Hiking the Loop: A Solo Female Walking Quilotoa in Ecuador

By on October 29, 2015 in ECUADOR, Hiking, Latin America, Solo Female with 34 Comments

Walking the Quilotoa Loop in Ecuador

The green of the open valley stretched as far I could see.

Broken only by the odd tree or patch of scrub, it flowed up the to the mountain ridges on each side and looked smooth and soft, like a green dustsheet that had pull over the furniture of these Andean hills to cover and protect them.

In times past, these hills would have been covered by trees, but now there were exposed, farmed – an arable landscape.

Winding through the bottom of the valley, a small stream made itself known as the sunlight caught and marked its meandering journey – a mapped struggle between the pull of gravity and the resistant objects of the rugged landscape.

In the distance clouds, sat at eye level, gave some indication of the height I was at and then, below them, a simple wooden dwelling with a tarpaulin roof.

Next to this timber hut was what looked like a small vegetable garden, cordoned off by plastic fence held in place by timber posts.

Within it, neat green crops were planted in small ordered rows – a clear labour of love and quite possibly life.

Next to the vegetable patch was a man. Wearing a typical South American male outfit of denim jeans, a t-shirt, colourful cap and wellington boots, I realised he was the first person I’d seen that day.

As I looked at him, he turned slowly and looked back at me.

All Alone

Trekking alone out in the Ecuadorian hills doesn’t bring you into contact with a lot of people.

And at that moment, seeing this man outside his home, I was suddenly reminded how vulnerable I was.

Fear is a strange thing; an emotional reaction, not an objective one and suddenly it hit me.

Here I was, a twenty-year old British woman by herself, in the middle of the South American countryside with no way of contacting anyone and not really even knowing where I was.

Suddenly, I become acutely aware of my risky position and wondered how on earth I’d got myself here.

Walking Quilotoa

Getting to Quilotoa Loop

In fact, I’d got myself here from Lutacunga, a fairly grey and bland city in the heart of the Ecuadorian Andes that serves as a common launching point for many of this country’s incredible surrounding attractions.

I’d stayed at Hostel Tiana there, a friendly, budget place that gave me information about hiking the loop and allowed me to store my main bag with them while I walked.

Even as I slept in Latacunga the night before hitting the loop, I felt the ground shake.

After all, this is active land.

Besot by the rumblings of the earth, it’s full of danger, but with this risk also comes the advantage of incredible beauty – the snow peaked volcano of Cotopaxi, the glistening crater lakes of the Toachi Canyon and, of course, the etched valleys and mountain ridges of the Quilotoa Loop.

What is the Loop?

The Quilotoa Loop is a multi-day trek that takes you through the glorious countryside and villages of rural Ecuador.

It’s a bit rough and ready, it’s definitely quaint and quiet and it’s a fair bit of walking, but it’s real, real Ecuador.

Walking Quilotoa is known by tourists and is mentioned in many guidebooks, but it’s still not wildly popular or overrun by hikers in anyway.

Information can be hard to glean even when you do find it and you’ll probably only get a hand drawn map to help navigate the twisting touring route of this dirt path through vast patches of unpopulated hillsides.

Yet what the loop does give you is stunning landscape views and a natural, tour-free, glimpse into the lives of ordinary people here in Ecuador.

As soon as I heard about it, I knew it was perfect for me!

The only problem was, I was alone.

At least, it wasn’t a problem until I was stood on the side of that hill, watching this man, watching me.

Suddenly it did feel like a problem, or a potential problem at least, and I wonder if I’d done a really stupid thing in walking Quilotoa.

Should a female foreigner be hiking this remote loop all by herself?

Solo Female Safety

I had checked you see, asked the people if I could in Latacunga, if it was safe for a solo female to walk alone and they’d all confirmed it was.

However, yes didn’t feel like a yes when I was suddenly in a potentially compromising position.

Yes, I realised, was actually just a guess, an estimate, an assumption; yes is a presumption full of “what if” holes and unforeseeable shadows.

It’s a word used to convey certainty, but never fully can.

It’s a word I rarely, but do occasionally, use to answer the question whether travelling by yourself does have its drawbacks.

As a solo female, yes travelling by yourself can sometimes have its downfalls and very often these are safety-related.

In many ways however, safety on the Quilotoa Loop is tiptop.

It’s perfect walking territory, with fun hills to climb and lovely undulating descents.

There are bridges built across streams and you’re mostly walking at around 2000m above sea level, which means it is generally warm and sunny but never unbearably hot.

