Driving the Quilotoa Loop, Ecuador

So, first of all, what the fuck is the Quilotoa Loop, Kyle!?

 

Map 1: here you can see the loop and its location within relation to two of Ecuador’s tourism centres, Quito and Banos (de Santa Agua)

Map 2: Close up you can see the main towns that define the route, Toacoza, Sigchos, Quilotoa and Latacunga. It’s not important which direction you do.

I’d heard about the Quilotoa Loop as a hiking location rather than driving, and I’m sure testing your lungs at these heights is quite a rewarding challenge…but I’ve got a van baby! So no hiking necessary. (I joke). I do love a good hike, but with the car you’ve got to consider the logistics of hiking town-to-town like this, because then the car will be back where you started which can be problematic.

 

Road Conditions.

So I decided I wanted to drive it. I could see a white line on the map showing there was some sort of road, but wasn’t sure of the type of road and if it’d be suitable.

Initially I had visions that the road would be terrible, then I found a Youtube video that confirmed this. But what the hell, I thought; worst case we turn around and come back the same way.

Well it turns out that the video was old and that the roads have recently had a huge upgrade by the government and I mean a massive infrastructure project to build roads through the mountains. For a huge chunk of the journey the roads are brand new, smooth tarmac winding around the mountains offering spectacular views.

There are some areas of the old road still in use, but even then it’s just a typical south-american pothole road, nothing un-passable.

(Fear not, it’s completely possible to do this journey in any vehicle of your choosing)

The Route

From Quito (which is what I did).

Head south out of Quito on the E35.

Turn Right towards Toacazo when signposted.

Now you’re on The Loop so just follow it through the towns and villages.

You’ll pass through Sigchos and Quilotoa which are two of the main towns.

Arriving into Zumbagua you’ll be leaving The Loop here.

Turn Left onto the E30 to head towards Latacunga and back onto the E35 to head south.

 

Duration

This is debatable, because you could spend a fair few days here if you chose to incorporate a lot of hiking into your drive, or similarly just to enjoy some downtime in the mountains, parked up on a nice campsite. We planned to do it in 3d/2n, but ended up doing it in 2d/1n because we chickened out of how cold Quilotoa town was and chose not to sleep there.

(beautiful but freezing)

Where to Stay

(hosteria san jose)

Avoid Toacazo, it’s ugly and not positioned high enough in the mountains to have any particularly stunning views.

Hosteria San Jose, Sigchos; (£5p/p to park up and use facilities and Wifi). This place is really beautiful and also a lovely spot to park the van and allow you explore the eerily quiet town of Sigchos.

Quilotoa Town/Lagoon; The name of The Loop lends itself to the name of a town and the lagoon as well. So you have Quilotoa Loop, Town & Lagoon. The town is located on The Lagoon and there are a few decent spots to stay here. But I’d suggest parking up for “free” ($1 to enter the town by car) in the car park for “pesados” (heavy vehicles) which is opposite the main car park. From here you can walk up to the Lagoon.

Stop Off: as you’re leaving Quilotoa town heading South, there is a viewpoint with a swing over the Canyon. It’s on the left hand side. Keep yours eyes peeled and hope there are some local kids that want you to give them a push on the swing because it’s great fun!

Walking the Lagoon

When you arrive in the town of Quilotoa you’ll have a short walk up a steep hill. At the top of the hill will be waiting a spectacular view of the Lagoon and the volcano in the distance. Standing there it looks big, but not that big in a weird way and it’s tempting to think “lets walk round”.

But be warned it can take 4-6hours to walk around in total, it’s very steep with constant uphill, then downhill. The view is best from where you’re already stood at the viewpoint and the path is very slippery sand material (hiking poles recommended). Also at 3900m it’s not easy on the lungs.

We opted to walk for an hour or so in one direction and then turned around and came back. Two hours in total to get some free air in our lungs and it was nice!

 

Other Tips

(pull over to get those views)

  • You’re high up in the Quilotoa Loop and so there is plenty of potable water available.
  • Remember to fill up on gas on the main highways before entering The Loop.
  • Stop roadside and get out for killer views.
  • The small towns have decent shops where you can stock up on food supplies for cooking or buy food in local restaurants.
  • Take cash, no ATM’s

 

Enjoy! And let me know your experience in the comments if you do it!

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