Laguna Quilotoa, Ecuador

Lake Locations:

Ecuador -

Also known as:  Lake Quilotoa

A special treat awaits travelers who venture off the beaten track to visit Laguna Quilotoa. This amazing turquoise lake lies in the caldera of a dormant volcano. The last major eruption occurred about 800 years ago, although there have been eruption-type events several times since then. The lake lies 1,300 feet below the rim of the collapsed dome and maintains a blue-green hue due to dissolved minerals in the water. No fish or aquatic life exist in the water other than a few types of micro-organisms and algae. Locals say you can swim in the water, but it remains exceedingly cold at 11,483 feet elevation. Some hot springs appear in the form of escaping gas bubbles in some areas of the lake. Visitors can take a motor boat tour across the lake or rent a kayak to do their own exploring.

Visitors often view the lake from the edge of the caldera, where the water is framed by the snow-capped peaks of Ilinizas and Cotopaxi in the distance. A hiking path will take the ambitious to the lake’s shore in about half an hour. Enterprising local residents provide mules for rent to make the return climb to the rim easier, and many people take advantage of this less strenuous method of return. A hiking path around the rim is moderately strenuous and can take from three to six hours, depending on the hiker’s physical condition and ability to acclimate to the altitude. Although there are several spots to camp along the rim, veteran hiking sites recommend against unaccompanied camping due to some safety concerns. There is also a spot to camp and a rustic overnight shelter at the bottom along the lakeshore. In recent years Laguna Quilotoa has become a part of the new Ilinizas Ecological Reserve, administered by Ecuador’s National Park Service. The 370,400-acre Reserve encompasses the caldera, the Iliniza Twin Peaks and a large tract of the Cloud Forest, the Andes high-altitude.

Laguna Quilotoa and the Ilinizas Ecological Reserve sit at the far western edge of the Andes upon the western cordillera. Beyond this mountain range, the elevation rapidly drops to the Pacific Lowlands 10,000 feet below. Within the Reserve are several different types of ecosystems, from the rare high-altitude jungle to windswept moorlands and evergreen forests. Mostly roadless, the Reserve is open to hiking and horseback riding. It is estimated that more than 290 species of plants are native to the Reserve, including many of the orchids which flourish in the cloud forest, clinging to the trunks of trees together with bromeliads. A number of large mammals live here, including the white-lipped and white-collared peccary, opossums, agoutis, Andean fox, rare pumas and endangered spectacled bears.

The 255+ bird species listed in the Reserve include many species which are considered endangered on an international level, such as wood quails, puffleg hummingbirds and antpittas. To date, the Ecuador government has done little to protect this environmental treasure, and many of the local residents aren’t even aware that they now live in a Reserve. It is hoped that international efforts to prevent deforestation, particularly of old-growth forest, will gain momentum as more visitors become aware of these treasures.

Laguna Quilotoa is 102 miles south of Quito by road. Most visitors take one of the local buses from the small village of Zumbahua a bit over 10 miles to the south. The bus will dislodge passengers at the even smaller village of Quilotoa which exists primarily to cater to tourists coming to see Laguna Quilotoa. The local Quichua people who operate the several hostels and restaurants here came from the lower valley to benefit from the increasing tourism trade and operate hostels, guest houses and guide services.

Because Laguna Quilotoa is often obscured by clouds in the afternoon, most visitors opt to spend the night in one of the hotels and get an early start toward the caldera in the morning for the best views. Although more modern facilities are being built, many of the older establishments are somewhat rustic. Most include breakfast and dinner in the price of a room, and most have in-room fireplaces as nights can be extremely cold at this altitude. A few actually have such amenities as central heating and internet, but many visitors prefer ‘roughing it’ in the more authentic locally-operated hotels. Near Zumbahua, the small village of Tigua has a population dedicated to producing colorful paintings of local scenes on dried sheepskin. These make unique souvenirs of a visit to Ecuador and are unlike paintings found anywhere else.

A bit more is known about Laguna Quilotoa since scientific studies were performed in 1993. After the disastrous carbon dioxide eruptions of Lake Nyos and Lake Monoun in Cameroon in the late 1980s, scientists began to study the gaseous composition of crater lakes to pinpoint possibly dangerous lake conditions around the world. Because Laguna Quilotoa had at least four eruptions of some type since 1797 which left no evidence of magma on the surrounding surface, scientists suspected that an explosive carbon dioxide escape had been responsible for the death of cattle, noxious fumes and flames reported after an earthquake centered nearby. From that study it is known that the lake is made up of two basins, the deeper of which reaches 840 feet and that gases escape from a fault below the surface. The scientific team determined that, at least at present, there is little danger of such an explosion of gases in the near future. Monitoring will continue to see how these gases escape and whether they build up during changing weather conditions.

Visiting Laguna Quilotoa and Ilinizas Ecological Reserve are a once-in-a-lifetime adventure that should make any world traveler’s bucket list. The rustic lodgings at Quilotoa and several more modern ecology-based resorts in the area offer a unique opportunity to view the Andes Highlands and high-altitude jungles in relative comfort. Opportunities for photographic expeditions are numerous, and horseback or mule packing trips can be arranged in several locations. Although efforts to preserve this natural habitat are underway, visiting soon is the best way to assure you don’t miss a thing.

Things to do at Laguna Quilotoa

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Boating
  • Swimming
  • Kayaking
  • Camping
  • Hiking
  • Horseback Riding
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • National Park

Laguna Quilotoa Photo Gallery

  • Our final view of the crater lake as we descended towards Chugchilan, our next stopping point.

  • A view of the trail along the rim of the caldera. This part was very easy going: flat and debris free.

  • Quilotoa Crater and Laguna, The Cuicocha crater lake seen from the caldera rim. This was the beginning of our hike.

Laguna Quilotoa Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Not Dammed

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 11,483 feet

Average Depth: 722 feet

Maximum Depth: 840 feet

Water Volume: 291,857 acre-feet

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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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