You won’t come to Latacunga, Ecuador, for the beauty of the town itself. Located on the Pan-American highway, the city presents little interest for the backpacker… but it’s the location in the awe-inspiring ‘Avenue of Volcanoes’ that attracts crowds of hikers and mountain climbers each year.
Surrounded by many peaks including active volcano Cotopaxi, Latacunga is the gateway to a more rural Ecuador where friendly indigenous people will help you find your way…
Things To Do in Latacunga
Hike the Trails:
Canyons, ancient volcanoes and impossibly blue lagoons… the landscapes of the Quilotoa Loop will take your breath away. Previously, there was no official route and with 200km of well-trodden trails in the area, you could just choose your own way to explore the incredible area. Now, however, owing to the increasing popularity of this hike, the official trail is marked on maps.me.
You don’t need a guide to hike the Quilotoa Loop (but you can hire one easily if you want) and there is no fee, making it a popular activity for independent and adventurous backpackers. The segment from Chugchillan to Quilotoa crater is the most impressive and should not be missed, even if you have only one day to explore.
Also read: A Guide to Hiking in Ecuador.
Beautiful views on the Quilotoa Loop
Haggle at the Traditional Markets:
Forget the tourist-ridden stalls of Otavalo Market near Quito, a visit to the Quilotoa area will open up your eyes as you discover a more rural and traditional side of Ecuador.
Food, clothes, handicrafts, animals; everything you can think of can be bought on the markets here. If you don’t like hiking, consider taking a bus to Sigchos or Saquisili which are the sites of famous markets. Don’t miss the interesting Guantualo Animal Market (every Monday) that you can visit during your Quilotoa trek.
Check out Local and Traditional Art:
One hour from Latacunga, the little village of Tigua is home to the ‘Tigua Paintings’ art movement. The art is painted onto sheep canvas by local artists who express local life and indigenous legends with vibrant colours. You can visit the galleries and even buy a painting as a souvenir of your trip.
Reach the Summit of Cotopaxi:
If you love mountain climbing, Latacunga is definitely the place for you! Many agencies in town offer to take you to the top of Cotopaxi (5,897 metres), Ecuador’s most popular, and second highest-peak (second to Chimborazo at 6,268 metres).
If you want to have a good chance of making it to the summit, make sure you are acclimatized by extending your stay in Latacunga. Practising your climbing skills on other summits like the Illinizas is also recommended.
Read more about the must-do treks in South America here!
Take in the Mama Negra Festival
If you are travelling to Ecuador during September, plan your visit during the Mama Negra festival to enjoy a popular fiesta and get familiar with local traditions.
The festival is held in honour of the ‘Virgen de la Merced’ and is a mixture of indigenous, Spanish and African influences. Hostels get busy during this time, so be sure to book your bed in advance!
Where to Stay in Latacunga
There are several hostels to choose from in the town. One of the most popular is Hostal Tiana, which is always full of hikers that love to share their climbing stories. Don´t miss the rooftop terrasse with amazing views over Cotopaxi!
On the Quilotoa Loop
Depending on the route you choose, you may stay in Quilotoa, Chugchillan or Insinlivi. These villages offer several options of good quality accommodation ranging from $10-25 USD per bed. Dinner and breakfast are usually included in the price, making it very practical for hikers. Special mention to Llullu Llama in Insinlivi, where the standards of the lodging and the quality of the food, will make you forget you are a backpacker.
For more places to stay, see our in-depth hiking guide for Quilotoa Loop.
Located on the Pan-American highway, Latacunga is just a short 2-hour bus ride from Quito. The road is good and buses leave every 15 minutes from Quito terminal. The journey by local bus will cost you only $2 USD.
Where to Head Next?
From Latacunga, many travellers continue south. Baños is a popular destination for adrenaline seekers, whereas hikers that haven’t yet had their fill of mountain adventures can head to Riobamba to challenge themselves on the trails of Chimborazo, Ecuador´s highest peak.
If you’ve had enough high-altitude adventure, why not travel west to the Pacific Coast of Ecuador to relax after days of hiking? Great places to visit are the party town of Montañita and Otavalo.
About the Author:
This destination guide was written by Amandine and Adnan from the blog Little Big Explorations. The European couple (French and Swedish) recently quit their corporate jobs to travel to South America. “Our friends call us crazy, mainly because our travels are nothing like relaxing – but we love adventures!”