Lake Quilotoa Area
Key information: Lake Quilotoa Area
- The collapse of an ancient volcano has produced the superb Quilotoa caldera, with cliffs falling of some 500m to a startlingly turquoise, mineral-rich lake.
- The rim of the caldera site at around 3,800m, with canyons radiating from it. The area is exceptionally rugged, a maze of valleys, canyons and gullies carved into the soft volcanic rock.
- A variety of superb walks.
- Walkopedia rating93
- Natural interest17
- Human interest8
- Negative points1
- Total rating93
- Note: Negs: Altitude
- Length: Your choice
- Maximum Altitude: 3,893m
- Level of Difficulty: Variable
This remarkable volcanic caldera lake sits in the Cordillera Occidental west of the Central Valley, not that far from Cotopaxi.
The collapse of an ancient volcano produced this superb roughly circular caldera, with cliffs falling some 500m to a startlingly turquoise, mineral-rich lake.
The rim of the caldera sites at around 3,800m, with canyons radiating from it. The area is exceptionally rugged, a maze of valleys, canyons and gullies carved into the soft volcanic rock, with spikes and crags telling of a different volcanic input.
The area feels very different from other parts of the Ecuadorian Andes; some places, with gullies gouging into dry yellow plateaux and hillsides, are remarkably reminiscent of the loess lands of northern China.
An additional joy of walking here is the still very intact indigenous way of life - although this must be at risk with the recent completion of good roads from Latacunga.
Wildlife includes various humming birds, "stars of the high country" as Edmundo Vega puts it, falcons and other raptors, and endless other birds.
You need to spend at least one night in the area, as you would be mad not to do at least two walks here.
Lake Quilotoa Circuit: a thrilling and fascinating 5 hr circuit around the rim of this extraordinary caldera.
Lake Quilotoa to Chugchilian: this walk gives you arguably the very best of the Quilotoa area: a stretch round part of the rim of the caldera, then a long downhill march into the Rio Sihui canyon, then a slog back up through fascinating side canyons to Chugchilian. 5-8 hrs.
Edmundo's Skywalk: a variety of remarkable landscapes and experiences in a bit over two hours: descend into the side-canyons of the deep Rio Sihui gorge, ascend back on a knife-edge ridge, then explore plateau-top farmland. Gorgeous.
Chugchilian to Sigchos: climb to the Cordillera Chugchilian (the last high ridge of the Andes in this area) and wind round and down to Sigchos to the north. Huge views, an interesting and still-traditional way of life to inspect and some (minor) Inca ruins to boot. 1-2 days.
Other options include:
- From Chugchilian to Guangaje crossing the deep Toachi gorge then climbing to high paramo grasslands. (2 day)
- from Chugchilian to Pucuyacu, crossing the ridge above Chugchilian then dropping through cloud forests (at 3,000m -ish) to the lowland rainforests.
The area is so rich and varied, you could take off doing almost any track a path and have an interesting time. The Black Sheep Inn has a selection of further walks to choose from.
This can be tough walking in with uncertain weather, where altitude can cause real problems. Come fully prepared, including proper acclimatization.
Have a look at TripAdvisor - there are tens of millions of reviews, so you may get good, current views on guides, places to hike and places to stay in the area.
Other accounts: share your experiences
Your comments on this walk, your experiences and suggestions, and your photos are very welcome. Where appropriate, you will be credited for your contribution.
Books and Maps
Books on this walk
Ecuador Climbing and Hiking Guide – Viva/ Rob Rachowiecki and Mark Thurber. THE walking book. But evidently out of print and vilely expensive second hand on Amazon, as of end 2015. Available as an e–book. There is a Bradt predecessor from 2004, which is, obviously, out of date in places but much cheaper!
Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands– Lonely Planet/Regis St Lois.
LIVE Travel Guide to Quito, Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands.
Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador Footprint Handbook by Robert Kunstaetter and Daisy Kunstaetter
Ecuador and Galapagos, Viva Travel Guides by Lorraine Caputo and Chris Klassen
The Rough Guide to Ecuador & the Galápagos Islands by Melissa Graham and Harry Ades
Ecuador – Insight Guides
Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands, Moon Handbooks. We have to say we were underwhelmed in 2015.
Travels Among the Great Andes of the Equator – the great C19 mountaineer Edward Whymper’s classic account.
Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands - Travellers’ Wildlife Guides – gorgeous, good illustrations.
Maps aren’t great, but there are topographical maps available and worth getting: 1:50,000 Pilaló and Sigchos. GPS can be useful.
Best times to walk/weather
Best times to walk
Lying across the equator, Ecuador does not have seasons as those from temperate climates would understand them. Late June to early September, and December and early January, are best. February to May are the wettest months.
Very changeable. Even if you are there in the “dry” season, come prepared for both hot sun and rain.
It often gets cloudy in the afternoons, so usually best to start early.
Zumbahua is the main local town.
