lining a barbed wire fence. Take the trail that heads right, with the valley to your right-side and the line of pines to your left. Do not take the small track next to the line of pines (with a field to your right and valley behind you).
You will shortly meet a pine tree forest, which you will walk through before joining the dirt road. Expect to walk on this road for around an hour, as it zig-zags up the mountain through a series of curves, and then switchbacks. You will then arrive at a sandy area that is the crater rim, complete with a look-out and a small hut. Well done, you've made it!
It takes around an hour to get to the village of Quilotoa. Turn right at the hut and you will see trails heading to the left down into the crater, to the right heading away from the crater, and straight ahead up to the rim. Take the route straight ahead, clambering up the rocks to the top of the crater rim, passing an arrow on a boulder underfoot that confirms you are heading the right way. Continue on this path all the way to Quilotoa. The trail sometimes dips left and right, but should never stray too far from the top of the crater. If you find yourself heading down into the crater, you should retrace your steps.
Before too long - you will have made it!