14 km north of Zumbahua, within the Ilinizas Ecological Reserve, Quilotoa is the westernmost volcano in the Andes. But perhaps the most impressive thing about this 12,840 ft dormant volcano, is the lagoon that rests on its crater. Quilotoa has actually been listed on the “Top 15” most beautiful lagoons of volcanic origin in the world!
With a depth of 250 meters and minerals that give it an emerald/turquoise color, the breathtaking lagoon is A MUST for everyone visiting or living in Ecuador. On top of fantastic views, we love visiting Quilotoa for the experience, which includes kayaks, mule rides up to scenic viewpoints, camping and trekking.
A resting place in the Inca Route
To get to Quilotoa you have to make your way to Latacunga and then the nearby town of Zumbahua, where a road will take you up to the lagoon. During the ride, you will contemplate stunning views of the paramo. Approximately 4 thousand meters above sea level, it is said that Quilotoa was one of the last places of rest in the Sacred Inca Route for leader Atahualpa. To live the full adventure, we recommend camping, but you can also explore trails, rent kayaks or go birdwatching in a day’s trip.
A Day in Quilotoa
A 30-40 min trail takes you down to the lagoon and to the designated camping area. During your way down you’re going to have to stop and catch your breath, not necessarily because it’s demanding but because the view is simply striking.
Down at the crater, we suggest you rent kayaks and take a tour around the lagoon in order to appreciate the landscape from a different perspective. The 30min tour costs $3 per person. Because it can get pretty windy, we recommend to wear a jacket.
Another one of our top activities at the lagoon is to plan a picnic by the shore. It’s more than pleasant to sit down and snack in such a peaceful and astoundingly beautiful place. Don’t forget your camera because we promise you, you’ll want to capture this! Plus, sunsets here really are golden.
The way back from the lagoon is harder than the way down, and 40 min turn into 90 due to the steepness of the trail. If you get tired, suffer altitude sickness or just aren’t feeling it, you can rent a mule to take you! The value of the mule ride is $10 per person.
Remember to take a jacket, light and comfortable clothes for hiking, hiking boots/ booties, a water bottle, and power bars or snacks.
If you decide to stay the night, we have some final tips. 1. Don’t forget food supplies for the night. 2. Bring a good tent (one that’s made for the highlands and definitely not a beach tent). 3. Bring warm sleeping bags and 4. bring warm clothes. Notice we are making an emphasis on warm garment? It’s because the winds in Quilotoa blow strong at night and the temperature drops to almost 6ºC!
But we assure you, there is nothing that compares to waking up to that view: calm, turquoise waters, birds chirping, and the re-vitalizing, still, paramo. The next day you can just appreciate the lagoon, hike around, and eventually make your way back.
Entrance fee: Ilinizas Ecological Reserve is free of charge. However, parking for cars can amount to $5 and up to $10 for buses or vans.
How to get there: To get here you have to take the Panamericana Sur highway to Latacunga (1h 50 min). From there, Latacunga- La Maná path will lead you to Zumbahua. Once in Zumbahua, a paved road will take you to Quilotoa. The whole trip lasts approximately 3 hours and a half from Quito.