- Visit the majestic Lake Quilotoa
- Stay in family-run mountain lodges
- Enjoy some of Ecuador's breathtaking landscapes
- Learn about preserved traditions of the Kichwa people
- Travel through remote Andean villages and passes
Do your feet itch for the rugged trail? Do your lungs crave fresh mountain air? Does your curiosity yearn for an adventure that you can’t just read about in a tourist brochure? Then join Andean Discovery for five days of hiking or horseback riding along one of South America’s most scenic routes: The Quilotoa Loop.
Hidden in plain view just a few miles off the Panamerican Highway, this is one of Ecuador’s best-kept secrets. A bumpy ring road will take you off-the-beaten-path into Cotopaxi backcountry. The agrarian working landscape has a remote and relaxing atmosphere that feels a world apart from well-trodden cities and the much-visited Galapagos Islands.
Pairing exercise with exploration, you’ll wander through vast patchworks of hilly farmland, homey huts preserved in time, and trek in the shadow of snow-capped volcanoes. You will hike from lodge to lodge, with your guides infusing your journey with historical context, geological expertise, and cultural significance along the way until you reach the region’s most beloved icon: Quilotoa Lake. Locals believe this stunning water-filled crater has no bottom, and offers a portal to an underworld. Whether or not you believe these legends, Quilotoa Lake’s blue-green waters look magical and feel truly special, shimmering between volcanic rims.
In addition to spectacular nature, this route has cultural significance as well. The isolation of the loop has preserved traditions of the Kichwa-speaking people for centuries, which you can experience as you pass by locals along the way and enter the homes of villagers, who are known to invite strangers in for coffee and homemade bread. Make new friends and learn about their local customs as you sip a hot drink by the campfire.
Leave Quito behind as we head south along the famous Avenue of the Volcanoes. Watch the city disappear behind you, replaced with the shimmering image of snowcapped summits emerging on the horizon. On a clear day, the iconic Cotopaxi’s conical shape against a bright blue sky will announce your arrival into the Cotopaxi backcountry. After a two and a half hour drive, we will arrive in the remote village of Cuinco Panapass where green fields and the occasional farm animal will greet you.
Your trek begins with a three-hour hike to the isolated community of Insinliví, where you will find your first lodge. Llullu Llama fits naturally into the landscape with cozy rooms, a soul-warming fireplace and a sauna to ease the ache of your first day on the trail.
Overnight: Llullu Llama Lodge (L, D)
Your first full day of trekking will start by traversing the mountain landscape along the Tocahi River for six hours. You will descend into the canyon, then slowly climb out, surrounded by terraced farmland and cultivated valleys. Stop for lunch in the home of a farming family and enjoy home-cooked food as you learn about their lives.
Hit the trail again for sweeping views of pristine countryside, unspoiled by construction and modern civilization. After a full day on the trail, you will finish in the attractive country town of Chugchilán. Settle into the quiet sanctuary of Mama Hilda lodge, the perfect place to rest your weary bones. A nearby Italian monastery will provide pasta for a hearty dinner to help you refuel.
Overnight: Mama Hilda Lodge (B, L, D)
After an early morning departure, you will hike 5 hours to the majestic volcanic crater lake of Laguna Quilotoa, or Quilotoa Lake. This ethereal blue lake is a prime feature of Quilotoa region and its importance to the local people can’t be understated.
The journey to the lake will begin by following a narrow trail west out of town, ascending steadily up a switchback path for about two hours before a break in the intriguing Kichwa village of Guayama. Then, we continue south for two hours toward the lowest, sandiest part of the Quilotoa crater rim. Your reward at the top of the crater will be a spectacular view looking at the emerald-green lake with snowy volcano peaks in the distance. Since this pristine lake lacks an inflow outlet, its high alkaline content makes it impossible to drink. Explore the crater up close with a hike to the crater floor and kayak or canoe around, if you chose. Return to the crater rim on foot or on horseback. Spend the night at the rim of the crater at the high-altitude Shalala Lodge, 12,500 feet above sea level.
Overnight: Shalala Lodge (B, L, D)
Bid adios to Laguna Quilotoa and descend on a full day trek to La Posada de Tigua. This 19th century working hacienda and organic farm is located near the town of Tigua, which is internationally renowned for its painters. These talented artisans preserve the legends of the Andes with painting colorful landscapes on sheepskin canvas. You’ll have the opportunity to visit galleries and speak with artisans about their craft.
We spend our last lodge night at the eco-friendly La Posada de Tigua, where a water turbine generates electricity. Feast on roast mutton and lamb and fresh produce from the on-site organic farm.
Overnight: Posada de Tigua Organic Farm (B, L, D)
Sleep in for your final morning in Quilotoa or tour the family farm before returning to Quito via the Avenue of the Volcanoes. Even as the cityscape re-emerges on the horizon, you’ll retain the tranquility and intrigue of the mountains, the farmlands, and the lake long after hanging up your hiking boots. (B, L)
Once a traditional farmhouse, Llullu Llama is now a comfortable eco-lodge that boasts delicious home-cooked meals and awe-inspiring mountain views of the Ecuadorian Andes. The lodge offers unparalleled access to the famous Quilotoa Loop.
A family-run mountain lodge, Mama Hilda has been hosting adventurers for generations. The hospitality in this quaint eco-lodge is second to none. All of the food is prepared from scratch on site except for the homemade pasta, which is made in the nearby Italian Monastery.
Spend the night near the rim of Quilotoa crater at the high-altitude Shalala Lodge, 12,500 feet above sea level.