Quilotoa and its kaleidoscopic emerald colour is one of the most gorgeous lakes I’ve ever seen! Unless you’ve had enough of beautiful lakes, it’s a must-visit during your trip in Ecuador. There are several ways to hike the famous Quilotoa loop, even as a 2-to-4 day hike starting from nearby villages and ending at the lake. If you are up for such a challenge, I recommend reading this guide from Travel Outlandish which gives you a good overview of the loop hiking options. If you, however, prefer to spend one day hiking around this diamond and immerse in real Ecuadorian countryside life in Tigua, an off-the-beaten-path destination, carry on reading here…
We were looking forward to spending a few days in a relaxed and alternative location, while experiencing the Quilotoa lake loop in its full beauty. This is how we found out about Tigua and the Posada de Tigua inn. It not only ticked all the boxes, but gave such an experience that we will carry with us long after our trip!
Why bother with the Quilotoa lake loop, anyway
Quilotoa is a turquoise-blue lake nestled in a volcanic crater. Yes, a lake inside a volcano. Its colour is probably the most beautiful I’ve ever seen – maybe only comparable to the ones in Huaraz, Peru.
Well, here they are: 3 mind-blowing lakes in Huaraz, Peru
The special blue (and sometimes green) colour of the lake that attracts so many visitors is caused by dissolved minerals. It looks absolutely gorgeous and calm in the sunshine. But there’s a whirlpool in the middle of the lake that sucks in everything; like a guy who drowned a few years ago. Searchers never managed to recover his body.
As you walk around the lake, the shade of blue changes. The rocks and the sun play with the brightness and the shadows. A nice compensation for your hiking efforts! It’s best to set off early to catch the blue sky – clouds often cover up in the afternoon.
Loop around the Quilotoa lake
If you’d like to enjoy the Quilotoa lake from every angle, the loop around it is just perfect for you! From the main lookout we started anti-clockwise and passed some wooden viewing platforms. Then the path soon became more and more empty as we left the flip-flop tourists behind.
Is it worth hiking around the lake, or is it always the same view?
In my opinion, it is worth it for a number of reasons:
- the view and the colour of the water are different as you walk around,
- there will be a few spots where the whole lake fits into your photo (not from the main viewpoint),
- you get to enjoy some alone time at more remote parts of the path,
- some parts have very pretty rocks and vegetation
The highest peak at 3914 m (high altitude!) comes up at the beginning of the hike, if you go anti-clockwise. You’ll know that you are at altitude because you’ll be left breathless and not only because of the gorgeous view.
The path until here is pretty steep but the good news is that with this the most difficult part is done. We were told that the whole loop took about 4 hours to hike, but we did it in 5 hours. We are fast hikers usually but we took our time taking pictures and marvelling at the view.
If you’d still like to experience some of the small village life around the Quilotoa lake –that the loop hikers do– you can turn to a path towards Chugchilan before reaching the end of the hike.
Around the lake everything is very expensive, as expected from a popular tourist attraction, so the best is to bring your own food and drink. The last place to buy supplies is Zumbahua.
Is it possible to do water spots in the Quilotoa lake?
The water is freezing, but the courageous can brave the cold at the lake beach. Just make sure you don’t swim too far from the shore. Avoid that nasty whirlpool unless you want to check out the bottom of the lake.
Sea kayaking is also available, there’s a kayak rental on the beach. The path down to the beach takes 30 minutes, starting just a few meters away from the main viewing platform.
Ecuadorian countryside experience at the Posada de Tigua
Tigua is a tiny village 50 km from Latacunga, the “Quilotoa hub” of the region. No tourist guide books talk about it, it’s yet a hidden gem of the area. What makes it special is a charming inn built in rustic, countryside style. It is part of an animal farm which has been owned by the Ecuadorian Rodriguez family for many generations.
They have cows, chickens, sheep, ducks, horses and llamas who all roam free on the farm’s hills during the day. Guests can really disconnect here and enjoy the nature – no TV, no internet, just green and moooo all around!
Felipe, the owner, welcomes us with a big heart and offers us a walk around the farm. We agree with him to meet in front of the stables at 6:30 am the next morning to watch the cow milking. I’m so looking forward!
Felipe teaches us how to milk a cow and lets us do it. I have to admit, we are not born talents of cow milking, but I’m absolutely delighted about this new… erm, skill! The freshly acquired milk is warm and doesn’t taste as different as I expected.
