Monthly Archives: December 2017

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Mitad del Mundo – Quito – Ecuador

Visiting the Mitad del Mundo (or middle of the world) is something that almost everyone who comes to Quito does.  When I first visited it 14 years ago, it was a massive monument and a yellow line that marked the Equator line (in theory).  Oh my – how it has changed!

The big monument is still there, and just as I remember it.

me at the Mitad del Mundo - Quito - Ecuador

As is the yellow line

 Mitad del Mundo - Quito - Ecuador

O stands for “oeste” or “west” in Spanish

But I remember this being in the middle of nowhere.  Now, it is surrounded by a whole complex of museums, souvenir shops (where you can get your passport stamped), and eateries.  Quite the tourist trap!

Which it really is.  Although it is remarkably simple to get there on public transport, it takes 3 x forever to do so.  Alternatively, you can take one of any number of tours offered by almost every hostel in Quito.  However, in my opinion, it really isn’t worth it.

The highlights for me were actually the colourful artworks scattered around the site

artwork at mitad del mundo - quito - ecuador

and this dance performance we happened to stumble upon.

 

Recommendation

To be honest – I don’t really 🙁

Cost: USD $3.50 to be able to enter and just walk around the site, including taking pictures of the monument.  Of course this also allows you to visit the eateries and souvenir shops.  USD$7.50 if you want to visit the museums.   Public transport to get there is USD$0.50 – but bear in mind it is very slow.  I think every hostel in Quito offers a trip out here, usually combined with a trip up the TeleferiQo.

Time: If you just by the basic entrance ticket, an hour would be more than enough time at the site.

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Termas de Papallacta (Hot Springs) – Quito – Ecuador

If you are after relaxation, the Papallacta Hot Springs (Termas de Papallacta) are a very easy day-excursion from Quito, and a really lovely experience.

Investigating how to get there on public transport, I decided it would be simpler to head to the Quitumbe terminal to catch the bus, rather than trying to pick it up at La Scala in Cumbayá, even though I’m very familiar with buses going past the Scala shopping mall.

What a mistake!

After catching the Ecovía and taking 45 minutes to get to Quitumbe, we caught the bus no worries.  But then I almost chewed my arm off in frustration as the driver went no faster than about 30km/hr and took 1.5 hours to get from there to La Scala!   Had I known exactly where the bus was going to go (and that it was going to go past La Scala, there wasn’t a different route it would take), I most definitely would have just caught it from La Scala!

I have absolutely no idea why we were going so slowly (suspect a problem with the bus, but we never did find out), but when we eventually left the outskirts of Cumbayá we finally picked up speed.  Of course, from there it was only 20 kilometers more…

The bus dropped us at the entrance to the town of Papallacta and we caught one of the taxis waiting there up to the thermal pools.  There are actually two parts to the complex, and we chose the Balneario over more expensive Spa.  Really, I don’t understand how the Spa could be better than the Balneario – it was amazing!

Balneario part of the Termas de Papallacta Hot Springs - Ecuador

There are a large number of impeccably clean pools that range in temperature from glacial (straight out of the river) to scalding.   There’s even one that has spa jets!

Balneario part of the Termas de Papallacta Hot Springs - Ecuador

What we didn’t realise was that there are actually 3 main parts to the Balneario.  Two of them (those that we visited) are very obvious once you walk in, but there is a third section to your left as you enter.  It pays to explore the whole site first!

There are undercover picnic tables

Balneario at the Termas de Papallacta Hot Springs - Ecuador

Raúl and I soaking up the warmth. You can see the undercover picnic tables in the back.

Plenty of change-rooms

Change rooms - Balneario at the Termas de Papallacta Hot Springs - Ecuador

The baskets are for your personal items. You can also rent lockers here to keep them safe.

and amazing views of the surrounding mountains.

Balneario at the Termas de Papallacta Hot Springs - Ecuador

We lounged around soaking in the various pools for several hours before heading out and back down the road a little to have some lunch (about 1/2 the price of eating at the cafe/restaurant at the pools).  

Then we decided to hike up to the border of the Cayambe-Coca Ecological Reserve where there were some lakes that Pedro has seen on the internet and thought would be really beautiful.

Although we never quite made it to the lakes (we were running out of daylight), the hike up the road was absolutely stunning.

Hiking to Cayambe-Coca Ecological Reserve - Papallacta - Ecuador

There were amazing views to the mountains further into the Reserve

Hiking to Cayambe-Coca Ecological Reserve - Papallacta - Ecuador

and behind us – what would be an incredible view of Volcán Antisana, if it weren’t for the cloud.

View to Volcan Antisana from Cayambe-Coca Ecological Reserve - Papallacta - Ecuador

We managed to catch glimpses of the snow-covered peak of the Antisana Volcano, despite it being covered in clouds.

I am soooooo going to come back and do this again when next there is a clear day in Quito!

Recommendation

This was a surprisingly lovely day-trip that I highly recommend!   If you wanted to hike to see the lakes, I would suggest getting the taxi to take you all the way there first thing, then walk back down the road and enjoy the pools afterwards.

Cost:  The bus to Papallacta was around $3 each way.  The taxi to reach the pools was $1 each way.  Entrance to the Balneario was $8.50.  Though there is a cafe/restaurant on site, I recommend heading down the road a little to one of the several restaurants there, as they are about 1/2 the price.  Your ticket will allow you to re-enter.

Time:  Up to you really.   From La Scala it was about a 45 minute bus ride to get to Papallacta.  You could easily spend the whole day here relaxing and moving from pool to pool.   To hike to the lakes just before the entrance to Cayambe-Coca Ecological Reserve, I estimate it would take about 2-2.5 hours at a reasonable pace.

