Villa de Tacvnga, Latacunga & the Quilotoa Volcano Crater Lake

Villa de Tacvnga, Latacunga & the Quilotoa Volcano Crater Lake

(Content has been updated since the post was first published in April 2014)

My bus rolled south out of Quito. As usually happens in Ecuador the driver stopped at every cluster of cabanas so that vendors could climb on board, selling everything from newspapers to medicines making it a slow, but interesting trip.   I bought a little bag of strips of green mango with salt to keep me going on the journey. It may sound weird but it works!  I was on my way to Latacunga from where I wanted to visit the Quilotoa volcano crater lake.

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Latacunga and Quilotoa

Latacunga and Quilotoa

South of Quito the road trundles down a wide flat U-shaped valley with the sides rising to mountains lost in the clouds. Cows grazed peacefully, boxes of beehives were in the fields and everywhere people were working the land.

Latacunga, Ecuador

Cotopaxi volcano is in the background with snow on its peak

Ecuador has more than thirty volcanoes, eight of which are considered active and I was heading south on the road known as the Avenue of the Volcanoes.  Latacunga is a town which sits just off the Pan American Highway and I was planning to explore the area and to do some writing away from the hustle and bustle of Quito.


I trekked up from the bus terminal and plunging into the narrow streets, for once I had some luck and I  found my hotel quite easily.  If you are a regular reader you will know that I am always getting myself lost.

You can avoid this yourself by getting a decent guide book before you set off:- check here for the best offers from the Lonely Planet Guides

Latacunga, Ecuador Hotel courtyard

The courtyard of the Villa de Tacvnga

When I checked in to the Villa de Tacvnga (click here for up to date booking information), my immediate observation was one of calm and tranquility compared to the noise and chaos in the street outside.  A handful of people were dining in the large central courtyard which was draped with canopies and offered a welcome shade.  The rooms were built off balconies that ran around a smaller second courtyard in the Spanish Andalusian style and there were pretty tiles on the floors.

I was really lucky to be given a family room – which had a double bed and a single and bunk beds; all with fleecy blue throws over them and two windows dressed with very nice gold curtains.  The towels were bundled up with blue ribbons, there were chocolates on the pillows and complimentary bottles of water on the side.  The whole place was extremely tastefully decorated, and as I have already mentioned, peaceful.

Latacunga, hotel

My welcoming bed

I would also soon discover that the bathroom had a VERY powerful hot shower, there was a hairdryer and an excellent selection of channels to choose from on the television.

The villa, which once occupied a much larger area than it does now, was built between the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries for the Marquis of Miraflores and now as a hotel it contains a couple of suites and many lovely rooms.

I asked whether the hotel staff could recommend a tour guide as I wanted to visit Cotopaxi or preferably the crater lake of Quilotoa during my stay.  At this stage in my travelling adventure I wasn’t quite brave enough to find a local bus all by myself, but the hotel staff contacted and arranged a local guide for me.

Knowing what I know now I would certainly make the bus trip myself, although at least booking with the guide I had the opportunity to meet other walkers on our trip and our minibus stopped several times along the way and the guide explained what we were looking at.

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The Quilotoa Volcano Crater Lake

I  had a very filling breakfast of fruit, bread and scrambled eggs in the sunny courtyard.  There was fresh raspberry juice and strong coffee and then I was met by the guide and taken to join four people who were waiting for me in a large Land Cruiser.

Latacunga, Ecuador

the sunny courtyard

Diego drove us up into the mountains for nearly two hours to the little town that nestles just below the rim of the crater of the Quilotoa volcano.  I know that I bang on and on about the scenery in South America but it really is something spectacular and my camera just cannot capture the sheer scale of it.  The roads fold around the mountainsides for miles and miles, climbing high through passes and then swooping down and round, the clouds bubble up and shroud the peaks, and here and there were large piles of dried brown grass which looked like old fashioned hay stacks.

These turned out to be homes called chozas and were mostly roofs over short wooden structures but were the farmhouses of the indigenous people.

Latacunga, Quilotoa farmhouse

a choza with its haystack like roof

The majority of the women here wore colourful skirts, long white socks, shawls and bottle green trilby hats, often with a peacock feather stuck in the side.  One of them told me that the blue of the feather signifies the blue of the sky, the green hats the land and the brown for the soil.  She was telling me this whilst sat on the rim of the crater and having a conversation on her mobile phone with somebody at the bottom by the lake.

Latacunga, Quilotoa volcano

pausing for breath – mobile phone clutched in her hand

Leaving the car park I climbed to the top of a rise and wow,  what a sight.  The morning sun had turned the lake’s water a brilliant blue.  Edged by the steep crater sides and with the snow covered peaks of Los Ilinizas and Cotopaxi in the distance, it was a magical sight.

