I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Quito is the best place to base yourself for a trip to Ecuador. There is so much to see and do just a few hours from Quito – the Amazon Rainforest, the Cloud Forest in Mindo, Cotopaxi and countless other volcanoes, and so much more.
But what about the best things to do just outside of Quito?
Meet the Valle de los Chillos – or, the Los Chillos Valley. Just over the hill from Quito, this valley – and its largest town, Sangolqui – are often overlooked by visitors to Quito who pass through on their way to visit Cotopaxi.
However, if you’re looking for a genuine experience of true small-town Ecuador, complete with stunning natural beauty, fascinating markets, and unmissable cultural events, don’t miss the Valle de los Chillos.
In this ultimate guide, we’re sharing why you should add Sangolqui and the Valle de los Chillos to your Ecuador itinerary, and how to make the most of a day trip to the Los Chillos Valley. We spent two years living in Sangolqui in the Valle de los Chillos, located a short 40-minute bus ride from Quito, and quickly grew to love this corner of Ecuador – you won’t find a more local guide than this!
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What is the Valle de los Chillos?
The Valle de los Chillos – the Los Chillos Valley – is the valley located to the southeast of Quito. It’s just over the ridge from Quito – if you’ve already visited the TelefériQo, you’ve surely spotted it.
A few decades ago, this valley was almost entirely made up of small villages, agricultural land, and lush, beautiful landscape.
As Quito’s population has grown and public and private transportation options have exploded, many Quiteños have begun to move into the Valley in search of more space and housing options, plus an escape from the hustle and bustle of the city.
While this has changed the Valley, the most beautiful and interesting aspects of it remain.
Here you’ll find several beautiful waterfalls to discover, mountain and volcano hikes with jaw-dropping views, and the Sangolqui market – the market so good residents from Quito get up early to make it here for the best deals on Sunday.
All of this, plus the fact that few foreign visitors have yet to add this beautiful valley to their Ecuador itinerary – you’ll get the chance to take it all in without throngs of tourists in the way.
Valle de los Chillos Map
Check out and click around on this map of Sangolqui and the Valle de los Chillos. I’ve loaded in all the spots I mention in this article, plus a few extras, to help you get a sense of where to find everything. Look how close it is to Quito!
Best Things to Do in Valle de los Chillos
There is a lot to do – the valley is huge! – and there are plenty of highlights to consider adding to your itinerary for your time in the valley. Here are some of the highlights of the Valle de los Chillos that we’ll cover in more detail in this article.
1. Visit Sangolqui and the Sangolqui Market
Sangolqui is the largest town in the Valle de los Chillos, and it’s an obligatory stop on a visit to the area – almost all transportation runs through town.
Even if you’ve set your sights on a volcano or waterfall hike, you’ll want to explore the Sangolqui market and walk around the downtown streets of this charming town. Jump ahead in this article to our section on Sangolqui to learn more and plan your visit.
2. Hike the Pasochoa Volcano
This extinct volcano towers over the valley, but it’s more than a part of the skyline here. Pasochoa is a great, moderately challenging hiking destination in a beautiful and serene part of the Los Chillos Valley.
While many use this mountain climb to prepare and acclimate to climb Cotopaxi, it’s a good fit for even beginners looking to conquer a peak in Ecuador. Jump ahead in this article to read more about how to visit Pasochoa.
Read More: 10 Impressive Volcanoes in Ecuador
3. Hike the Ilaló Volcano
Yet another extinct volcano in the Valle de los Chillos, Ilaló is a favorite hiking destination. Quite a steep, yet not too high, climb, you can also make it by 4X4 or truck if you’re just interested in the fabulous view from the top.
Jump ahead in this article to read even more about why you should add Ilaló to your itinerary.
4. Visit the Molinuco Waterfalls
Within an ecological reserve on the far edge of the valley, Molinuco is a beautiful getaway from the hustle and bustle of Quito – and an increasingly popular hiking spot for locals.
The area is home to well-defined hiking routes to several waterfalls, plus a restaurant and campground. Jump ahead in this article to read even more about how to visit Molinuco.
5. Hike to Condor Machay Waterfall
Hidden among some of the most stunning landscapes in the valley, the Condor Machay waterfall is one of the stars of the Valle de los Chillos. A flat and easy hike in opens onto a towering, impressive waterfall, well worth a visit.
Jump ahead to our section later in the article on how to hike to Condor Machay.
6. Visit Amaguaña
In heart of the Los Chillos valley, Amaguaña is a rather non-descript but quaint town near the entrance to Pasochoa. But don’t write off a visit – it is also home to some of the country’s best Carnival celebrations every year.
Jump ahead to learn more about how to visit and why Amaguaña is a great destination in the Los Chillos Valley.
The largest town in the Valle de los Chillos, you’ll travel through Sangolqui if you plan to visit any of the destinations within the valley. This small town has morphed into more of a suburb as Quito grows and expands outward, though it maintains its more laidback feeling and quaint charm in the center of town.
