Visiting Lake Quilotoa
You will always remember the first time you peer over the crater rim of the dormant Quilotoa volcano, and see the mist-shrouded waters of Lake Quilotoa below you: it has to be one of the most spectacular sights in Ecuador, if not the whole of South America.
What you are seeing is the result of a series of volcanic eruptions which began around 80,000 years ago and have produced this enormous crater, 2.5km across and over 700m deep. What makes Quilotoa truly stunning, however, is the turquoise-blue lake that fills the crater and makes this a truly unique sight.
Because Quilotoa has been dormant for many centuries, erosion has weathered away the top of the crater lip and now farmland reaches right up to the caldera and even down into the precipitous slopes of the crater itself! From here, a steep path winds down to the shores of the lake, where you can get a canoe, a boat, or even a pedalo out onto the water. For those of you who don't fancy the steep trek (and it IS steep) back up, we recommend you hire one of the donkeys who can helpfully be found waiting by the lakeshore. It's only a few dollars to hire one for the journey back to the top, and trust us: it's a whole lot easier.
You can visit Lake Quilotoa on a day-trip from Quito, but most people choose to visit as part of a multi-day trip into the Cotopaxi National Park, which gives you the chance to stay in a traditional hacienda overnight and means you can be at Lake Quilotoa in the early morning when it's at its most magical.
The Latacunga Loop
Named after a small town near to Quilotoa, the Latacunga Loop refers to a circuit of small towns in the area which can be travelled by a mixture of trekking and public transport or more comfortably with the aid of a private vehicle. Due to the rough nature of the roads, a 4WD is usually recommended although you can get by with a normal car. The 200km loop is definitely on the backpacker grapevine but most general tours don't include it which is a shame as it's a great way to see what you might call the real Ecuador: the local market at Saquisili, for example, is in many ways more authentic than the equivalent at Otavalo and the small towns of Chugchilán and Tigua are great bases for hiking and trekking. Latacunga itself has less to detain tourists but has a wide choice of restaurants and so we often stop here for lunch on our way back to Quito.