I just came back from a trip with 4 clients who wanted to make their way from Quito to Cuenca and find things to do close to Quito. I hadn’t been to Cuenca in a long time so I wanted to know what all the fuss was about. The tour lasted three days and had great stops at Quilotoa crater lake, Latacunga, Baños, Ingapirca and finally the beautiful city of Cuenca.
Quito to Quilotoa Crater Lake
My clients were staying at a hotel close to Quito airport. After the hotel pick-up, we made our way to Quilotoa. The drive takes about 3-4 hours depending on traffic.
Since we left from the airport area in Quito, we took a side road that takes you all the way to the Aloag area, here you have to pay the toll and enter the Panamericana highway. Furthermore, the highway is well kept and has a total of 8 lanes. We made it to Quilotoa around midday.
Tigua – a great stop on the way to Quilotoa
We made a stop at the town of Tigua where you can find local artisans who are skilled in painting Andean landscapes and crafting beautiful and colorful masks depicting the animals and traditions of the area.
On the way up to Quilotoa, I’m sure we saw an Andean fox. You get to see an array of street dogs along the road. However, this particular one didn’t quite look like a dog. It had a pointy snout and the characteristics of a fox. By the time I had hit the brakes, the “fox” disappeared and got lost in the paramo (Andean grasslands)
The Ecuadorian Grand Canyon
A little known fact about the tour to Quilotoa is that you can stop by and observe the Toachi Canyon. Also known as the “Ecuadorian Grand Canyon”. You can stop at a lookout point along the way. You make your way through a small pine forest, where you get a gorgeous view of the Canyon. Lava from an eruption 1800 years ago formed the canyon. At the lookout spot, you can also take a picture with a llama for $1 USD. One of my clients was crazy about seeing llamas and alpacas and was quite excited about getting close and personal with one.
You can also see an ancestral indigenous hut made from straw here. Some nifty handicrafts and learn how the indigenous live in this area. Very eye-opening.
Arrival to Quilotoa town
Then we finally made it to Quilotoa town. As you arrive you will have to pay $2 USD per car for parking and use of bathroom facilities. And then you register at the gate. You will have to provide your full name, nationality, passport number, and signature.
Very important tip – Beware of the altitude
Quilotoa is pretty high-up. Its 3914 meters high at the top of the crater. Keep in mind that the elevation of Quito is about 2850 meters and the elevation at the top of the Teleferico in Quito is 3945 meters. Do everything in slow-motion at first. Take short steps, walk slowly and regulate your breathing. Even though I told my clients about this and warned them about the altitude, they went down to the crater lake and came back up and one of them got quite dizzy and felt terrible. Don’t let this happen to you and make sure you follow your guide’s instructions and take it easy. I was able to attest that they do sell Coca Tea at Quilotoa so a good idea would be to drink some upon arrival to have energy and offset the altitude sickness.
Thoughts on Quilotoa … a must-visit
Quilotoa Crater Lake is awesome. I think the French passenger described it perfectly, as soon as he was able to get a glimpse of the lake he exclaimed “MAGNIFIQUE”. It is a must-visit during your Ecuador travels. Some travelers like to tour Quilotoa and the entire Quilotoa Loop which includes stops at Chugchilan, Isinlivi, Sigchos, etc. For this, you will need about 3 days to truly enjoy the loop and hostel-jump and trek the area.
I was able to take some great pics of Quilotoa Crater Lake from a top. I was driving so I didn’t trek down to the lake as the other travelers did. It takes about 45 minutes to go down to the lake and 1hr30 minutes to make it back. At the lake, you can trek around or you can rent kayaks and explore the lake that way. I was able to spot a bunch of people kayaking on the lake.
Once the clients made their way back up we went for a quick lunch at one of the many restaurants located in the Quilotoa complex. After lunch, we walked around, took some pictures of the surroundings and llamas found there.
Check out a video … Quilotoa is awesome!
It’s a great place to walk around, explore and take in the magnificent sights.
We headed out at around 4 pm. You should not leave later than 4 pm, the whole area gets covered in fog and driving back to the highway is tricky and dangerous. Once we made it back to the highway we didn’t have to travel far since my clients were staying at a nice comfortable hotel in Latacunga called – Villa Tacunga. I stayed at a nearby hostel since I really wanted to get the hostelling experience during this trip and did just that.
The hostel I booked had me stay in a shared dormitory with other travelers. Nevertheless, I didn’t spend much time in my room. Instead, I decided to go for a walk around Latacunga to find something for dinner and to do at night. I enjoyed Latacunga, I always passed by this town on my way to Ambato and thought it was a blah town. To my surprise, the historic center (quite lovely and well-preserved) had pedestrian-only streets filled with bars, funky restaurants, and cafes.
Latacunga: An unexpected surprise!
I had a great time in Latacunga, was able to walk around and take in the historic center with a great cup of coffee and some good eats.
If you are thinking of visiting Quilotoa Crater Lake or the Cotopaxi Volcano Park, I would suggest an overnight trip instead of a day tour. The trip is exhausting and driving back immediately is not ideal. Furthermore, being tired takes away from a good experience. However, since we stayed in Latacunga we had time to freshen up and rest after the tour of Quilotoa, Additionally, we were able to go out at night in Latacunga where you get to meet locals and have a meaningful experience.
Getting ready for the next adventure…
The next day we were going to make our way to the town of Baños. The good news here was that we were already halfway there from Quito and didn’t have to wake up too early. I took a long shower, had an nice relaxed breakfast and picked up my clients from their hotel. We left Latacunga at around 9 am and began our way to Baños.
TO BE CONTINUED in PART 2: Latacunga to Baños