Kit and Gear

My advice concerning luggage for solo female walkers would be to take as little as possible and to pack layers that you can shed.

A pair of trail shoes will suffice if you don’t have hiking boots and rain jacketand book would also be a good idea.

You’ll also need a map to guide you. I managed to obtain one in Latacunga, albeit a rudimentary one as I said, and this does help when the path is occasionally unclear.

A map is also a good idea because there are few to no signposts on the Quilotoa Loop.

Not a problem in my eyes however, this only added to the joyful sense of the loop being slightly untouched, slightly under the radar and slightly more real-feeling than many of the other tourist treks available in South America.

Almost like an everyday stroll through the countryside, you’ll pass smallholdings of corn, meadows of flowers and a few fluffy, grazing llamas just going about their everyday business.

The whole thing is very unassuming and uncontrived.

Which Direction?

You can walk the loop in either direction, starting either from Isinlivi or Quilotoa.

Both are easily and cheaply via bus from Latacunga.

Most people start the loop from Quilotoa and hike the loop from South to North, generally because this is considered to be the less strenuous.

Due to bus times and limited days however, I hiked the loop in the opposite direction.

Nobody seemed to have much information about this way round things and I was concerned a little about the steep hike up to Quilotoa on the final day.

No need to worry however, the loop was very accessible this way and no struggle for a solo female at all, beyond the fact that it was perhaps a little quieter.

For, as I said, I met no one else walking during the daytime at all!

Accommodation

There are a number of small villages that dot the circuit however and here you’ll find small stalls, basic restaurants and welcoming local communities.

As such, these small villages do provide a level of safety for solo female walkers, because they grant you an opportunity to at least interact with other people at the end of the day.

The hamlets also provide simple accommodation lodgings with evening meals.

I spent my first night at the highly recommended Hostal Llullu Llama in Isinlivi and my second at Hostal Mama Hilda in Chugchilan.

Both were perfectly suitable and you can book before you set off on the hike via Hostal Tiana in Latacunga.

This does mean that for solo walkers at least, someone somewhere on the Quilotoa Loop is expecting you.

Providing you with food and a bed as they do also means that, for those of us with less strength, carrying all supplies and bedding gear round the loop is not necessary.

As a solo female traveller, I definitely found this a bonus!

Local Villages

What these villages also provide is a unique view into a traditional way of life that many tourists who come to Ecuador would not get to see.

These small communities are the faces behind the market produce you buy in the larger cities.

These are the hard-working, indigenous people of Ecuador, many of whom still wear local, traditional dress and employ traditional farming methods to cultivate crops such as quinoa and cacao, that we devour with great fervour in the west.

Without any sense of idealism, life here is simple, quiet and inextricably tied to the land.

Walking the Quilotoa loop alone, gave me the chance to feel this peacefulness away from the noisy chatter of conversation, to hear the sounds of nature around me away from the rush of traffic, to observe the simpleness of the day passing as I walked from village to village, one foot in front of the next.

One day, I also passed some even smaller settlements on the Loop, miniature hamlets compromising of one beautiful church and few corrugated iron buildings around, seemingly without even road access.

Another day I met a few, young local girls running home from school, dashing out of the fields from nowhere then past me with a quick “Hola” before vanishing off into the distance.

Mostly, however, I was alone; just me and the map, walking, walking, to where I needed to get to that evening.

If you struggle to spend time alone, then perhaps the Quilotoa Loop is not the hike for you, but if you revel in a few days of solitude, then I can’t recommend this walk enough for solo female travellers.

Safety wise, I’m sure you’ll be fine!

After all, the man that I was initially fearful of, well he only looked up and then waved at me.

As I said, fear is an emotional response, not an objective one and we can’t let it control us.

I’m glad to say that when walking the Quilotoa Loop as a solo female in Ecuador fear, unfounded as it was, didn’t stop me from enjoying this incredible South American experience.

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Hope you liked my Solo Female Guide to Walking Quilotoa in Ecuador.

Have you hiked the loop?

What are your tips and advice?

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About the Author

About the Author: Creator of Big World Small Pockets, Stephanie Parker is a budget travel addict! Originally from Jersey in the Channel Islands, Stephanie backpacks the world collecting tips, advice and stories, to share with a smile .

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There Are 34 Brilliant Comments

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  1. Tyler says:

    Wow, great description of the hike and all the trials and successes along the way. It is quite an inspiring post and makes me very excited to tackle this journey in a few months! Safe travels.

  2. Kim says:

    Great post! Thanks for writing it. I’m heading to Ecuador in May and was wondering if the loop was something I could do alone but this makes me feel much better about it.