Most people fly in to Quito or Guayaquil. You can fly internally in Ecuador. Skyscanner is an excellent (relatively new) site for finding the flights you need; otherwise try Lastminute.com, or look at what’s available on Tripadvisor.
There are plentiful buses in Ecuador, and it is viable to get to most places this way, but they can be crowded.
Car hire is reasonably easy, but driving isn’t straightforward, not least because of the lack of roadsigns. Local taxi services generally exist in the towns, can (eg) take to or pick you up from a roadhead, or transport luggage.
Those on organised expeditions will be transported from/to arranged points.
You can arrange a guide. See below.
See Walk Summary above.
Possible problems, health, other warnings
· Altitude: Likely to affect you a bit: expect at least to puff and perhaps a mild headache. Acclimatize appropriately, come prepared to cope.
· Mountain weather: snow, rain, severe cold and wind are possible at any time of year and the weather can change rapidly. Come prepared.
· Heat and strong sun. Carry enough water and protect yourself.
· Heights: can be dangerous; not for those who have difficulties with heights.
· Canyon dangers: canyons can be lethal, particularly as a result of flash floods. Assess and prepare for all risks on those walks involving canyons. In particular, check the weather carefully.
· This is remote country: food and other supplies will not be readily available and help may be hard to get if things go wrong.
· Bulls: can be encountered – keep your distance if you see them.
· Beware of dogs: carry sticks.
· Health risks: you may not get prompt medical help of a standard available elsewhere if you become ill. Potential problems can include malaria. Come prepared, including getting all appropriate inoculations/medications in good time.
· Be sensitive about photographing people: don’t without permission. Ask permission if in doubt about whether they would mind.
See also the websites in our useful links page for more detailed, and up-to-date, information.
Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and problems can arise on any walk. Many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks and possible problems. This website cannot, and does not purport to, identify all actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to a walk or a country. Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information.
Make sure you have appropriate insurance.
Guided or independent?
You can do these walks independently, but you will need to be self-sufficient, so come prepared.
Some people form or join organised/supported expeditionswhen doing multi-day walks. Given the remoteness of the country, many will prefer to do it this way, and travelling here with a knowledgeable guide has real advantages. Choosing a suitable guide or company is of course vital, and the guidebooks contain good advice in this regard.
If hiring a guide locally, meet him/her and get comfortable before committing. Make sure all requirements are understood and agreed – including how you will eat and the importance of avoiding illness, as well as overnighting and, of course, remuneration!
Expedition organisers include:
High Places – we have used them (elsewhere) and been very happy
Check TripAdvisor for some reviews of this walk and walk organisers which may prove helpful.
PLEASE HELP Walkopediaby recommending any reputable tour organizers that you know of – local or otherwise.
Walkopedia stayed at the charming Black Sheep Inn in its superb hillside location near Chugchillián. www.blacksheepinn.com. Very helpful people, have created a network of walks in the Chugchillián area, can arrange transport and guides.
Zumbahua is a good base, with accommodation. And there are places to stay at the slightly depressing village at Lake Quilotoa’s rim.
The guidebooks have a selection of possible accommodation.
See what the commentary on Tripadvisor is on possible places to stay – although do take their reviews with a pinch of salt, as they can be “interested”.
A good range of hotels can be found on the unimaginatively named but effective Hotels.com.
Other information and tips
Useful websites and information
There are many websites with relevant information. Here are some that we think are useful or have been recommended to us.
As usual, a good starting place. ·
see if National Geographic has
any relevant pages ·
Try Flickr for pictures of this walk. ·
Have a look at TripAdvisor
– there are tens of millions of reviews, so you may get good, current views on
this area. ·
is a useful site if you can read Spanish. The automated translation means it’s
not ideal for non-Spanish speakers, but it does have some good trail maps.
· Wikipedia As usual, a good starting place.
· see if National Geographic has any relevant pages
· Try Flickr for pictures of this walk.
· Have a look at TripAdvisor – there are tens of millions of reviews, so you may get good, current views on this area.
· Wikiexplora is a useful site if you can read Spanish. The automated translation means it’s not ideal for non-Spanish speakers, but it does have some good trail maps.
Other things to do in the area
Ecuador has a huge variety of great walks. There is likely to be a good walk within range wherever you may be, in the mountains at least.
Mountain biking, climbing, some white water rafting, birdwatching.
Culture, history (Inca, other pre-Spanish, colonial) and people watching.
We are not a shopping website. But, there are beautiful and interesting things to be found, and anything bought from local people must be of some help to this poor area. So, wallets out! (And don’t try to extract the very last cent when bargaining…)
Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and potential problems, and many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks, dangers and problems. Problems of any sort can arise on any walk. This website does not purport to identify any (or all) actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to any particular walk.
Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information.
share your experiences
Add your experiences, suggestions and photos. We would be delighted to receive your writing and ideas (which will be attributed appropriately where published).
Anyone planning an expedition to this place should see further important information about this walk.
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