Ecuador // The central sierra //

The Quilotoa loop

Some 90km west of Latacunga and the Panamericana, in one of the most beautiful parts of the Andes, the isolated Laguna Quilotoa is a spectacular emerald-coloured crater lake. It’s most directly approached along the road from Latacunga to Quevedo, via the villages of Pujilí, Tigua and Zumbahua. Once there, you can take a different route back, heading north to the villages of Chugchilán and Sigchos, then southeast to rejoin the Panamericana near the market village of Saquisilí. This route – totalling around 200km – often referred to as the Quilotoa loop or the Quilotoa circuit, can just as easily be done in the opposite direction to that described below. If you can, try to time your stay in Zumbahua with the Saturday-morning market, one of the most fascinating in the sierra, or one of the major Catholic festivals like Epiphany or Corpus Christi; both are wonderful spectacles.

You’ll find accommodation in Tigua, Zumbahua, Quilotoa, Chugchilán and Sigchos, but most of it is pretty basic, with the main exceptions of Tigua and Chugchilán. If you want to sleep in the simpler places, particularly at Quilotoa at 3850m, a warm sleeping bag is a welcome bonus as it gets very cold at night. Count on spending a minimum of two days to do this route; it’s much better to take three or more nights if you want to do it at a more relaxing pace, which will also give you time to explore the magnificent countryside with hikes or horse rides. If you are driving around the loop in your own vehicle, there are filling stations in Sigchos and Zumbahua stocking extra and diesel.