Quilotoa Lake

Quilotoa Lake and the Mirador de Cristal “Cueva del Condor”


Visited Quilotoa volcano lake as a day tour from the city of Latacunga.

Time of Visit:  April 2024

Duration of Visit: Day Trip from Latacunga


Hiking trails at Quilotoa Lake (photo of map taken inside the tourist office)

Quilotoa Lake is a beautiful emerald colored lake within a volcanic crater.  It is located up in the Andes mountains about two hours bus ride from the city of Latacunga.  This is an all day trip. The place is so beautiful you just do not want to leave.  There is a small thriving community by the lake. The community has hostels and restaurants eager to cater to the visitor’s needs.

There are a couple of large viewing decks at the small community.  There is also a tourist information office if you have questions.  We lucked out during our visit as there were not many visitors. Perhaps because it was the time of the year when the weather is unpredictable in the Andes.

Quilotoa Lake has two trails.  One trail descends to the lake.  The hike down is initially steep then becomes gradual.  It is actually a significant elevation drop as the lake sits at 3,509 m (11,512 ft).  That is approximately 246 m (808 ft) in elevation drop that you will have to tackle on the way back at high altitude.  The trail sign indicates that it would take about 40 minutes to get down and up to 1.5 hours to get back up.  There is a kayak rental at the lake.

The second trail follows the crater’s rim.  The sign indicates that the rim trail can take between four and eight hours to complete.  What is more astounding is that there is 1,428+ m (4,688+ ft) of total ascent in the entire loop.

One of the many wonderful views along the rim trail
$1 photo opportunity with an alpaca at Quilotoa

There are three more viewpoints along the rim trail.  There are also several beautiful photo spots along this trail as there are no rails to obscure the view unlike at the miradors.

Getting to Quilotoa Lake

There are buses that leave every half hour or so from the Latacunga Bus Terminal.  We caught the 8:30 AM bus and the ride took almost two hours.  The ride has numerous twists and turns as the bus climbs in elevation through the Andes mountains.  The trip alone is worth the effort as it provides the opportunity to observe how the forested lowlands transform to verdant valleys with alpine pastures.  The fare was only $2.50 pp for the entire ride.

Quilotoa community entrance. It is a five minute slight uphill walk from the entrance to the viewpoints.

We got dropped off at the community entrance just off the highway.  The entry fee was $2 pp.  It is then a five minute walk on a slight incline to the viewpoints and the small community that has hostels, restaurants and shops.  Just take your time walking if you are not used to the high altitude.  The mirador is at 3,755 m (12,320 ft).

Weather During Our Visit

April is in the rainy season in Ecuador.  But there are days when the sun would be out too. It was raining on and off and gray the entire day when we traveled from Quito to Latacunga. The following day when we went to Quilotoa Lake, it was sunny in the morning until 10 AM. Then it transitioned to partly sunny and gradually degraded to just being gray. One of the locals said that it has been consistently raining in the area in the afternoon. So we decided to cut our visit short and leave.  By noon it started raining and continued to rain during most of our bus ride back to Latacunga. 

Latacunga As A Base

Latacunga is a large city about an hour and half bus ride south of the capital city, Quito.  There is really not much to do or see in Latacunga unless you enjoy shopping and eating Ecuadorian food.  But Latacunga serves as a nice base to go to Quilotoa Lake and Cotopaxi National Park.

Getting to Latacunga

From Quito, visitors need to head over to the Quitumbe bus terminal in south Quito. Quito’s lone subway, L1, conveniently ends inside the bus terminal.  If you took an Uber, chances are you will dropped off at the wrong terminal entry gate where you have to pay to get in.  Just ask the guards where you need to go.  We had to walk for about five minutes to get to the correct part of the bus terminal from where we were dropped off by our Uber driver.

Buying the bus ticket to Latacunga is straightforward. Just follow the signs for “BOLATERIA” once inside the bus terminal.  There are 22 windows to buy bus tickets from with each window prominently showing the destination.  Cost was $2.60 pp – cash. The cashier at the window will tell you the bus stall number for boarding.  Buses leave every five minutes according to the cashier.

The buses to Latacunga look like tour buses, meaning they are not the “chicken bus” type.  There is even on board movie although it is Spanish dubbed.  Overall, it is a comfortable journey to the mountains.


Quilotao Lake is a nice destination in central Ecuador.  Quilotoa lake’s emerald green water is just mesmerizing to look at.  There were hardly any other visitors during our visit.  Even if there are many visitors, the crater is so big that you can find solitude if you just walk for a few minutes along the crater trail. But do not forget you are at a high altitude as this part of Ecuador is in the Andes mountains.

Latacunga serves as a good base for a day trip to Quilotoa Lake.  It is a good sized city with no shortage of restaurants and shops.  Alternatively, there are hostels and restaurants near the lake viewpoints if you prefer to stay overnight at the small community.

Quilotoa Lake is a must visit if you find yourself in this part of Ecuador.