Explore the Quilotoa Volcano Crater Lake – Ecuador

By: Evan & Melina

800 years ago a catastrophic eruption shook the Andes Mountains of Ecuador and plunged the area into darkness. After the ash smoke cleared what remained was the 3km (2 mile) wide caldera or crater where the top of the mountain once was.

Over the years the crater has become a beautiful blue lake that visitors flock to see.

You can choose to kayak, hike around the volcano and even camp at the bottom of the lake.

It is located on the Quilotoa Loop, a remote mountainous road that connects several high Andean communities with the city of Latacunga.

We began our journey to the Quilotoa volcano from the Hostel Sendero de Volcanes in Latacunga. We bought a decently cheap bus ticket at the chaotic Latacunga bus terminal. If you not  up for such an adventure, you can book private transportation from most hostels and hotels.

The windy bus ride climbed high into the mountains. We got a real feel of traveling with the locals as most of the bus was local indigenous people dressed in their traditional clothing. I wasn’t too sure the bull-fighting videos that played on the bus TV would be the best fit for everyone though.

After the 2-hour long bus ride, we arrived in the small village around Quilotoa. This village runs off the tourist industry, but still has a local feel. There are a few mountain-top hotels that are very affordable with nearby restaurants and dining. There is also a textile market where you can purchase alpaca blankets and products at low-cost, which can be sold in the U.S. and other countries for around 3 times the price of purchase.


The town rests on top of the crater, where you can view the lake in all its glory from above. If you choose to hike around the volcano you can get a guided tour, mules, or do it yourself. The 10 km hike circles the caldera and can be steep in some locations. It usually takes around 4-5 hours. Be aware of changing weather conditions. In the Andes you can literally have four seasons in one hour. We chose the other option of kayaking in the lake crater, rather than do the hike around the volcano.

To get down to the lake you must descend a steep-sandy trail that follows the crater. It takes around 1/2 hour and for those who may not want to walk you can rent guided mules.

The trail down to the lake.

The trail down to the lake.


At the bottom of lakeside there is primitive camping available. We would recommend this to camping lovers. Waking up in the crater of a volcano is something you don’t get to do every day.


We rented the kayaks which were priced by the hour at a locally-run rental shop located lakesid. Once you set off on the lake you on your own to explore. We had a relaxing cruise around the water than can be vividly blue in some parts due to the minerals in the water.


Kayakers on the lake.

Once you get on the lake you realize how big the crater actually is. With the two hours we had, we were only able to explore a small section. We also experienced, in those two hours, the four seasons. We went from a nice sunny day, to a cold wind, followed by thunderstorms and then back to a sunny day.

After having lunch on the shore we began walking back up the crater trail, which is a bit harder than going down. The altitude makes it difficult to breathe, so breaks are needed. After 45 minutes we arrived back at the top.

mules are available along the trail for those who do not want to walk.

Mules are available along the trail for those who do not want to walk.

Return to Latacunga

Finding our way back to Latacunga turned out to be more difficult than we thought. The bus we took there was supposed to return, but either seemed to be late or wasn’t coming. There was private transportation available for around 15 dollars, so if you have a group it’s not a bad price.

We didn’t want to pay and wanted more of an adventure, so we hitched a ride in the back of a pick-up truck that was going to the nearest town where we could get another bus. As we made our way down the mountain we passed by awesome landscapes and farming communities. Our company in the bed of the truck grew as locals and workers jumped in to find a ride home. We were able to chat in Spanish, but many of these rural communities first language is the native Inca-language of Quechua. We finally arrived in the village of Zumbahua where we thanked the driver then hopped on a bus to Latacunga.

Book a Tour

GreenGo Travel – This exciting Day Tour begins with pick-up from your hotel and a 4 1/2 hour drive that passes through towering volcanoes and stunning Andean views. Your private guide will introduce you to the Andes history and culture which includes stops at scenic and important historic areas. On specific days, it is recommended that you visit the local markets where you can witness the unique culture of the High Andes and purchase locally made alpaca-wool products. Upon arrival at Quilotoa you may choose to hike down to the lake or around to the highest peak along an incredible mountain trail. For those that may not be up for the hike, local mules are available to rent that will bring you down the steep mountain trail to the edge of the lake. After a day of exploration you will return to your hotel in the evening.

To book your Day Tour contact GreenGo Travel here- www.greengotravel.com or 

Call: 1-305-929-8980 / 593-2-603-4262

Email: info@greengotravel.com


 Additional Transport Options-

Private Transport – For those looking to avoid the confusion and stress of taking the bus, we recommend using Quito Capital Rides. Their spacious vans can hold up to 8 passengers including luggage. Services include friendly bilingual driver, transport to and from Quilotoa, pick-up and drop-off at your hotel, and the comfort and the flexibility of private transport. Transfer to and from the Quito airport are also available.

To book your private transport contact Rod Pilagonia at Quito Capital Rides

Phone: (593) 098-301-7323 or

Email – quitocapitalrides@gmail.com

private transport private transport

Overall, if you are looking for outdoor activities high in the Andes of Ecuador, Quilotoa is a must see site. How many places in the world can you kayak in the crater of a volcano?

It is located a few hours from Ecuador’s capital city of Quito and the accommodation and travel is definitely affordable.


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