  3. Gwen says:

    Hi, do you think my partner and I would be able to do the Quilotoa loop with our six month old baby in a carrier? We’re also not particularly fit at the moment and likely to need more days to do the loop? Brilliant article by the way!

    • Steph says:

      Hi Gwen, glad you enjoyed the article and thanks for your question. When you mean carrier, do you mean on your back? I think this would be fine as the loop is only really steep in 2 places. Pushing an infant however, would be difficult as the terrain is uneven and rough most of the way. You can certainly take more days to do the loop by adding in some extra night’s accommodation – I would start by looking at where you can stay and plan things around this. Also, if you start the loop from Lake Quilotoa, it’s meant to be easier as you cut out one of the major ascents. Hope that’s helpful?!

  4. Jhon jaka says:

    Nice trip

  5. Gemma says:

    Hi Steph,
    I have just arrived in South America and am heading towards Ecuador next week and I want to add this to my itinerary, especially after reading your article. Unfortunately I dont speak spanish. I am doing a two week course to learn the basics, but i was wondering if you think this will be a hindrance to hiking the Quilotoa loop? More so in recieving maps and instructions, arriving in small villages to stay the night etc?
    Thanks!!

    • Steph says:

      Hi Gemma, thanks for getting in touch and so excited you’re heading to Ecuador! I think you should be fine to hike the Quilotoa loop with only minimal Spanish. The hostel Tiana are very helpful and staff there spoke excellent English – they will give you all the maps you need. In addition, if you can communicate the basics of ‘do you have a room for one night’ you should be fine in the small villages – they are used to people turning up after hiking, so all good! My tip, get a lonely planet phrasebook if poss. It will help with basic Spanish tips. Maybe you can download an e-version if you’re in South America already? Have an awesome time!

  6. Marc says:

    Hi! Great description. I’m presently driving from Canada to Argentina on my motorcycle and in Ecuador. I’m contemplating the possibility to take a break and do this hike. My concern is rain. What time of the year did you walk the path? Did you get lots of precipitations?

    Thanks!

    • Steph says:

      Hi Marc, so glad you liked the piece and thanks for letting me know about your journey – sounds epic!! I definitely recommend this hike as a nice break from the bike! I walked it in June / July time and had no rain, but no idea what it’s doing around there now I’m afraid. Would love to hear how you get on though, best of luck 🙂

    • Gemma Macfarlane says:

      I met someone who did it last week and said it had not rained.

  7. Eric says:

    I have a quick question about the end of the trek. I am looking to squeeze this trek into my trip, but concerned about getting back. Is it possible to get back to Quito the same day I finish?

    • Steph says:

      Thanks for your question Eric, it’s a good one. To be honest it depends what time you finish and what day it is. All of this is dependent on which way round you walk the loop and also how many nights you take to do it. If you took perhaps 4 nights, making the last day very short and reached your finish point before 11am it may be possible for you to get back to Quito in a day time-wise, but I can’t be sure of the connections times where the buses are concerned. Also Sunday buses will be less frequent, so I’d avoid travelling that day if you’re looking to get anywhere fast in Ecuador!

  8. Charlotte Davidson says:

    I am going to do the loop in two weeks time! we have only pre-booked our first night do you think we will be ok to turn up and there to be rooms available? also did you meet many other walkers in the hostels you stayed at? your article is great and has really got me excited to walk the loop!
    Thank you

    • Steph says:

      How exciting Charlotte – I’m sure you’ll have a ball! If you’ve got your first night booked you should be ok. That said, when I stayed at some of the smaller hostels of the loop like Hostal Lulu LLama – I was the only person there, so I’m glad I booked ahead otherwise I might have turned up to find the door locked! Don’t worry about booking stuff before you get to the country however, you could easily organise it all from Latacunga or Quito. I met other walkers in the larger hostel, but many were only doing day walks, rather than the multi-day loop. So glad you enjoyed the article 🙂

      • charlotte davidson says:

        HI steph! thank you for your reply, we are so excited! we have booked our firt night in lulu llma actually! it look so beautiful on the website and we have decided to walk north to south, even though it i pparently much harder! were dogs ever a problem for you?also wht time of year did you go an was the weather warm or not? i’m having difficulty packing! thank so much again!