I slowly hiked down to the lake but I declined the option to kayak on the water and I also declined the option of riding a mule or a horse back up.  I did wonder about the wisdom of that decision on more than one occasion as I struggled with the sheer climb on loose, sandy soil and the altitude (the lake is at a breath-stopping 4000 metres), but eventually, encouraged by my new friends from Spain and Bolivia who were on my tour and chatting away in my own version of Spanish, I staggered to the top.

Latacunga and the Quilotoa crater lake

The crater lake of Quilotoa

The crater measures fifteen kilometers around the rim, and from the rim to the water is four hundred meters – although the zig zag path measures one kilometer and as I have already mentioned it tops out at a breath-taking altitude of four thousand meters.  The depth of the water at the edges is two hundred and fifty meters deep and in the centre – who knows!!!  It’s deep.  And due to the sulphur (which we could actually see bubbling at the sides) nothing can live or grow in it.

After some time spent at the top, chatting to some local women we ate a very tasty lunch inside one of the hostels, warmed by a wood burner stove and sopa de zapallo (pumpkin).  We had to wait for two of our party to return from their trek around the rim but I just had to keep popping back to peep at the amazing view for one more time.

Driving back we had perfect views in the almost clear skies of the massive volcano Cotopaxi – the highest active volcano in the world, and the twin peaks of North and South Ilinizas.  These were once one volcano which exploded and blew itself into two and now have their own lake high between the two.


Cotopaxi volcano

We also stopped to see the Canyon del Rio Toachi, formed in a previous volcanic eruption.  The steep sides gashed through the land and a heat haze shimmered up and out despite the now brisk wind which was blowing.


Canyon del Rio Toachi

Back at the hotel I was welcomed once again by Nelson W. Chanatasig who was interested to know how my day had been.  You can check out the rooms and the latest prices here, but what the web site doesn’t convey is the friendliness and professionalism of the staff.  Sr Chanatasig and his right hand team of Juan and Belen have createe the most welcoming atmosphere in a place of sophistication.  And this wasn’t just put on for me either – I watched and listened as I went through reception and they were lovely with everybody.

Just before I left, the manager took me behind the scenes to the kitchen which contained the original ovens  that were nearly three hundred years old and he showed me the little yard at the back which contained the well, complete with its stone water filter.  This stone shaped bucket would have been filled with sand and charcoal and the well water filtered to ensure that it was clean.  The hotel has been lovingly restored and there are plans to make further improvements to the building.


a little bit of luxury

Latacunga is a small town but one very good reason to visit is to stay at the Villa de Tacvnga in its perfect location on the Plaza of Santo Domingo, and to make the journey over to the crater lake of the Quilotoa Volcano.  Many intrepid travellers also climb the Cotopaxi volcano but that, I am afraid to say, is simply way too far outside of my comfort zone!

The best bits:

  • The tranquil atmosphere at the Villa de Tacvnga and the overwhelming feeling of peace
  • The extremely friendly staff: Nelson W Chanatasig, Belen and Juan
  • The beautiful building with the stone arches and courtyards
  • The jaw-dropping views of Quilotoa
  • The bus journey to and from the crater lake and the stop at the Canyon del Rio Toachi

If you are planning a trip to Ecuador, don’t forget your guide book from Lonely Planet which you can get via this link – Lonely Planet Guide to Ecuador and I can’t stress enough the importance of taking out decent travel insurance before you go anywhere (I use Alpha Travel Insurance which is not so expensive as some)

Note:- Whilst I received complimentary accommodation at the Villa de Tacvnga this did not influence my opinion or review in any way.  I have portrayed an honest picture of my stay.

There are affiliate links within this article: from which I may earn a small amount of commision if click and subsequently make a purchase.  There is no additional cost to you

Hostal Endamo, Latacunga

So what does Latacunga have to offer apart from the natural beauty of the area?

There is a tiny but cute museum known as Casa de la Maquesas where a little old man un-padlocked each of the doors for me, switched on lights and proudly showed me around.  I never quite fathomed out whether I was visiting outside of the opening hours or whether he had just not bothered to open up that afternoon, but it housed a few interesting objects in a lovely old building.

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The museum curator and Mama Negra

The gentleman tinkled the keys on the various pianos and organs and opened doors and drawers of the exhibits and talked at me the entire time in Quichua.  I didn’t understand a word he said!

There are numerous churches, pretty parks and squares, a lovely ice cream parlour and when the clouds lift, the Cotopaxi volcano can be seen on the horizon.  The streets in the old town are narrow and most have cobbles and the buildings are made of stone.  At night the old fashioned lamps glow with warm shades of yellow, green or orange and look so inviting.  I was out walking after dark and felt completely safe in the surrounding streets.  The Hostal Endamo is situated a block or two from the main square and is very close to a cute little park.

