The Quilotoa loop is becoming a popular excursion for tourists as it offers a chance to see a part of highland Ecuador away from the Panamericana. The clear highlight of the circuit is Laguna Quilotoa, a sulphurous lake in the crater of an extinct volcano. It is an impressive sight at any time but on a sunny day, when the water looks emerald green and the high peaks of the Illinizas are visible in the distance, the view from the top of the crater is mindblowing.
Quilotoa village is 20 minutes drive north of Zumbuahua along a narrow, semi-paved road. Only when you clamber up the stone steps from the car park to the rim is the magnificent crater revealed to you below. All around is a magnificent, mountainous landscape. It is possible to walk around the crater (approximately 5 hours) or descend down a steep scree path to the crater floor. Mules are available to take people down and / or up (3 hours approx. round trip). At the top villagers attempt to sell a range of warm garments and souvenirs. The most interesting may be the simplistic but detailed Tigua paintings. From Quilotoa it is also possible to walk across the valley floor to other villages. This walk can be extended to several days.
The Quilotoa loop comprises the paved road west from Latacunga to Zumbuahua (which continues down to Quevedo on the coastal plain), an unpaved, winding track between Zumbuahua and Sigchos to the north, passing Quilotoa and an almost paved road between the Panamericana and Sigchos. Stopping and staying along it you will find great opportunities for walking, horse-riding, mountain-biking (if you’ve brought your bike) or just to breathe in the crisp mountain air and observe the indigenous farmers at work.
I’ll consider the loop starting from Latacunga as firstly that is how I first did it and secondly, it’s the easiest direction to use buses. The Panamericana passes through the outskirts of Latacunga disguised as an insignificant urban street. An unsigned turn-off leads west towards Zumbuahua. The road is paved and spectacular. After passing the quiet village of Pujilí it climbs up to reveal magnificent views back down the Avenue of the Volcanoes with the shallow curve of the valley revealed. With luck you can catch a glimpse of Tungurahua and Chimborazo in the distance. You pass eucalpytus trees and small farms. Further on, the cultivated land gives way to the bleaker light green grasses of moorland (páramo). Looking back you can enjoy a magnificent view of Cotapaxi to the east and the two Illinizas to the north. The road descends again, sneaking around the hillside, passing small isolated houses which form part of indigenous communities. You can often see families with their animals near the roadside. The descent continues until Zumbuahua, a small settlement of scattered red-brick buildings which has a seemingly permanent work in progress to improve the main road and central square through the village. Some basic hotels and dining rooms can be found here.