The Non-Hiker’s Guide to Getting Around the Quilotoa Loop

Growing up in the mountains of Montana, sometimes it’s easy for me to forget that not everyone comes with an innate love for hauling heavy loads up steeps hills until your collar bone bruises and walking in clunky boots until your blisters get blisters.  While it seems crazy to me (I mean, who wouldn’t love all those things?!), hiking simply isn’t for everyone.  But it seems a shame that a place like the Quilotoa Loop and all its beauty is limited only to hikers.  With all the focus on its hiking paths and its general inaccessibility to vehciles, it’s easy to assume that.  In reality, the Quilotoa Loop is available to all types of travelers; it just takes a bit more know-how and insider tips to see it. 

Latacunga

Getting In:

  • From Quito (1.5hr, $2.45): Buses leave Quitumbe Station (in the south) every 30 minutes. This bus drops you off on the side of the Pan-American Highway.  Walk eight blocks to the center or take a taxi for $1.50.
  • From Ambato (45min, $1): Buses depart every 15 minutes to Latacunga.

Getting Out:

  • To Quito: (1.5hr, $2.45): Buses depart every 15 minutes until 6pm.
  • To Ambato: (45min, $1): Buses depart Terminal Terrestre every 15 minutes until 6pm.
  • To Banos ($2): You can either take a bus to Ambato then change to one of the frequent buses to Banos.  You can also take a taxi from Latacunga for $1 to the Puente de San Felipe bus stop.  There you can take a direct bus to Banos.

 Pujili

Pujili is a small, colonial town located just 14 kilometers west of Latacunga.  While it is best known for its market, its brightly colored buildings, relics of the colonial days, provide a lovely environment for a stroll around the quiet streets.  It’s a perfect break from the bustle of both Latacunga and Quito. While it is a lovely place to visit for the day, but not a great place to stay the night, due to both its lack of activities and absence of tourist housing.

Getting In:

  • From Latacunga (30min, $0.45): Buses run every 15 minutes from Latacunga’s Terminal Terreste.

Getting Out:

  • To Latacunga (30min, $0.45): Buses run every 15 minutes from the main bus terminal next to the market back to Latacunga.
  • To Zumbahua/ Quilotoa: Buses run infrequently to Zumbahua and Quilotoa, but these buses do not depart form the main bus station.  Instead, walk up the main road until it curves to the left right at the base of the Pujili colored staircase.  If you wait there for a bus, you might even get offered a ride by a local, though these tend to be a little expensive ($15 to Zumbahua).

Saquisili

Located just north of Latacunga, Saquisili is most known for its Thursday market, hailed as the best in the region. While not as large as Latacunga, Saquisili is still a busy and bustling city, especially on market day.  While it is a little less charming than some of the other small villages on the loop, it is an interesting and eclectic place.  You never knew what you’ll find!

Getting In:

  • From Latacunga (25 min, $0.40): Buses run from Latacunga approximately every 15 minutes.  If you’re trying to get to the market or to switch to a bus that will take you to Isinlivi, get off at the last stop.

Getting Out:

  • To Isinlivi (2 hour, $2.50): A bus leaves to Isinlivi Thursday at 12pm.  The bus stop is located at the northeast corner of the main market square. Arrive early to buy your ticket and ensure a seat.  Availability is limited, especially on market day when locals are hauling large bags of purchased goods back home.
  • To Latacunga (25min, $0.40): Buses leave from corner of Colivar and Imbarura every 15 minutes.
  • To Chugchilan (3 hour, $2.50): Buses leave M-F at 12pm, Sat at 3:30, and Sun at 12 and 12:30.
  • To Quito (2 hr, $2) Leave when full from Plaza Gran Colombia (food market), last bus at 4pm
  • To Sigchos (2hr, $2): Buses leave Mon-Fri at 10am, 11am, 12pm, 12:30pm 1:30pm.  On Tue Thur, Fri buses also leave as 3:30pm.  On Sat and Sun, buses leave as 5:30pm

Sigchos

While small compared to Quito and even Latacunga, Sigchos is easily the largest town on the Loop itself, and is thus often considered to be the starting point for the hike. 

Getting In:

  • From Latacunga (2.5 hr): Buses depart Mon-Fri at 9:30am. 10:30am, 11:30am, 12pm, and.  1pm.  On Sat and Sun they depart at 9:20am and 5pm.
  • From Chugchilan: A bus departs at 3am and a milk truck departs at.
  • From Isinlivi: A bus departs at 5:30am or milk truck departs at 9:15am.

