Tag Archives: hiking and trekking

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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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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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Hiking Ecuador – Podocarpus National Park near Loja

My original plan last year was to travel from Cuenca to Loja and Vilcabamba in southern Ecuador before heading to Peru.  That was scuppered when I had to hightail it to Peru directly from Cuenca to arrive in time to do the incredible 10-day Huayhuash Circuit trek.  So when my friends Pedro and Raúl decided they wanted to visit the Galapagos for 5 days (I’m going there for 2 weeks later in December), I headed to Loja – just in time to catch the end of the Festival of Loja and the International Arts Festival.  

Even with only a few days to explore Loja, I was determined to do one hike in the nearby Podocarpus National Park.  So I arranged a taxi through my amazing Airbnb host, Fransiska, out to the trail-head of the Los Miradores Hike, to arrive as soon as the park opened (I had to get back for my first show at the Festival after all). 

The sign at the start of Los Miradores hike in the Podocarpus National Park near Loja, Ecuador

Can I just say, this is an absolutely incredible hiking trail!  But not for you if you suffer from vertigo.

The park ranger told me it was better to hike in an anti-clockwise direction, which actually meant following the signs for the lakes route, rather than the above sign for the miradores.  His rationale was that this way I would only have to walk 2km uphill followed by 3km downhill.  Sounded good to me!

If you follow this advice, the trail starts off in thick forest on a well-defined path.

Views along the trail on Los Miradores hike in the Podocarpus National Park near Loja, Ecuador

I cannot describe how beautiful it is, and how many birds you see – including this guy that seemed to be following me for most of the way.

Close-up of a bird on los Miradores hike in the Podocarpus National Park near Loja, Ecuador

I seemed to be the only person in the park – just me and the sounds of nature.  Absolute heaven!

The weather was not the best

Dense vegetation seen from the trail of Los Miradores hike in the Podocarpus National Park near Loja in Ecuador

but there was a spectacular showcase of gorgeous flowers wherever you looked

Various flowers on los Miradores hike in the Podocarpus National Park near Loja, Ecuador

and awesome plants as well.

Various plants on los Miradores hike in the Podocarpus National Park near Loja, Ecuador

I got the occasional glimpse out to the valley to the South

View down to the valley from Los Miradores hike in Podocarpus National Park near Loja, Ecuador

before breaking through the tree-line and onto the open ridge where the viewpoints are.

Me at the sign indicating the highest point of Los Miradores hike in Podocarpus National Park near Loja, Ecuador

No, I didn’t get to see much unfortunately.

Up until this point, the hike had been fairly easy, ignoring the usual challenges of hiking at altitude.   So I was very surprised to discover that it quickly turned much more technical for the next 2 km!  Essentially, on this section, you hike along the top of a reasonably narrow ridge that ascends and descends (I swear it was an M. C. Escher mountain!), and has steep drop-offs on either side.   Add in a pretty stiff wind with gusts strong enough to make me stumble, and it was an “interesting” time!

View along the narrow ridge of Los Miradores hike in Podocarpus National Park near Loja, Ecuador

You can just see the path tracking all the way along the ridge line

I had read online about using attached ropes for parts of this section, and this was not the first time I had used ropes while hiking recently.   However, I do believe they should have started them earlier than they did!  There was one place in particular that gave me significant pause – wondering how the heck I was going to get down the rock without slipping and falling and killing myself.

Ropes to assist in the very steep sections of Los Miradores hike in the Podocarpus National Park near Loja, Ecuador

The top image is the large rock I had to figure out how to get down without the assistance of a rope. That was my main “moment” on the whole hike.

But it was spectacular!   

Various views from Los Miradores hike in Podocarpus National Park near Loja, Ecuador

Despite the crap weather and the fact I couldn’t see any of the distant vistas from the miradores, I would say that this is one of the most beautiful hikes I’ve ever done – thanks to the diversity and lushness of the vegetation.

I eventually made it back to the trail-head and then began the 8km hike down to the highway along the access road.  When I signed out from the park, it turns out I was the only person to visit that day!  

Recommendation  

If you are in Loja – you should definitely visit the Podocarpus National Park.  It is beautiful!  There are 2 shorter hikes that are much easier, and one longer hike that I’ll do next time I visit.  If you aren’t stable on your feet, are uncertain about rock scrambling, or suffer from vertigo, I wouldn’t recommend Los Miradores Trail. 

Also, ask your taxi to take you to the start of the trail-heads at the refugio to save you an 8km uphill walk.   It’s much nicer to walk back down it, and very easy to catch a bus back to Loja from the junction with the main road.

