Quilotoa Lake Ecuador | Laguna de Quilotoa

We had been walking for 45 minutes and had absolutely no idea where we were. Our plan had been to follow the signs from Sigchos to Isinlivi, but those signs were extremely few and far between.

At every junction, we had a debate about which way to go. But in an area where mobile coverage was nonexistent, there was no way to know for sure whether we were on the right track.

Hiking the Quilotoa Loop Sigchos to Isinlivi Ecuador

And then – a stroke of luck! We saw 2 hikers approaching from the opposite direction. They caught sight of us and yelled “Sigchos??” We responded by waving and yelling back “Isinlivi??”

I’ve never been more excited to see 2 complete strangers in my entire life. Not only were we heading the way they’d come from (so we were on the right track!) – they also had a map! With extremely detailed instructions and the odd photo!

Since we were so near their destination of Sigchos, they very kindly gave us their map. We had to follow the directions backwards (not as easy as it sounds!), but those guys were lifesavers.

Welcome to the Quilotoa Loop!

Quilotoa Lake Ecuador
Quilotoa Lake

The highlight of the Loop is the Quilotoa lake (above). You can just take a bus straight there, but if you want to do some hiking through the picturesque Andean highlands as well, do the Loop.

Your journey starts at Latacunga, the nearest big city. We took the following route: Latacunga → Sigchos → Isinlivi → Chugchilán → Quilotoa → Latacunga. Some people include a stop at the town of Zumbahua between Quilotoa and Latacunga.

Because it’s a loop, you can also go the other way, starting at Zumbahua / Quilotoa and heading towards Sigchos / Isinlivi. This is easier (less overall ascents) but less popular because you don’t get the grandstand finish at the Laguna de Quilotoa.

Sigchos to Isinlivi Ecuador Quilotoa Loop
On the road from Sigchos to Isinlivi

Latacunga

You can get here from Quito by bus, from the Quitumbe terminal in the south. The journey is 1.5 hours and buses are very frequent.

We took a taxi from the Latacunga bus terminal to our hostel, Hostel Sendero de Volcanes ($22/night). It had an in-house restaurant – perfect for people like us who were too lazy to go out to get food!

It also has a luggage storage service which is perfect for when you do the multi-day Quilotoa Loop hike. Most of the hikers that we met on the Quilotoa Loop stayed at Hostal Tiana, though.

Tip: Taxi rides within the city are a flat rate of $1.25. We didn’t know that and got charged $2 by a less-than-honest driver!

Sigchos

There are a couple of buses a day from the Latacunga bus terminal to Sigchos. To get an early start on our full-day hike, we took the 9.30am bus.

We followed the advice on some blogs and loaded up on snacks from the nearby Santa Maria supermarket, but bought way too much and had a lot left over at the end of the Loop!

The bus journey took about 2 hours. Practically everyone on it was heading for the Loop, so it would’ve been a good time to make some friends (especially friends with maps!). Oh well, you know what they say about hindsight.

Sigchos to Isinlivi Ecuador Quilotoa Loop
On the road from Sigchos to Isinlivi

Sigchos to Isinlivi

We ended up wandering around Sigchos, asking for directions to Isinlivi.

Everyone pointed us towards the main road and gave us weird looks when we said we were going to walk there. Apparently only crazy tourists walk all the way to Isinlivi! (Can’t blame them.)

We only knew two things: that we were heading towards Hostel Llullu Llama in Isinlivi and that the hostel had painted some llamas along the trail to guide people there (and away).

So when we saw a sign for it, we peeled off the main road and followed the dirt road.

Sigchos to Isinlivi Quilotoa Loop

You know the rest – we got thoroughly lost, but met the 2 hikers coming from Isinlivi (from Llullu Llama, actually!) and made it to the hostel in one piece and only slightly traumatised.

Because navigating in reverse is trickier than it sounds, we missed a few turns, got lost a few times and braved a few “adventure routes” – think sliding down very steep hills of long grass with no discernible path down.

A hike that should’ve been 3 or 4 hours long turned into 5.5 hours! I couldn’t help but be jealous of this peacefully slumbering pig we passed on the way:

Sigchos to Isinlivi Quilotoa Loop

Towards the end we somehow caught up with an American couple also heading for the same hostel, and finished the hike together. It was great to have company, because more people = more excuses to take a break!

The last part of the hike mostly involved going uphill, so we took it very slowly.

Sigchos to Isinlivi | Quilotoa Loop | Ecuador hiking

And it rained on and off the entire time. All I can say is thank goodness for rain gear!

Distance covered: 14.1 km in 5.5 hours.

