I am currently volunteering in Banos and some of us volunteers decided to go to Quilotoa for the weekend to check out the crater. The days were long, with lots of time spent on buses, but it was very much worth it! When you arrive into this small town, you cannot even tell where the crater is as there are hills all around but it is not obvious that there is a giant crater nearby. We actually had to ask one of the locals where the lake was and they pointed to a hill right off the main road ( the road that takes you right into Quilotoa turns to the left, if you walk straight up a hill rather than turning, it takes you to the top of the crater ). The sight is absolutely breath taking!! It is amazing that there is this giant hole with a lake in it where you would never expect to find it.
I recommend doing it in at least 2 days. That means arriving by bus or car on the first day, relaxing and acclimatizing to the altitude. Then the next morning, doing the hike either around or down into the crater. There are a few reasons for this. The first is to acclimatize. The top of the crater is just under 4000 m above sea level. The altitude makes hiking there much more difficult. That's why I recommend going the day after you arrive so that you can spend the afternoon, evening and night of the day you arrive acclimatizing to the altitude. Also, it gets rainy and cloudy in the afternoon / evening, so you don't get a clear view. However, I would still go see it when you arrive on the first day ( from the top ) just to show you how high up you are as there are clouds all around you. Also, the travelling makes for long days and it's a good idea to rest before attempting the hike.
When you arrive at the crater you can either hike around the top of the crater ( which takes around 5 - 6 hours we've been told ) or hike down to the lake. We chose to hike down and did not regret it, there are so many beautiful photo ops along the way. The hike down can take you anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours depending on how many photos you want to take. The hike back up however, will take you anywhere from 1 hour to 2 hours. The hike is pretty steep so definitely wear proper sneakers or hiking boots. The hardest part though is the altitude. Just go VERY slowly and take breaks when you need to on the hike. If you, do not feel like hiking back up, you can always rent a donkey or a horse to take you back up. Not to mention, there are kayaks for rent which you can take out into the middle of the lake. Furthermore, it is cold up there ( hotter when you are in the crater ) so make sure to dress warm ( fleece with pants, zip-off pants if you have them ).
We did not use a tour operator to go to Quilotoa like some people I know, we decided to do it on our own. And it was sooooo easy! It took 2 hours to take a bus from Banos to Latacunga which costs 2$ US. Then another 2 hours to take a bus from Latacunga to Zumbahua which cost 2$ US. In Zumbahua, we paid a guy with a truck 2.50$ US per person to take us to Quilotoa ( Note: you may be able to find cheaper than this ). The way back was pretty much the exact same thing, except that we caught a bus in Quilotoa that took us all the way back to Latacunga for 2$ US.
This trip was absolutely worth it and I would recommend it to everyone!
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