Visit Quilotoa and Cotopaxi in one day

Cotopaxi and Quilotoa are like before and after images of a volcano. Cotopaxi is an enormous snow-capped, active volcano and Quilotoa, an incredible crater lake where once stood a mighty volcano – before it blew up. Many people wonder whether they can visit Quilotoa and Cotopaxi in one day and the answer is YES. Read on to learn more.

Visit Quilotoa and Cotopaxi in one day

Is it possible to visit Quilotoa and Cotopaxi in one day?

You can visit many must-see destinations on day trips from Quito. If you’re really limited on time, you can combine a trip to Quilotoa and Cotopaxi in one day, making it back to Quito by nightfall. You’ll come exhausted, but if you only have one day to spare, this is the trip you can’t miss.

However, to be perfectly honest, if you have the extra time, I would combine a visit to Cotopaxi and Quilotoa over 2-3 days. This way you don’t spend as much time on the road and have more time to do an activity in Cotopaxi, like horseback riding or mountain biking, or hike through the Quilotoa area. More on that in the itinerary section.

The reason it is feasible to visit both Quilotoa and Cotopaxi in one day is because they’re both in the same area of the northern Andes and connected by the same highway. Cotopaxi is closer to Quito and is normally the first stop (if you’re coming from Quito), while Quilotoa is farther south.

Visit Cotopaxi Volcano

How far is Quilotoa from Cotopaxi?

The distance between Quilotoa and Cotopaxi is 105 km (65.2 miles) and takes around 2 hours by car. 
If you’re traveling by regular bus, expect to take much longer because you’ll need to:

  • Exit Cotopaxi Park to the main highway
  • Take a bus to Latacunga or Sigchos
  • Take another bus to Quilotoa 

If that sounds like an unnecessary hassle (it is), hop on the Wanderbus, which takes you directly from Cotopaxi to Quilotoa.

Confession: I write for Wanderbus and am obviously completely biased when it comes to promoting bus travel in Ecuador. But from personal experience, this stretch between Cotopaxi and Quilotoa is weirdly inaccessible with regular transport, unless you hire a private car to take you the whole way. 

The Wanderbus makes it SO MUCH easier, and that’s because Wanderbus routes are designed to take travelers directly to top destinations like Cotopaxi, located within a national park that regular buses don’t enter.

Ecuador is an incredible place to explore by bus and you’ll find regular bus routes to nearly every corner of the country at cheap rates (we’re talking $1-2 per hour traveled!). However, these routes aren’t designed for tourists; they’re made for Ecuadorians that travel between cities where they work and towns where they live, or where their families live. On the other extreme are private tour packages and cars, that come at a price.

Wanderbus fills this gap by providing travelers an affordable and extremely convenient travel option. Wanderbus passes have fixed schedules, but allow passengers to travel flexibly by hopping on or off to their heart’s content! 

Best itinerary to visit Quilotoa and Cotopaxi in one day

Best itinerary to visit Quilotoa and Cotopaxi in one day

This is the best itinerary if you’re hoping to visit Quilotoa and Cotopaxi in one day, from Quito. It also happens to be the itinerary for our Jacamar Pass.

  • 06:00-07:00 Depart from Quito from your selected pick-up point.
  • 08:00 Stop for breakfast
  • 09:30 Guidance at Cotopaxi National Park, home to one of the world’s highest active volcanoes.
  • 11:30 Depart Cotopaxi to Quilotoa
  • 13:00 Traditional Andean lunch at Quilotoa
  • 13:45 Guidance at Quilotoa. Explore the 3km-wide turquoise volcanic crater lake.
  • 16:00 Depart Quilotoa

If you have more time and would rather spend a night in either, or both, Cotopaxi and Quilotoa consider these options:

  • In Cotopaxi National Park there are a number of activities to consider, like horse-back riding, downhill mountain biking or even summiting the mighty volcano. You can either camp in the park or stay at a nearby hotel, like Tambopaxi or the Secret Garden (highly recommended!).
  • In Quilotoa, explore the area on a multi-day trek called the Quilotoa Loop. Don’t worry about gear for this hike, you’ll be passing through various small towns with restaurant and hostel options. In terms of hostels, the Black Sheep Inn, located in the town of Chugchilán, is a personal favorite. Within the crater itself you can camp and rent a kayak.

Whichever itinerary you end up going with, make sure to LEAVE EARLY from Quito (6 am, ideally). You’re more likely to see Cotopaxi in the early morning, before the clouds roll in. If you’re planning to summit Cotopaxi, you’ll be starting at midnight 😉

Wanderbus Ecuador

I think I’ve already raved about the Wanderbus enough for this specific route, but let me emphasize – visiting Quilotoa and Cotopaxi in one day is a hassle unless you’re going on a private tour, with a private car, OR with the Wanderbus.

Apart from that, why choose the Wanderbus? It’s safe, convenient and will take you to all the top destinations in Ecuador. Many of the Wanderbus passes also include activities and short stops along the way that you might have otherwise missed.

Another advantage to traveling with the Wanderbus is that you skip the hectic bus terminals which are often crawling with pickpockets. On the Wanderbus, safety is a priority so you don’t have to worry. Our buses are well-maintained and you’ll be traveling with the same group of people for most legs of the trip (a few might hop on / off along the way). By the end of your trip, you’ll know your guide by their first name and most of the other passengers. 

How far is Quilotoa from Cotopaxi?
Whatever you decide to do, enjoy the journey and feel free to pop a question below in the comments section. We’ll do our best to provide recommendations to facilitate your trip!

Happy Wandering.


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