Sigchos to Isinlivi Ecuador Quilotoa Loop

Lessons learned that day:

  1. Always have a map. Pro tip from a fellow hiker on the Loop: put GPX tracks from Wikiloc in an offline GPS (like OpenStreetMap).
  2. 2 heads are definitely better than 1, when it comes to things like figuring out whether the left turn on the map is this turn or that one 500m back
  3. Nothing beats the sheer joy and relief when you see signs that you’re on the right track… except arriving at your destination!

Sigchos to Isinlivi Quilotoa Loop Ecuador

Hostal Llullu Llama, Isinlivi

There are only a handful of hostels in Isinlivi, but we picked this one because of the rave reviews we’d read online (like this one from Along Dusty Roads).

We finally stumbled into the hostel just before dark, all damp and exhausted, and it felt like Christmas had come early.

Hostal Llullu Llama Isinlivi Quilotoa Loop Ecuador

The cozy, rustic decor combined with the roaring fireplace in the evenings makes you feel right at home.

Combine that with friendly fellow travellers, most of them equally tired and eager to chat about their hikes, and I was almost sorry to leave the lounge area when the dinner bell rang. Almost.

The food

It must have been partially due to hunger, but the food gave new meaning to the phrase “comfort food”. We had soup with homemade bread, salad, pasta and flan for dessert.

I think all of us had a warm after-dinner glow which enabled us to linger at the table long after all the dishes had been cleared.

After dinner, it was pretty much straight to bed. There’s no wi-fi here, which I didn’t mind at all. It’s nice to unplug for a while! And of course, I slept like a log.

Hostal Llullu Llama Isinlivi Quilotoa Loop Ecuador

Breakfast was equally good and generous: granola, fruit salad, yoghurt, scrambled eggs, bread, jam, juice and coffee/tea. The perfect energy boost for a long day of hiking!

Cost

The final thing that blew me away was the incredible value – we paid just $24 per person for dinner + breakfast + private room with shared bathroom. A dorm bed costs just $19. It’s definitely one of nicest hostels I’ve ever been to (not just in Ecuador).

Hostal Llullu Llama Isinlivi Quilotoa Loop Ecuador

Why don’t you see Hostal Llullu Llama and the Quilotoa Loop for yourself? Check out this short video put together by my husband Ian:

Note: We have no affiliation with Llullu Llama whatsoever, save that my husband made this video in exchange for 2 packed lunches on our final day. We made no promises to publicise it in any way.

Have you ever done a multi-day hike in Quilotoa or elsewhere? How was your experience?

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Hiking the Quilotoa Loop | Sigchos to Isinlivi | Ecuador | MichWanderlust

This post is part of The Weekly Postcard hosted by Travel Notes & Beyond, California Globetrotter, Toddlers on Tour, Two Traveling Texans and TravelLatte – check out what’s going on elsewhere!

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31 Comments on "Hiking the Quilotoa Loop: Sigchos to Isinlivi"

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Ruth
Guest

Quilotoa is one of the reasons I have wanted to visit Ecuador. The lake is so, so beautiful. I can’t believe you were following the instructions backwards. Reminds me of when we were trying to find a waterfall in Iceland. We got into this weird road but couldn’t find it. We found another car who was looking for the waterfall too but told us they combed the zone and nothing was around. So, we decided to leave. #TheWeeklyPostcard

Michelle | michwanderlust
Guest

Oh don’t you just hate it when you go to all that trouble with nothing to show for it? 🙁 I’ve seen your Iceland photos though and they’re gorgeous so hopefully you didn’t miss much! Hope you get to visit Quilotoa someday. Thanks for stopping by, Ruth!

California Globetrotter
Guest

Wow Quilotoa Loop is stunning! I’ve never heard of this region before!! Will be looking into this more! Thanks for linking up with #TheWeeklyPostcard!

Michelle | michwanderlust
Guest

It’s beautiful, although a little more touristy than I was expecting. But I’ll get into that in future posts 😉 Definitely worth a visit though – hope you get to see it someday 🙂 thanks for stopping by, Lori!

ChroniclesIY
Guest

If you like the video above, stay tuned to my channel will be uploading more videos

Anisa & Katherine (@2travelingtxns)
Guest

Wow what an adventure! So glad it all turned out ok. The views are just amazing though, loved the video. Pinning for future reference, would love to do it myself. Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard.