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The Swing at the End of the World – Baños – Ecuador

I visited Baños last year while I was in Ecuador, biking the Waterfall Route (which ends at the incredible Pailón del Diablo), ziplining for the first time at Puntzan, and surviving an amazing canyoning experience.

I repeated the first of these excursions when Pedro and Raúl came to visit, and visited another of the most popular attractions in this adventure capital of Ecuador.  Yes, I finally made it to the Swing at the End of the World at the Casa del Árbol.

It is a very impressive bus ride up to to the complex that sits high above Baños with an amazing vista of the valley far below.

View towards the Tungurahua Volcano from the Swing at the end of the world at the Casa del Arbol, Banos, Ecuador

View towards along the valley towards the Tungurahua Volcano from the Swing at the End of the World

There are actually several of these swings in existence now, but we decided to visit the original that, on a clear day, has incredible views to the Tungurahua Volcano.

The reason it is called the “Swing at the End of the World” is that you literally look like you are swinging out into nothing once you get going.

Person on the Swing at the end of the World shown against the surrounding landscape

The Swing at the end of the World flies out over nothingness. You can also see the Casa del Árbol (treehouse), which is the alternate name for this attraction.

Although there was lots of screaming going on from the other visitors to the swing (something I could not understand), I thought it was incredible in every way, and could have kept swinging forever!   After all, swinging is one of my favourite things to do in a park (I always jump on if the seat will fit an adult-sized butt), and these are the best views I’ve ever had from a swing!

There’s not a lot else to do up there apart from swing and admire the view, but definitely worth the few hours of an excursion 🙂

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Hiking Ecuador – Volcán Cotopaxi Day Tour

One of the most popular day-tours from Quito involves hiking to the glacier of Cotopaxi – the second highest volcano in Ecuador.  I’d never done it, despite spending a significant amount of time here over the years, so when Pedro and Raúl came to visit, this was high on the list.

Similar to the day I hiked Volcán Pasochoa, it was already raining at 6am as we waited out the front of CarpeDM Adventures for our minibus to take us to the National Park.  A couple of hours later, the weather had not improved…

The CarpeDM minibus with mountain bikes loaded for the Cotopaxi day tour in Ecuador

Our minivan loaded up with the mountain bikes in the parking lot at the start of the hike. Yes, that’s fog.

Nevertheless, our intrepid group of 9 plus our guide geared up for the hike to Refugio José Rivas at 4,863m (15,953ft) above sea level.

Our hiking group for the Cotopaxi day tour with CarpeDM Tours in Ecuador

I have to admit, there wasn’t a lot to see on the way up, though the Refugio eventually became visible in the distance.

Views of our hike up to the refugio on our day-trip to Volcán Cotopaxi in Ecuador

But we did make it 🙂

The sign at the Refugio José Rivas on Cotopaxi, Ecuador

And took a short break to warm up with coca tea and hot chocolate.

Our group at the Refugio José Rivas on Cotopaxi, Ecuador

The refugio itself is much, much larger than I expected, and very nice.  This is where those that are summiting Cotopaxi stay in preparation for their early-morning ascent.

From there, it was a further climb up to the start of the Cotopaxi glacier at 5,000m (16,404ft).  Fortunately the fog started to break-up/lift so we did end up with some half-vistas while hiking up.

Views of the snowy landscape we encountered while hiking between the refugio and the glacier on Volcán Cotopaxi in Ecuador

This was as far as we could go without a specifically-qualified guide and special equipment, so after taking innumerable photos while trying not to fall over in the snow and mud, we retraced our steps, heading back down past the Refugio to where we had left the minivan.

Me posing at the edge of the Cotopaxi Glacier in Ecuador

The end of the road for this trip to Cotopaxi. Standing at the edge of the Cotopaxi glacier

Down at the carpark, we managed some tantalising glimpses of the snowy peak of Cotopaxi

A glimpse of the snowy peak of Cotopaxi from the carpark - Ecuador

and the valley below

Panorama of the valley below the Cotopaxi volcano, Ecuador

But unfortunately glimpses were as good as we got.

From there, we drove down the worst part of the gravel access road and unloaded the mountain bikes off the minivan for our run down to Laguna Limpiopungo.

Our group on their mountain bikes ready to ride down the Cotopaxi volcano in Ecuador

This exact ride was meant to be part of the 3-day mountain biking trip I did last year with the Biking Dutchman, but we were unable to do it at the time as Cotopaxi was showing increased volcanic activity and this section of the park was closed.

There were some incredible views on the way down (it must be amazing with clear skies), and the less-than-spectacular weather made for very dramatic vistas.

Misty view of the Rumiñahui volcano as we mountain biked down the Cotopaxi Volcano in Ecuador

You can see Laguna Limpiopungo at the base of Rumiñahui volcano

It did start raining on us as we rode, so once we reached the Laguna, we packed the bikes up quickly and piled back into the minivan for the return trip to Quito.

Recommendations

Even with very ordinary weather, this is a good day trip – there’s a reason it is one of the most popular.  Just remember, however, that you are climbing to 5,000m, so:

  • take lots of warm clothes with you (even if the weather is good)
  • try to spend a few days acclimatizing before you attempt it.  Massive kudos to Caite for doing the climb!  She had only arrived the night before from Chicago to join Pedro, Raúl and I for a few days in Ecuador.

Cost: $50 with CarpeDM Adventures including breakfast, lunch, transportation and guide

Time:  Full-day trip

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