Getting Out:

  • To Latacunga: Buses depart at 11am, 2pm, and 4pm to Latacunga.
  • To Chugchilan- Mon-Fri- 2pm, Sat 5:30pm, Sun 2pm and 2:30pm 

Isinlivi

Isinlivi is must-stop while hiking the Quilotoa Loop, being an absolutely charming town with a friendly local population.  The two hostels in town are unbeatable in terms of beautiful grounds and friendly staff and the area around Isinlivi offers a host of different day hikes outside the Loop itself.

Getting In:

  • From Latacunga ($2.50, 2.5 hours): Buses depart form Latacunga Mon, Tue, Wed, and Fri at 12:15pm and 12:45pm

Getting Out:

  • To Sigchos: A bus departs at 5:30am or milk truck departs at 9:15am.
  • To Latacunga (2.5 hours): Buses depart Tue, Thurs, and Fri at 2:30am and 5:00am.  On Monday, buses depart at 5:00am and 2:30pm.  On Wednesday, buses depart at 6:30am and 7:00am.  On Saturday, buses depart at 2:30am and 4:00am.  On Sunday, buses depart at 6:45am and 1:00pm.
  • To Guantualo: A bus departs Tues-Sun at 1:00pm and Monday at 3:30pm.  On Mondays, you can also find cars going from Isinlivi to the Guantualo market on which you can hitchhike.

Chugchilan

Chugchilan is one the key stopping points along the Quilotoa Loop, providing an excellent place for hikers to rest in between the strenuous hikes from Isinlivi to Quilotoa.  However, Chugchilan shouldn’t just be thought of as a one-night stopover.  While Chugchilan itself is quiet and small, the area offers a magnificent host of things to do and see.  Stay a few nights at one of the many nice hostels in town and explore the area.  Aged cheese from the Chugchlian cheese factory is a must try!

Getting In:

  • From Latacunga Via Sigchos: Buses depart from Latacunga’s Terminal Terrestre every day at 11:30am and 13:00pm.
  • From Latacunga Via Zumbahua: One bus departs from Latacunga’s Terminal Terrestre every day at 12:00pm.
  • Note: Major construction is currently being done on sections of the road between Quilotoa and Chugchilan and between Sigchos and Chugchilan.  While many of newly paved sections are much improved, be prepared for short delays behind construction equipment.
  • Often times, locals are willing to give rides to hitchhikers for a small fee ($1pp) from other loop towns to Chugchilan and beyond.

Getting Out: Getting out of Chugchilan is much more complicated and less consistent than getting there. See the below chart for the bus schedule.

Quilotoa

The pinnacle of any visit to the Quilotoa Loop is, of course, the town of Quilotoa itself, perched directly on the rim of the spectacular Quilotoa volcano.  Walk two minutes outside of any hostel in town and be greeted by the beautiful waters of the lake below.  For hikers walking southward, it is a wonderful and rewarding end to a long and grueling hike uphill.  While the town of Quilotoa is small, with few buildings besides hostels and artisan shops, it is a very low-key and beautiful place to spend a day or two to recover from your journey.

Getting In:

  • From Latacunga (2hr, $3): First take a regular bus to Zumbahua then find a frequent collective pick-up truck to Quilotoa.
  • From Chugchilan (2hr, $2): 1:30pm, 4:00pm
  • Hiking from Chugchilan
  • *Note: If coming from the bus stop, you will need to pay $2 to enter the village.  If hiking into the town, you can avoid this cost.

Getting Out:

  • To Latacunga (2hr, $2): Buses leave every hour on the half hour to Latacunga, with the last bus leaving between 4-4:30pm.

Don't be afraid to hitchhike!

For the unseasoned traveler, the prospect of hitchhiking can be a little scary, especially if you're from the U.S., or some other country that goes so extreme as to make hitchhiking illegal because it is "dangerous".  On the Quilotoa Loop, it's perfectly safe.  Despite some of the dangers of thieves you find in Quito and even on buses out of Latacunga, the farmers and villagers on the Loop are very kind and respectful.  They usually change small fees (more expensive than a bus, but far less expensive than private arranged transport) that can range anywhere from $1 (for milk trucks, which are simply pick-up trucks that transport both milk and people) to $20 for longer journeys (like from Quilotoa to Isinlivi, an hour drive).  We took the latter journey in a plant delivery van, having to make various stops along the way for our driver to deliver huge bundles of grasses to different towns.  The transportation options are varied and quirky to say the least.  When in doubt, thumb out.

 The plant delivery truck we took from Quilotoa to Isinlivi.  Our driver was very friendly, and tried to converse with us as best as any of us could possibly do given the language barrier.

The plant delivery truck we took from Quilotoa to Isinlivi.  Our driver was very friendly, and tried to converse with us as best as any of us could possibly do given the language barrier.