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Quilotoa Loop

This emerald lake studded high atop volcanic crater is hikers' greatest reward


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High in the Ecuadorian Andes lies this emerald beauty—it has a height of 3900 m above the sea. The colour of the crater lagoon is the result of dissolved minerals, and the crater itself was formed after the eruption that occurred about 800 years ago. But you probably don't want to think of any chemistry or geology once you are exposed to this breathtaking panorama.

The crater lagoon is the final and highest point of the Quilotoa Loop—the bumpy trail across the mountains. Depending on your time limits, fitness, and desire for adventures, there are different route options. Provided that you want to make it a one-day trip with little hiking, you can simply take a bus from Latacunga to Quilotoa.

When you have more time and strength for a little hike, there's another light alternative—a trip by a bus to the town of Chugchilán where you can night and continue your adventure during a 5- to 6-hour hike to Quilotoa. However, it's most advisable to spend at least three to four days around, in order to fully explore the most scenic off-beaten highland paths in Ecuador.

Although you can make your own route, usually hikers begin their adventure in Latacunga and proceed to Isinliví, then Chugchilán, and finally Quilotoa. For a change, the way back to Latacunga could wind through Zumbahua. Nights in the Andes are truly cold, and you'll have to wear all clothes you've taken, and also cover oneself in a few blankets. If you don't have tents, there will be some cheap lodgings or hostels along the way for a night. Also occasional steep sandy slopes might cause some difficulties, but it's not that complicated unless it rains. Therefore, the hiking season coincides with the dry season in Ecuador, that is June to September.

To make your hike more enjoyable it's recommended to leave heavy bags in one of Latacunga hotels. Just take enough cash, some good snacks to nibble on while walking, and positive spirits, of course. After all, picturesque landscapes, wildlife encounters, farmers inhabiting the highlands, and naturally magic lagoon are definitely worth all the efforts.

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