After some initial confusion at check-in I was shown to my room.   The room was small but neat and tidy with a flat screen TV on the wall and somebody had done some towel art, which I always appreciate.  There was a nice wood effect parquet floor, thoughtfully placed electric sockets and lights and a tasteful picture.  The bathroom fittings looked new and it all smelt really clean and fresh.


My small but perfectly adequate room

Access to the hotel was through a restaurant and once I was settled in, the ladies on reception were keen to find out why and how I was travelling.  Or maybe they weren’t but I was keen to practice my Spanish and I told them anyway.  And they were very polite considering I had just turned up on the doorstep and they asked me lots of questions and practised their English.

I was offered lunch in the restaurant which was really very tasty.  I had soup, a main course and a little pastry as well as a juice.  It was busy at lunchtime with many business people dressed in suits dropping in to eat.  The owner and manager, Enrique Naranjo told me the following day that the restaurant can seat thirty people but will also double up as a conference suite suitable for up to fifty people.  It was long and narrow but with the roses and tablecloths it was welcoming and it was certainly popular.


The restaurant at Hostal Endamo

The following day at breakfast, the owner and manager sat with me and explained about the history of the hotel.  He has been here for five years and has been doing  a lot of work to the building.  He very kindly gave me a tour of many of the rooms which are situated within two blocks.  The front of the hotel containing the garage (parking for guests is VERY useful in these narrow streets) and the restaurant with some rooms above is a modern addition to the structure.  Behind the restaurant, the reception can be found in a roofed courtyard close to the kitchen.  A large water-feature plays here and stairways lead up to the much older part of the hotel.


Reception and its water feature

There are twenty three rooms which range from the smaller once such as the one that I was in, through to some family rooms and some suites.  Enrique is also converting a room to a self-contained unit with a small kitchen for guests who want to stay longer.  All of the rooms have new bathroom fittings and are tastefully decorated and all have natural light and ventilation.  There are no nasty fans in the bathrooms – they all have windows to the outside or to the central atrium.  And they have shower gel dispensers too which is always a nice touch.


The relaxing lounge area at the top of the hotel

At the top of the hotel there is a peaceful seating area with panoramic windows and views to the surrounding mountains and the Cotopaxi volcano.  There is also a ping-pong table here should you wish to get active.  The whole area is enclosed with light plastic roofing which keeps the place warm.  At the top of the front building of the hotel is an open roof terrace with a 360 degree view of the town and the volcano.

And Latacunga?

I read somewhere that Latacunga has the highest concentration of barber shops per capita in Ecuador.  That is very possibly true – they are everywhere, but it also appears to be the hub for embroidery shops – you know the ones – places that will embroider your tracksuit or polo-shirt with your business name.  There are banks of these shops here with machines busy whirring away and shiny tracksuits and trophies in their windows.


Sun setting on Cotopaxi viewed from the roof terrace

Latacunga also has an airport and I was told that the only planes which fly in and out transport flowers or broccoli.  The surrounding hills house poly-tunnels growing mainly roses which the region is famous for.  I expected to see little cargo planes using a small runway, but walking around the old town I actually ducked as a huge plane, one step down from a jumbo took off, its undercarriage still down as it appeared to just miss the rooftops.  The blast from it set off all the car alarms.  They must grow one hell of a lot of roses here.

What Latacunga doesn’t have – take note any entrepreneur – is decent coffee shops.  I found just one and that one was disguised as a bar – but the town does have some very nice ice cream outlets and I felt it was my duty to sample as many of the flavours that I could on several occasions.

Half the population here are wearing the latest fashions – the other half (the women) wear traditional dress of coloured skirts, knee-high white socks,  green trilby hats and fringed shawls.  These clothes are not confined to the older generation either – I have seen many teenager girls draped around their boyfriends sporting white socks and hats – but maybe I am simply ignorant and it is these girls who are the height of fashion.


The roof top lounge area and its pool table

Latacunga is a traditional town with few tourists but I liked it.  It is a perfect town away from the craziness of Quito but close to Cotopaxi and Quilotoa.





Best bits:

  • If you want to relax, head up to the roof of the Hostal Endamo with its comfy seats and great views – take your camera at sunset
  • Lunch at the Hostal Endamo is great
  • Enrique and his wife are a lovely couple – very friendly and smiley
  • Try an ice cream or three at Nice on the corner of Santo Domingo square
  • Just wander and relax.

Note:- Whilst I received complimentary accommodation at the Hostal Endamo this did not influence my opinion or review in any way.  I have portrayed an honest picture of my stay


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