Don’t rush through Sangolqui if you don’t have to – it is worth a visit! Visit the market, walk the historic streets, stop for ice cream at the Helados Victoria in the town’s main square.
You can easily get to Sangolqui by taking one of the many buses that depart from the Playón de la Marín bus terminal near the Quito Historic Center.
Bus drivers stand outside their buses and shout their destinations until departure time, so you’ll be sure you find one headed to Sangolqui – “El Choclo” and “Parque Turismo” are destinations within Sangolqui where you can get off once you’ve arrived.
The Sangolqui Market
The biggest draw to visiting Sangolqui proper is the market. While the primary market day is Sunday – and to a lesser extent, Thursday – the market is open every day of the week. You’ll find a mix of fresh and prepared foods, clothing, home goods, live animals… pretty much everything you can think of.
Time your visit for a Sunday if you can! On Sundays, the market spills out of the primary building into the surrounding streets, and there is so much to see, smell, taste, and buy.
The Sangolqui Market is unlike anything you’ll find in Quito, and many Quito residents travel here on Sundays just to shop at the market.
Plan to spend at least an hour exploring the market, eating, and exploring the historic center of town around the market, including the lovely Iglesia Matriz at the center of town.
Hotels in Sanqolgui
There aren’t many places to stay in Sangolqui, but Hacienda La Carriona is the standout choice. This gorgeous hacienda has incredible grounds, including a swimming pool, lovely historic rooms, a gorgeous dining room, and more. You’re guaranteed to have an unforgettable stay.
While not technically in the Valle de los Chillos or Sangolqui, just south of the area and on the south side of Pasochoa you’ll find the Secret Garden Cotopaxi.
This lovely hotel is the best place I’ve ever stayed. You’ll wake up to a front-seat view of Cotopaxi each morning, and the staff makes incredible food and organizes unforgettable tours of Pasochoa, Cotopaxi National Park, and the surrounding area. Highly recommended if you can add it to your itinerary!
Restaurants in Sangolqui
In addition to eating at the market stalls in Sangolqui, you’ll find some delicious but cheap restaurants in the square in front of the Iglesia Matriz, the town’s main church. Most have simple menus with bench seating, but you’ll get delicious Ecuadorian classics at a great price.
Similar options line the Calle Pichincha, the pedestrian street headed down the hill directly across from the front of the church.
Make sure to stop for ice cream at the Helados Victoria store in the square front of the church – their tropical fruit flavors like blackberry (mora) and soursop (guanabana) are so flavorful and made on site.
Open Wednesday through Monday, La Clinica del Chuchaqui is a standout restaurant for their “encebollado,” an Ecuadorian coastal soup made from onions and fish. Any seafood dishes here are great.
An extinct volcano soaring above the Valle de los Chillos, Pasochoa is one of the most distinctive features of the valley’s “skyline.” A favorite with climbers to help them acclimate for more challenging climbs in Ecuador, this is a favorite spot in the valley and worth adding to your itinerary if you’re looking for a great hike.
Even if you’re not a very experienced hiker or climber, don’t rule out a visit to Pasochoa. The hike to the summit is moderate and doable for relatively fit beginners. Even if you weren’t to make it to the summit, this is a fantastic place for a hike through a lovely area with incredible views and much to see.
At the trailhead, you’ll see signs for different routes and paths, and you can choose which you’d like to complete – there’s everything from leisurely strolls to the summit push.
On clear days from the south side of Pasochoa, you’ll have an unforgettable front-row view of Cotopaxi Volcano. If you’re hiking Pasochoa as a way to acclimate for a push to the summit of Cotopaxi, this should be incredible motivation!
Getting to Pasochoa
To get to Pasochoa, take a bus headed to Amaguaña from the Playón de la Marín bus terminal near the Historic Center of Quito. This should take around an hour and cost less than a dollar.
Once you’ve reached Amaguaña, take a white and green pickup truck taxi to the trailhead, probably about 25 minutes. You can discuss with the taxi driver when you’d like a pickup later in the day.
If you’re planning on just visiting Pasochoa in one day – without an overnight nearby – plan private transport. It’s a lot of bus ride time without it! I recommend scheduling a private trek with a guide from Quito if you’re looking at a visit as a day trip.
If your itinerary allows for an overnight, I definitely recommend a stay at The Secret Garden Cotopaxi – they organize the best group treks up Pasochoa!
The Pasochoa trek to the summit is about 7 miles (12 kilometers), and generally takes about 7 hours in total to complete, making it a very doable hike for a day trip from Quito.
At the start of the hike, you’ll find beautiful forests with eucalyptus trees, and once you reach a certain altitude the landscapes change to be grassy and clear.
There is a spot for camping about 100 meters up from the parking area where you can pitch a tent. You’ll also have access to bathrooms at the parking area entrance, though you won’t find any other services here. The parking area is free for overnights as well, and you’ll sometimes see campers and vans parked here.
