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Just off the Quilotoa loop road about 14 kilometers north of Zumbahua lies the wee village of Quilotoa and the mysterious emerald waters of its illustrious volcanic crater lake. Steep cliffs of the caldera’s walls drop 400 meters down from a fully encircling rim trail to meet the massive reflective pool below. The bizarre opaque-green of the lake paired with the distant snow-capped peaks of Iliniza Sur and Cotopaxi create a truly awe-inspiring scene.
In 30 minutes, you can climb down to the shores on a path cut just below the parking area, the steep return trip up takes at least two or three times as long, or for a few bucks you can hop on a donkey and save weary legs, but make sure to contract the donkey above in the town before you leave, or it may take hours of yelling to town residents above to convince them to bring a donkey down for you.
Kayaks are available for rent at the end of the trail, though the lake has no outlet, and you shouldn’t swim or drink from the stagnant alkaline waters. Paddling 5 minutes to the east (towards the right from the shore) reveals hot springs and fumaroles bubbling up from the lake bottom. There is a small, very basic community-run hostel next to the lake that has no running water and a pit toilet.
Camping is allowed for just a couple of dollars per person, but there have been multiple reports of campers’ items being stolen, so don’t leave your things unaccompanied. Pricey half-liter bottles of water are sold at the hostel are the only source of drinking water, so consider carrying down water if you need a lot. This is an extremely environmentally sensitive location. Use only biodegradable soap and take great care to not contaminate the lake in any way. Hiking inside the crater is somewhat limited due to the steep terrain, but up at the top of the rim, relatively fit hikers can make the 4–5-hour trek around the entire circumference of the crater or walk a third of the way around it and on to Chugchilan.
A single stretch of dirt road and the scattering of houses and tiny businesses that line it make up the small village of Quilotoa, which lies just before the crater lake and seems to only exist in response to tourism. There are several extremely basic hostels that also serve as restaurants and shops, and not much else.
Quilotoa is a good place to find local indigenous art, especially paintings in the famous Tigua style. There are a few shops where artists sell their work that are mostly part of hostels or houses in town. If the doors are locked, ask around and someone will likely come let you in. Be aware that nights can be chilly at 3850 meters (12600 feet) high in the Andes, and some simple accommodations may not be adequately equipped to keep you warm.
Other places nearby Quilotoa: Pujili, Chugchilán, Saquisilí, Isinliví, Sigchos, Tigua and Zumbahua.
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