Quilatoa Crater Lake: 8 Essential Tips That’ll Make a HUGE Difference

Ask any visitor what they enjoyed most about their Ecuador trip and chances are you will hear about a place called Quilatoa.

Located at the center of Ecuador’s Andean highlands, Quilatoa is a picturesque extinct volcano crowned by a serene emerald crater lake that puts Ecuador’s other natural attractions to shame.

Just the scale of the formation alone is simply awe-inspiring. If you have time to visit just one natural site in a country overflowing with them, let it be here.

Below I explain 8 simple tips that will make all the difference in your trip to Quilatoa Crater.

5 Critical Quilatoa Tips

Quilatoa Tips

(6) Beware the Clouds

When you reach the edge of Quilatoa’s crater, you will either behold one of the most spectacular views of your life, or you will see nothing.

You’re more likely to encounter the clouds in the afternoon, so you would be wise to reach Quilatoa as early as possible (or at least before midday).

Many people who have the misfortunate of arriving during cloudy weather simply give up, but I would recommend descending into the crater anyways. Your view will clear up a bit as you descend below the clouds, and a portion of the emerald lake will become visible.

Another option is to spend the night at a hostel in front of the crater (s$15, includes meals), and take a peak at crater lake the next morning when the air is clear.


(7) Transport

Most people sleep in Latacunga the night before visiting Quilatoa, but if you insist on getting from Quito to Quilatoa in one day, you need to take a bus to Latacunga from Quito’s Quitumbe Bus Terminal early in the morning ($2.50).

In Latacunga’s bus terminal, you will find a bus to Quilatoa ($2) that makes many stops and takes about 3 hours. Alternatively, you can take a faster bus directly to a village called Zumbawa ($1) where you transfer to another direct bus headed to the lake ($1). I tried both options and recommend the latter.

(8) How to Hack Quilatoa

Quilatoa Path Pic

The climb down Quilatoa’s crater takes 50 minutes and the climb back up take 1.5 hours. The distance is quit short, but what makes the climb especially slow and difficult is the fact the trail is all slippery sand and it’s almost impossible to gain traction in certain parts. 

Nevertheless, there is a hack; My climb only took half as long as most people because, instead of climbing the sand path, I climbed the stone barriers that frame the trail on both sides (see image below).

This allowed me to gain much better traction and avoid slipping.If you or someone in your group is not physically able to complete the climb, it is possible to ride a horse back up the crater for $10.

With all the natural scenery on the shelf in Ecuador, the first-time visitor with limited time may find it difficult to choose. You can miss Cotopaxi. You can miss Baños. But don’t skip Quilatoa.

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