Visiting Ilaló, yet another extinct volcano in the Los Chillos Valley, is another fantastic idea for a visit. Just over the hill from Quito, you can reach the base of Ilaló in around 30 minutes from the city.
Be warned that the hike is quite steep, and there are sandy portions that can make finding your footing even tougher. There is a way to drive up to the top – take the bus from Quito to “El Triángulo” and get a pickup truck taxi to take you to the top.
From the top of Ilaló, marked by a massive metal cross, you’ll have a spectacular view of the entire valley, as well as the surrounding mountains.
On a clear day, you should be able to see Pasochoa, Cotopaxi, and even snow-capped Antisana over the mountain ridge to the east.
Molinuco Ecological Refuge
Home to several beautiful waterfalls, hiking trails, and campgrounds, Molinuco Ecological Refuge is a great choice to add to your Valle de los Chillos visit. At the entrance to Molinuco, you’ll find a restaurant and ticket booth (entrance is $3 USD), where you’ll receive a detailed map of the area.
I recommend hiking the circuit to Cascada Molinuco, and visiting to overlook of the Gran Cascada if you have time! The Gran Cascada is by far the most impressive, while the circuit to Cascada Molinuco is a moderate hike that leads you along the river and past several beautiful waterfalls.
Be warned that the trail can get slippery, so wear good shoes!
To get to Molinuco from Quito, take any bus from Playón de la Marín bus terminal to “El Colibrí” or “ESPE” and get off the bus at “El Colibrí,” which is a large hummingbird statue in the roundabout. From there, take the bus headed to Loreto – the Pintag bus line. Get off in Loreto and get a taxi – here, taxis are white and green pickup trucks – to the entrance of the Refuge.
In total, the trip should take about 1 or 1.5 hours.
You can let the taxi driver know when to pick you up again from Molinuco, or there are usually taxis waiting to take visitors back again.
Condor Machay Waterfall
Located near the base of Pasochoa, the Condor Machay waterfall is an impressive one. Reached by an easy hike and set among some of the most gorgeous landscapes in the Valle de los Chillos, visiting Condor Machay is a fantastic choice for spending time in the Los Chillos Valley.
The drive itself is nearly worth the trip. You’ll see some incredible mountain landscapes and countryside. If you’re taking a pickup truck taxi, sit in the back for the best views.
Condor Machay is located quite far from the small cities and towns in the rest of the valley, so the easiest way to reach it is by taxi from Sangolqui.
Some of the roads reaching the start of the hike are unpaved, so choosing one of the white and green pickup truck taxis would be best. From downtown Sangolqui, the drive takes about 45 minutes.
Once you arrive in the parking area, take the trail on the right side of the parking area to visit Condor Machay – there are other trails that depart from this parking area that visit other waterfalls. These are impressive, but not as spectacular as Condor Machay.
The 45-minute walk to the waterfall is mostly flat, though there are some wet portions near the river and creeks, so step carefully. It’s a peaceful walk that opens onto a massive clearing below the waterfall.
You can swim below the waterfall, but the water is freezing – keep that in mind before planning to dive in!
There usually isn’t much in Amaguaña for the visitor to see, other than a small, quaint town surrounded by mountains. However, Amaguaña becomes a real attraction come springtime each year, when Ecuador celebrates Carnival. Amaguaña is host to some of the most festive Carnival celebrations in all of Ecuador.
Read More: Ultimate Guide to Carnival in Ecuador
Carnival in Amaguaña
If you’re visiting during Carnival season – usually in February or March each year, head to Amaguaña like so many Quito residents do to celebrate. Here you’ll find residents “playing Carnival” by throwing water, flour, colored powder, and foam at each other in the streets.
It’s a messy celebration but an unforgettable one if you’re ready to play too!
The town is also host to an endless lineup of parades, musical acts, dance presentations, and more. While you’ll feel the religious undertones of Carnival somewhat, it’s most a fun and uplifting celebration of Ecuadorian culture and tradition.
There is no better way to learn about, experience, and participate in Ecuadorian culture as a visitor.
To get to Amaguaña, take one of the Amaguaña company buses from the Playón de la Marín bus terminal near the Historic Center of Quito. Buses leave frequently – about every 10 minutes – and will leave you in the center of the town. The ride takes about an hour in total.
Carley Rojas Avila is a bilingual New York-based travel writer, editor, content marketer, and the founder of the digital travel publications Explorers Away and Home to Havana. Carley is an expert on all things Latin America, the Caribbean, and Cuba, having lived and worked in four different countries in the region. Her writing has appeared on the Associated Press wires and in Travel + Leisure, Yahoo, MSN, Euronews, The Weather Channel, and more. When she's not writing about her travels, find her front row at a Bad Bunny concert, befriending street cats, and taste-testing every pizza in Havana.