Situated in an extinct volcano crater high in the Andean Mountains, Laguna Quilotoa is deemed one of the most beautiful lakes in the whole of Ecuador. To be honest, I’m not surprised.
After making the short trip from my current home to the town of Latacunga, I was expecting it to be both hectic and problematic to make the approximately 70km journey to Laguna Quilotoa, especially when my guidebook stated that there was only one bus a day to Zumbahua, a town situated 10km from the lake. I was therefore quite surprised upon reaching Latacunga Bus Terminal on Saturday at 7.30am to find a bus bound for Zumbahua ready to leave. I don’t know if there are more buses going to Zumbahua on Saturdays due to the hugely popular indigenous market there, although I have a feeling they leave fairly regularly every day of the week.
Expect to pay only $1.25 each way for the bus journey to Zumbahua, a nice 90 minute journey. Like with me, the bus conductor will no doubt try and lie to make you pay more, but no matter what tall-tales they come up with to try and make you pay more, there is no reason for you to do so. If you have the correct change it will certainly help matters. If you don’t you could unknowingly pay $2 for your trip, like the French couple sitting opposite me.
If you are finding it hard to track down a direct bus to Zumbahua, you can catch a bus for Quevedo, getting off at the turn to Zumbahua, where you have a nice 10 minute walk down into the valley, where the small town can be seen sprawled out. If catching the bus to Quevedo, I am told that you should expect to pay slightly higher than the direct bus to Zumbahua, although I can’t say for certain. I would just try handing over the same money as the fee for the direct bus.
The bus ride to Zumbahua is a scary, hair-raising affair. As you pass through the town of Pujili, you start the climbing to a final elevation of 3,800 meters, following the road as it races around the edge of vertical drop cliffs. You would think that knowing one piece of bad driving could signal a quick end to a person’s life would deter the bus drives from driving at lunatic speeds. Sadly not, as they take the corners like a F1 racing driver, cutting the corners and taking the racing line, oblivious to the concerns of meeting any oncoming traffic head-on.
Luckily you have the luxury of having the beautiful scenery to take your mind off the crazy driving. For the best views sit on the right hand-side going to Zumbauhua and the left hand-side returning to Latacunga. This gives you much better views of the patchwork fields, which seem to climb the mountains right to the peak. It really amazes me how people can farm land that almost has a 90° gradient, but I suppose when you are this poor, you take what land you can to farm.
As well as the patchwork of farmed fields, people here seem to dress more traditionally, in the typical Andean colours you see in many photographs from this region, tending to their cattle in the dust blown environment outside adobe brick houses. It amazed me the difference in wealth of these people, compared to the residents of Latacunga, only a short ride away.
If you aren’t inclined to risk your life on a bus, you can also rent a camioneta (a white pick-up truck) from Latacunga, which are located next to the main market on Antonio Vela. Expect to pay between $40 and $50 for the return trip.
Upon reaching the town of Zumbahua, the only way of getting to Laguna Quilotoa, other than a 10km, 4 hour walk, is to go by lorry or pick-up truck. It seems the drivers of this type of transport all wait eagerly around the bus drop-off point, flagging you down the moment you leave the bus. I paid $7.50 for the 20 minute ride to Laguna Quilotoa, but I think you could get it for less. If possible, try and arrange the driver of the lorry or pick-up to meet you at the lake to take you back to Zumbahua, as transport on my visit was few and far between, and you could be in for a long cold wait!
In total, split between the two people I was traveling with, it cost a total of $7.50 for all the transport to and from Latacunga, which you can’t really complain about for a full day’s entertainment and enjoyment. Latacunga is located around 90km from Quito, a 2 hour journey costing $1.50. Buses leave for Latacunga from Quito’s Terminal Terrestre almost every 10 minutes.