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After that we feed the chicken and Felipe shows us all the vegetables and herbs that they grow without using any pesticides or chemicals. The animal farm and the kitchen garden feed the inn guests: free range, organic, super tasty local food and milk products are served at every meal including a dessert made by Felipe himself, according to his family recipe.
We chat a long time with Felipe in the evening. He tells us about his farm, how impossible it is to live solely out of it because the buying price of the milk has been plummeting for years. He explains us about the situation of agriculture workers of the area, the harvesting season, and that the farm’s milling machine is free to use for neighbouring small farmers, who are mostly indigenous people.
And really, it is around Quilotoa that we saw the most indigenous people during our travels in Ecuador.
Staying in the Posada de Tigua was one of the most unique experiences during our whole trip and the warmth of Felipe made it even more special. The place has all kinds of rooms from doubles to dorms with bathroom and hot water. If you’d like to enquire about booking, contact Felipe by phone (+59-330-56-103) or email here.
How to loop around the Quilotoa lake from Tigua
Due to its proximity to the lake, there are a number of ways of getting there that you can choose from.
Get there hiking
Tigua is 30 km from the Quilotoa lake, a perfect off-the-beaten-path base to loop the lake and the surrounding area. Those who’d like to hike through the lush green rolling hills of this landscape can take the path directly from the Posada de Tigua. This is a 12 km hike taking more or less 6 hours. You’ll end up at a beautiful viewpoint to the lake. Ask Felipe for advice on this possibility, as we didn’t choose this option.
Get there by bus
Another option is to take a bus to Zumbahua, the gateway town to Quilotoa. Just flag any bus going towards that town, on the main road where you turned off to the Posada. Then change there to another bus to Quilotoa lake. Both bus tickets cost 0,50 USD each and take less than half an hour each.
You can also hitchhike on the road between Tigua and Zumbahua, as many locals pick up people on their way. Prepare to pay for the ride though and agree about the price before getting into the car.
Get there by taxi
In Zumbahua there are many taxis trying to lurk you into their service telling you that there’s no bus. We were asked 5 USD for the taxi, one way.
Arriving at Quilotoa
The bus will drop you off at the site entrance. From there you need to walk about 5 minutes through street sellers to the viewpoint on the Quilotoa lake. The first viewpoint is quite touristy with its wooden platform but the further lookouts within a few minutes walk provide you with a bit of solitude.
Other things to do around Tigua
Tigua is a super small village that comprises a few streets only. The Posada de Tigua is a few kilometers away from the village itself. There are no shops around, so bring all the food you need. Tap water is drinkable luckily, no need to stock up with that.
The area is rural and remote. It’s perfect for feeling off-the-beaten-track, completely recharging from the bustle and having some real unique experiences!
These are our recommendations on what to do while in Tigua.
Milk cows and visit the eco farm
If you stay at the Posada de Tigua, a great early morning activity is tasting a bit of farmer life. Learn how to milk a cow, try fresh milk directly from the cow’s udder (I mean, from a cup!), check out the awesome vegetable garden, feed chicken and get to know how to farm without pesticides.
Felipe will take you on a tour around his land and explain about all aspects of farm life that you might be interested in. I found this a super nice experience, especially the cow milking (of course!) and learning about the eco friendly aspects of self-sustainable lifestyle.
Practice your haggling skills at the Zumbahua market on Saturday
Saturday is market day in many towns of Ecuador. Zumbahua is not exceptional in this, but with its market’s breathtaking location it is! The local producers’ market is snuggled between hills and the blue sky just off the main road leading to Quilotoa.
One can find absolutely everything here: local fruits and veggies, small household goods, bread, feed for domestic animals, fried street food and those typical Ecuadorian style clothes with bright colours and geometric forms that are impossible to resist! If you like village markets, and especially if you can’t make it to Otavalo, South America’s biggest market, it’s your place to be on Saturday.
Haggle your price while practising your Spanish – two birds with one stone! We visited it as a pit stop on our way to Quilotoa (and stocked up with food and drink for the loop), since we changed bus here anyway. The market gets disassembled in the early afternoon, so it’s better to go in the morning.
The place to haggle: Visit Otavalo’s colourful market
Hike the rolling hills on an easy path where you’ll meet no one
There’s a cute hike from the Posada de Tigua that leads through green fields, along swampy birds’ nests and grazing lands. It’s a very easy, slightly downhill path on a dirt road where you’ll meet locals occasionally, if anyone. We ventured out before sunset, and were moved by the beautiful golden colours of the hills that the setting sun covered them with. Maps.me has a good route map for this hike.
