As I’ve mentioned on my previous post, there are several day trips that you can do from Quito due to its relatively close proximity to certain popular attractions. The two most popular ones are the day trips to Cotopaxi and Quilotoa. A lot of travelers recommend spending at least one night in Cotopaxi— there’s just so much area to explore and you’ll be missing out on a lot if you’re just going on a day trip. For Laguna Quilotoa, a day trip should be enough if you just want to see the lake.
Of course the cheapest way to get there is via public transport, and luckily it isn’t complicated. First you should head to the Quitumbe bus station in Quito. As I’ve also mentioned on my previous post, a cab should set you back at least 10 USD. Depending on the time of day it could cost more, but it definitely won’t cost more than 20 bucks. At the Quitumbe bus station look for one of those ticketing counters that sell tickets to Latacunga. A one way tickets costs 2 USD. There are buses leaving for Latacunga every 30 minutes or so because this is a very popular route for locals. There’s no need to worry in case you missed the first bus. However, since Quilotoa is about 4 hours away from Quito, I suggest catching a bus that leaves at around 7 or 8 AM so that you won’t need to rush through your hike to the lake. The journey from Quito to Latacunga takes about 1-2 hours. Once you arrive you can easily catch a bus heading to Quilotoa. A one way ticket costs 3 USD and the journey takes another 2 hours. The first bus leaves at 6 AM. If you leave Quito at around 7 AM you can easily catch the 10 AM bus from Latacunga to Quilotoa.
Alternatively you can join one of those tours leaving from Quito. You can easily book a tour online if your hostel or hotel doesn’t offer one. These usually cost around 45 to 60 USD per person. You’d see more expensive tours but these basically take you to the same spots, so anything more than 60 USD is kind of a rip off. 45 bucks isn’t exactly cheap, but it would save you from the trouble of planning your route. There are also other stops on these tours like a local market, and they will drop you off at different viewing areas in Quilotoa. Also, lunch is included. If you have at least 45 USD to spare going on a tour might be a better option.
Quilotoa is mesmerizing, no doubt about it. That bright green color of the lake was hypnotizing. From Comunidad Quilotoa, heading down to the lake takes about 30 minutes. Once you reach the lakefront you can rent a kayak for 3 USD an hour. I suggest spending some time by the lake because heading back up can be quite strenuous if you choose to hike. It took me more than one hour to get back. Some of the people I was with chose to ride one of those horses and mules which cost 10 USD. I didn’t want to spend 10 bucks so I chose to do it the hard way. I regretted it midway though because it started to rain real hard. In a span of several hours around the crater, I experienced extreme sunshine, cloudy weather, thick fog with zero visibility, a slight drizzle, then heavy rain— each one lasting for 30 minutes or so. The weather is unpredictable and changes suddenly so I advise bringing a raincoat or an umbrella when you plan on doing a day trip here. Because it was sunny when we left Quito, I was totally unprepared and I got really soaked— good thing I brought an extra shirt and some dude lent me his extra pair of shorts.
You can walk around the crater and this would take 6-8 hours depending on your pace. Obviously this isn’t feasible if you’re doing a day trip, but if you’re spending a night in Comunidad Quilotoa or in one of the nearby villages this is one activity you can do.
You’ve probably heard of the Quilotoa Loop. This is a hiking trail that takes 3 days. I didn’t do this but I’ve met several people who did and they were highly recommending it. It starts in Quilotoa and ends in the village of Sigchos. During the hike you’ll pass through 2 other villages in between. Since these villages aren’t part of the usual touristy areas, you’d get a more authentic feel when you interact with the locals residing in these villages. If you can spare a couple of days it might be a good idea to do this hike. Many travelers do this on their own without a guide. Many locals will point you in the right directions so it’s difficult to get lost.
I didn’t expect I’d like Quilotoa as much as I did. I actually regret just doing a day trip. Don’t get me wrong, I still think one day is enough to see the lake. But if you love hikes and nature in general, you’ll probably wish you could stay much longer.