What to see in Ecuador
Tourist attractions Quilotoa
Famed for its magnificent crater lake, Quilotoa is one of Ecuador’s best-kept secrets. Nestled high in the remote mountains, Quilotoa is the westernmost volcano in the Ecuadorian Andes. At its heart, the glistening Quilotoa Crater Lake measures 3-kilometres at its widest point and is 250-metres deep. Its eye-catching green hue is the result of unique dissolved volcanic minerals. Situated in the province of Cotopaxi, Quilotoa is home to several small towns and villages, clustered around the edge of the Quilotoa caldera.
Undoubtedly, one of the must-see natural sights in Ecuador, you can travel to Quilotoa from the capital of Quito, around 178 kilometres away and a 3-hour drive along a paved road. The area is known for its fantastic hiking trails, which guide walkers through some of the most jaw-dropping and remote scenery in the country.
Formed during an enormous volcanic explosion in the 13th-century, the volcano is now considered extinct. At its highest point, the Quilotoa Crater is 3914-metres above sea level, so if you visit Quilotoa be prepared to adapt to the high-altitude conditions. It can become extremely cold here, especially when the sun goes down, and the crater’s edge is exposed to the elements so be sure to dress appropriately.
Things to do at Quilotoa
One of the most popular things to do at Quilotoa is to climb to the top of the Quilotoa Crater Lookout, a wooden platform that grants spectacular panoramic views of the green-coloured crater lake. More accessible than some of the strenuous hiking routes, from here you can take in the majesty of the Ecuadorian Andes and snap some seriously impressive photographs!
If you’re looking to get up close to the famous crater lake, another option is to hike to the lakeshore, a journey of around 1.5 - 2 hours. The path leads from the rim of the caldera, all the way down to the green water, where you can sit, relax and take in the views of the tranquil lake. There are also a few snack stalls so you can refuel for the much more demanding task of returning to the crater’s edge. Although this is one of the best things to do at Quilotoa, be prepared for challenging terrain and don’t underestimate the physical demands of uphill walking at altitude.
If you want a full experience of Quilotoa Crater Lake, the hiking route around the rim is sure to appeal to you. By circumnavigating the crater you’ll enjoy amazing 360-degree views, as well as impressive panoramas of the surrounding countryside. This hike takes between 3 and 5 hours, depending on your pace, and is 7.5 kilometres in length. Although it is longer than the hike to the lakeshore, it is mostly flat underfoot so is another good option for those looking for active pursuits.
For the more adventurous, one of the most exciting things to do at Quilotoa is to take a kayaking trip on the crater lake itself! Although the water is far too cold and acidic to swim in, it is possible to kayak on this still, green lake. You’ll also be able to paddle up close to a number of fumaroles that are dotted around the lake.
Finally, a trip to Quilotoa would be incomplete without stopping at the charming town of the same name. This tiny town is home to a local craft market and a good selection of eateries and accommodation.