Discover the Tigua painting style and shop for indigenous art souvenirs in little roadside galleries
The Tigua style of painting was born under the brush of the indigenous Julio Toaquiza. The topic of his works is the everyday rural life in Tigua, its festivities and the history of the Tiguan indigenous people. The style is very recognisable; many small elements (figures, houses, vegetables) are depicted on the canvas in a naive, folk-art style, using simple, bright colours. Traditionally, the painting brush is made of chicken feathers and the canvas is animal skin.
The Tigua people are farmers of the Andean mountains of Ecuador, Southwest of Quito. They work with crops that endure the harsh climate (potato, beans, grains), cattle and llamas. They speak their own indigenous Kichwa language, which is different from the Peruvian Quechua but come from the same root. Kichwa is the most widely spoken indigenous language in Ecuador, along with 27 other indigenous languages.
The story of Julio Toaquiza and the Tigua style is captivating. He originally painted on traditional drums as a decoration and after being discovered and encouraged, he ended up teaching his brothers and children to paint. Nowadays a few indigenous artists in Tigua paint in this style and they produce for selling to visitors as souvenirs. Read more about the Tigua painting style here.
There are many souvenir shops on the road towards Quilotoa. We were advised to buy there rather than at the lake, where prices are inflated. But anyway, as conscious travelers we prefer to support the makers themselves. An artist was selling his pretty paintings outside the Posada de Tigua, which is the perfect occasion to buy. If you or your loved ones are into hanging on the wall local art brought back from holidays, this is the best present you’ll find in Ecuador!
Best time to go to Tigua and loop the Quilotoa lake
The region of Quilotoa has 2 seasons: wet winter from May to October and windy summer from November to April. The temperature is similarly cold all year round and the sun rises and sets at the same time (around 6 am and 6 pm) since it’s very close to the equatorial line.
In winter there’s actually not so much precipitation – it rains only occasionally and not much. The sky is often grey though. In the summer the wind is cold and it dries the skin. Based on these considerations, doing the loop around Quilotoa during winter time is better. In May we had days with blue sky and no rain although it was supposed to be the beginning of winter. And we got to see wildflowers blooming in all possible colours around the lake!
To visit the lake itself, it’s best to go early in the morning, as during the afternoon clouds gather around the lake, obstructing the view and bringing occasional rain.
Getting to Tigua and away
To reach Tigua first head towards Latacunga from anywhere in Ecuador.
We arrived from Baños, it took about 4 hrs in total and we had to change. The bus we took from Baños went towards Quito and it cost 2,50 USD. This bus to Quito dropped us on the motorway – it sounds a bit scary but there are a lot of people (locals and obviously foreigners) waiting there, street sellers are trying to make some business and taxis / other buses do serve the roadside. Just make sure you tell the bus driver that you are going to Tigua (or Zumbahua) and he will know where to drop you off. Then we just had to wait for the bus towards Zumbahua. Locals knew the customs and were happy to direct us. The bus ticket from this Latacunga motorway junction to Tigua costs 1,50 USD.
If you are headed to the Posada de Tigua, you need to get off at the white stone written “Posada de Tigua” at km 46, after the cemetery. Tell the bus driver that you are going to this Posada, they will know where to drop you.
To travel onwards, you need to flag a bus to the other direction (towards Latacunga) at the same spot.
If you are heading to Quito, like we were: take the bus to Pujihi where you need to change bus to Quito. According to our bus driver this is a better spot than the highway as there’s a better chance to get seats on the bus. We were lucky: as we arrived from Tigua, our bus driver told the Quito bus driver to take us over. Costs are 1,25 USD until Pujihi (30mins) and 2,50 USD from Pujihi to Quito (2hrs).
Is it safe to visit Quilotoa?
The villages and the surrounding nature is very safe to visit. In Zumbahua and Quilotoa there are stray dogs that potentially can be aggressive when in groups, but we’ve never seen any attacks.
The hike around the lake leads through cliff edges which can be dangerous, so you need to be very careful.
Where to go after the Quilotoa loop?
One of the great things in Ecuador is its compact size, so you don’t need to expect big distances and many hours travelled on buses.
If you are travelling towards the north, Quito is a great choice, only a few hours away. It is also a hub to travel elsewhere in the country or to Colombia.
If you are heading towards the south, Baños, the little mountain town with loads of outdoor activities is a great destination – just a few hours bus ride.
Cotopaxi, the picturesque volcano is another popular place for hikers – only 2.5 hours in Northeast direction.
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