Michelle | michwanderlust
Guest

Thanks so much for your kind comment and glad you liked the video, Anisa! It means a lot to us 🙂 The views were truly incredible. Hope you get to do it someday! 🙂

Anda
Guest

Quilotoa Lake will definitely make me visit Ecuador. It looks absolutely stunning and your pictures capture so well the peaceful atmosphere of this place. I’m sure hiking in that area was great, although 5.5 hours seems like a lot of effort. I would have loved to come across a pig like that. Pigs are so adorable! #TheWeeklyPostcard

Michelle | michwanderlust
Guest

Thanks Anda, the hiking was indeed great, and that first day was a piece of cake compared to the last day. You can always just take a bus straight to Quilotoa from Latacunga and back though, if you’re pressed for time! I know, that pig seemed to have it pretty good! Thanks for stopping by 🙂

Indie Chick
Guest

Wow this looks like it was an interesting adventure! The views are stunning! Quilotoa Lake looks so peaceful and serene. I love the photos of the animals you came across in their own natural habitat, (so cute!) 5.5 hours is a long hike (I’m a novice) lol but definitely is worth with these things as the end result! Thank you for sharing this amazing part of Ecuador!

Michelle | michwanderlust
Guest

One thing I learned on the trek is that you definitely don’t need to be an expert (or even intermediate) hiker to finish it successfully! All you need is a lot of determination, and the knowledge that you can’t stop half-way (because there’s nowhere to sleep!). Thanks for stopping by 🙂

Stephanie (1AdventureTraveler)
Guest

Hiking the Quilotoa Loop in Ecuador looks like so much fun. With great photos, you gave me a glimpse of what I would see. I pinned this for later when I visit Ecuador. Thanks so much for sharing! #TheWeeklyPostcard

Michelle | michwanderlust
Guest

It really is great fun! 🙂 Hope you get to do it sometime. Thanks for stopping by, Stephanie!

Christina
Guest

Oh my gosh I had no idea this hike existed and now I’m SO obsessed with it. It looks so incredible! That flan must have been perfeeect after such a tiring trek too. saving this for the future, most definitely! <3

Michelle | michwanderlust
Guest

I don’t even like flan in general but I ate it all that night! It was that good… or I was that hungry (or both). Hope you get to do it someday, it’s so worth it! Thanks for stopping by, Christina 🙂

Miranda's Muses
Guest

Beautiful photos and view! The idea of being lost like that sounds a little bit terrifying haha! Glad you managed to find some help along the way 🙂

Michelle | michwanderlust
Guest

Definitely would’ve been more terrifying had I been alone!

Practical Wanderlust (@practicalwander)
Guest

Ahhh this brings back memories… like the time we got lost, and the time we crawled up a mountain on our hands and knees, and the time we soaked in the hot tub at LLullu Llama and never wanted to get out … Take me back! Such an amazing hike!

Michelle | michwanderlust
Guest

It does leave an impression, doesn’t it? We didn’t crawl (that I recall) but I do recall just sliding down slopes on my butt at certain points! Not very IG-worthy haha

Bryna | Dotted Line Travels
Guest

Wow, this looks like an amazing hike! Your photo of the Quilotoa Lake is spectacular – love the reflection of the clouds in the water. I also love that you came across some wildlife as well (that sleeping pig!!)

Michelle | michwanderlust
Guest

The wildlife (if we can consider it that – not very wild actually haha!) was definitely one of the best parts of the trip 🙂 it was amazing to see these domesticated animals just roaming around freely. They apparently know where home is!

RobRob @TravelLatte(.net)
Guest

We like that sleeping piggy’s style! What amazing scenery – and quite the adventure. Cool hostel, too – love the name! We’ve come to realize we don’t know very much about South America, so thanks for the education and for putting the Quilotoa Loop on our radar, and for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard!

Michelle | michwanderlust
Guest

Yup, that pig is everything! 😀 The world is so big, we can’t possibly be experts on every part of it. That’s why we read other travel blogs, right? Hope you get to explore South America and Ecuador in particular one day! Thanks for stopping by, Rob!

trackback

[…] don’t know what possessed me to book 2 nights at Llullu Llama Hostal in Isinlivi, but boy was I glad that I had! After a rough day of hiking from Sigchos to Isinlivi, we were all […]

Kreete | AdventurousTrails
Guest

What a wonderful hike! I can totally relate to when you can’t find signs and are unsure if you are on the right track. Loving the tips in the end and the photos are out of this world! Well done guys!

Michelle | michwanderlust
Guest

Thanks so much for your kind comment, Kreete!

Mark
Guest

Thanks that’s a great story of hiking Quilotoa. I went there some years ago but on a bus a from Latacunga!

Michelle | michwanderlust
Guest

Thanks, Mark! That’s definitely a less painful option 😉

trackback

[…] after getting thoroughly lost two days before and enjoying a low-key day-trip the day after that, we finally hit the road again. […]

Nate
Guest

Wow, what a great hike! I have to put Equador on my bucket list again… Glad you hiked instead of taking the bus because then you wouldn’t have this story to tell 😉

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