The region around Latacunga is exceptional: volcanoes, laguna, páramo. It should definitely be on your bucket list should you be in Ecuador.
What to do in Latacunga?
- Cotopaxi: Cotopaxi is the second highest volcano in Ecuador (5 897 m). And still considered active!
- I took an excursion from the Secret Garden Hostel in Quito to go to Cotopaxi for $59 (non negotiable)
- 1st stop (around 3. 500m) at the entrance where you can enjoy a nice breakfast and… take coca leaves/sweets before it’s too late! We hopped on the bus again (after I saved a Canadian girl’s legs by lending her some jeans). The views on its plateau (páramo) are amazing: wild horses, colourful flowers. But let me be honest: there’s a high risk the top of the volcano will be surrounded by clouds…
- The minivan dropped us at the car park at 4 600m. My first impression: it’s freezing! Then we started the trek to the refuge … and it was just crazy: the guide told us it’s a 37% slope, we needed to stop many many times to decrease our heartbeat. And to fight the feeling of having no energy whatsoever in my legs. It took time but we all managed.
- After a stop and a coca tea at the refuge we decided to go a bit higher up to see the glacier. At some point it was more climbing between the rocks than actually walking. But I was definitely proud to have achieved it. 5 000 my is the highest I’ve climbed in my life!
- The way down between the rocks and the big pile of sands was just as difficult. 13 kms in total.
- Then because our legs had not suffered enough, we went on a bike ride in the clouds to the Limpiopungo lagoon. Luckily mostly going down!
- Last stop: super good lunch at the Mirador de los Volcanes … At 16.00 with a nice group, but one of the guys (although from mountainous Switzerland) simply couldn’t eat as the height sickness suddenly hit him badly after the bike ride 😦
- Of course, if you’re fit and have had time to be acclimated to heights, you can do a trek to the top. Looks amazing!
- Laguna Quilotoa is a 3-km crater lake formed by the collapse of a volcano about 800 years ago.
- When I finally made it to Latacunga (see below), nearly all tour agencies were closed. I ended up in front of my hostel in Calle Luis Fernando Vivero and got a tour for 45$
- The guide stopped us in a few places before arriving at the laguna
- An indigenous house from a cute old man had 10 children, all sleeping in the same very cool house. They only got electricity 2 years ago. But they had dozens of guinea pigs running around… we saw later on on the road how they cook it…
- A shop from a local artist with a lot of very colourful paintings and traditional masks
- The impressive Toachi River Canyon
- I must admit the first impression from the laguna is not great: plenty of restaurants. It just looks very fake. Furthermore, the traditional walk at the Laguna is to go down to the water and then painfully climb back up. But this didn’t sound very exciting to my newly-met fellow traveller and me. After a bit of negotiation with the guide, I managed to convince him to walk around the crater. The 8-km trek at 3 800m was sometimes a bit hard, but the surrounding views were stunning. And we had the most amazing crater view for our picnic lunch.
- If you want to do a 3-day walk, then the Quilotoa loop is the way to go. Only good reviews!
- Some nice places for a quick walk around Latacunga: Parque Vicente León, Mirador El Calvario, Plaza Santo Domingo
Where to eat in Latacunga?
- Some Italian food in a very cute courtyard at GiIardino resto bar
- More Italian food from Pizzeria Buona Grill if you’re there on a Sunday when everything else is closed! My initial idea was Bundaváh Café-Fogata that looked very cute and had good reviews. Check it out!
Where to sleep in Latacunga?
I chose one of the best listed hotels in several guide books: Hostal Tiana. I paid only 39€ for 2 nights in a big bedroom with a private bathroom (very warm water after 5 minutes!). It’s cold at night but they have big blankets. BUt before going to bed: go watch the beautiful sunset on Cotopaxi from the rooftop terrace.
Useful tips in Latacunga:
- My initial plan was to travel on my own to Cotopaxi national park. However it appears now like a lengthy and risky idea – but economic if you’re on a budget
1° The bus terminal Quito is quite far away from the old town. 1hour of city bus to get there
2° You should then ask to be dropped off on the motorway between 319 & 320 km where camionetas should be there to take way around the national park for 4/5h (around 25$). But when I passed by in May 2021 and looked from the bus, I definitely couldn’t see any. Not sure if it was due to COVID but I would have felt quite bad.
- If you travel on your own on the highway, be careful. When they drop you in Latacunga, they actually stop you on the motorway 5 kms away from the actual city. You can take a taxi or a bus from the Circunvalación. Otherwise you’ll end up just like me at the next stop in Salcedo, take a bus to the centre to Salcedo and another one to the bus terminal in Latacunga. Definitely not as fast!
- Everything closes early, and closes on Sunday! Beware!
All recommendations are mine, no ads. Prices from May 2022.