        • Steph says:

          Hi Charlotte – great, I loved the Lulu Llama! I walked north to south and really didn’t find it hard so I’m sure you’ll be fine. That said, I did the hike in June/July time, when it was cooler, especially the nights. Not sure what the temperatures are like at this time of year, but I’d suggest layers. I didn’t see any dogs, only a couple of cute piglets, but maybe walk with a stick – easily picked up on the trail – if you feel nervous 🙂

  9. Krys says:

    Hey there! Thanks!!!
    I’ve been a tad apprehensive as I’m travelling for a medical tour then taking another 6 days to travel on my own. I’ll be doing the Loop all by my lonesome, so I’m glad to here you never felt unsafe. May I ask… Did you feel the need to book all hostels in advance? I’m already booked at the Lulla Llama (as I’ve heard it’s amazing), but I thought I would wing the rest of them… Also is there lots of opportunities to extend the hike longer and make it more challenging?
    Thanks for all your words!
    K

    • Steph says:

      Hi Krys, thanks so much for your message and delighted you’ll be hiking to loop soon. Yes, I booked all my hostels in advance through Hostel Tiana (link in the post) where I stayed in Latachunga. This just gave me the piece of mind that someone was expecting me each evening! Unfortunately, there weren’t any opportunities to extend the hike when I undertook it – just one loop in either direction – but there are plenty of other great Ecuador hikes to check out if you’re feeling keen. I have a post about the best 5 actually, so just search that on the blog for more info 🙂

  10. eileen craviotto says:

    Hi,
    Thanks so much for your thoughts. This sounds amazing. Do you think kids aged 13 and 16 could do it and would it be safe? We hike a lot and I am bilingual. Thanks for your thoughts.

    • Steph says:

      Hi Eileen, thanks for your comments. If you are used to hiking then I think the kids should be fine. It’s not too arduous and the days are quite short. Being bilingual will definitely help! I hope you have an amazing time

  11. Sophie says:

    Hi, Steph! Reading your post put a lot of my concerns at ease as I’m considering also hiking the loop alone. Thank you! One query I still have is what if you get lost? I’ve heard the loop isn’t too well signed, maps are rudimental, and it’s very easy to miss a turnoff. I’m concerned about being alone and having to figure out my way back to the track by myself (especially if you encounter few people on the way). I’ve also heard dogs can be an issue. What are your thoughts on these?

    • Steph says:

      Hi Sophie, great to hear from you and glad you found my article helpful. In terms of dogs, I never felt threatened, in fact I hardly even saw any dogs, but always carry a big stick when walking solo anyway as a precaution. I also didn’t get lost and reckon it’s pretty hard to wander too far from the track in all honesty. Yes signs and decent maps are thin on the ground, but the path is visible the whole way and there’s nothing that really intersects it, so pretty hard to take wrong turn. There’s also little hamlets and villages at least once a day with people who will point you in the right direction. Good luck!

      • Sophie says:

        Thanks, Steph! That’s helpful 🙂 Your article was the perfect thing to put my mind (and the mind of my mother at home!) at ease. Can’t wait to do it now!!

        • Steph says:

          Ha ha Sophie, that’s great. And I totally understand how important it is to put mum at ease too! Hope you have a wonderful time 🙂

  12. Rebecca says:

    Hi Steph. We are thinking of doing this hike in the next couple of weeks. We still have our camping gear from trecking in Patagonia and want to make use of it. Could we wild camp instead of staying in hostels? We speak minimal Spanish which may be a problem communicating this to locals!

    • Steph says:

      Hi Rebecca, thanks for your awesome question – that’s a really good one, especially for us budget travellers. Unfortunately, however, I really don’t know the answer I’m afraid and don’t want to give you any wrong information as it may create extra hassle. To be honest, I would just ask those guys in Hostel Tiana in Latacunga if I was you, they knew everything and speak great English! The trek is totally unmanned as it were, so I guess no one would really know if you stealth camped. It’s more about finding a spot and being on someone’s land who might not like it! Please let us know how you get on 🙂

  13. Jackie says:

    Hi, thanks for the post, really useful. I’m planning to do the hike in the next week or so, so glad to hear you had such a good time. How useful were the maps you received from the hotels? and did you take your own map? Is any of the route marked with sign posts or a path?

    • Steph says:

      Hi Jackie, great questions and thanks for taking the time to share them. The map I got from the Tiana Hostel was the only one I took. While it wasn’t that great, it was sufficient and I managed the trail by myself without getting lost! If you could find another map, however this might be useful. The path was clear when I made the hike, but signposts were few and far between. That said, I did make this trail some years ago now and things may have improved / altered since then. Are there are Ecuador Travel facebook groups you can join where more up to date info may be available? Enjoy the hike 🙂

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