Time:  I took 5 hours to complete what is touted as a 3 hour walk.  I reckon it is longer than 3 hours if you take care over the more technical bits.  Then again, I did spend a lot of time watching birds and taking photos…

Cost:  I managed to get a taxi all the way to the trail-head for USD$8 – about 1/2 the price usually quoted.  There is no cost to enter the park, and the bus back to Loja cost USD$0.50.

 

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Hiking Ecuador – Fuya Fuya

Along with Volcán Pasachoa, the other mountain that for some reason I desperately wanted to climb while living in Ecuador this year was Fuya Fuya.  It was actually for this reason that I decided to base myself in Otavalo for a week – the Cascada de PegucheLaguna Cuicocha and the Día de los Difuntos were just bonuses 🙂

Unfortunately, it is quite difficult to find other people who want to hike to the summit of a 4,200m mountain, especially when it turns out that Otavalo is very quiet outside of the two main market days (Wednesday and Saturday) and very, very few tourists actually stay there (they tend to do day tours from Quito).  So in the end, I sprung for the whole taxi fare to take me to the trail-head and hiked on my own.

Maps.Me screenshot with markers indicating the route I took while hiking Fuya Fuya near Otavalo, Ecuador

Maps.Me markers showing the route I took while hiking Fuya Fuya

I started out early, hoping that I could reach the summit of Fuya Fuya before the clouds obscured everything and the rain came. 40 minutes later, the taxi had delivered me to Laguna Caricocha, which is one of the Mojanda Lakes and the starting point for the hike. 

One of the Mojanda lakes - Laguna Caricocha under very grey skies. At the start of the hike to the summit of Fuya Fuya near Otavalo, Ecuador

The weather was looking pretty grim upon arrival at Laguna Caricocha, one of the Mojanda Lakes and the start of the hiking trail to the summit of Fuya Fuya

From there, I took a straight shot up a very steep hill, which turned out not to be the main trail after all.

The very steep hill I climbed at the start of my hike up Fuya Fuya near Otavalo, Ecuador

In fact, I was about 2/3 the way up to the summit of Fuya Fuya (not the top of this first hill) before I managed to make my way across to the main hiking trail.  And although I probably made things way harder for myself by bush-bashing through the páramo, it was all good – I was heading in the right general direction.  

As always, the views  were stunning.

Paramo scenery while hiking to the summit of Fuya Fuya near Otavalo, Ecuador

And were made even more special when I starting coming across wildflowers in the steep upper reaches of the climb.

Wildflowers and Paramo scenery while hiking to the summit of Fuya Fuya near Otavalo, Ecuador

Fuya Fuya actually has two peaks, and I’d been told to make sure I took the right hand route (which is slightly lower) once I got to the saddle point.  This is because there is a tall rock that needs to be scaled if you take the left hand route.  I ended up hiking along the ridge to the left-hand side just to see, but the infamous rock was very visible and very obviously not doable without equipment (or a death wish).

View of the highest of the Fuya Fuya peaks from the saddle. Near Otavalo in Ecuador

So I backtracked and headed for the right hand peak, which itself had a smaller rock that needed to be scaled and which I admit gave me a brief pause.

The slightly lower Fuya Fuya peak as seen from the saddle point. Near Otavalo, Ecuador

Yes, you climb straight up to the top

But the views were totally worth it!

Panorama of the view from summit of Fuya Fuya near Otavalo, Ecuador. Includes the Cotocatchi, Cayambe volcanoes and Laguna Caricocha

The valley to the north and Laguna Caricocha from the top of Fuya Fuya

Panorama of the view from summit of Fuya Fuya near Otavalo, Ecuador. Includes the Cayambe, Antisana and Cotopaxi volcanoes and Laguna Caricocha

The view to the east from Laguna Caricocha to the other peak of Fuya Fuya. Obscured in the photo (but visible in real life) are the snow-capped volcanos of Cayambe, Antisana, Cotopaxi.

As you can see, the weather improved enormously while I was hiking and by the time I got to the summit, it was absolutely incredible.  I pulled out another wonderful App I have called Peakfinder, and could see Cotocatchi, Cayambe, Antisana, and Cotopaxi, with a glimpse of the Chimborazo volcano on the horizon.   All the snow-capped volcanoes were a little disguised by the background cloud, but their peaks were clearly visible when I first arrived.

It was so beautiful, and such a lovely day, that I ended up finding a rock to stretch out on and just stayed up here for a couple of hours admiring the view.   Really – it doesn’t get much better than this!

View Laguna Caricocha from the summit of Fuya Fuya near Otavalo, Ecuador

Laguna Caricocha and the Cayambe volcano (just to the right of the lake) from my perch at the summit of Fuya Fuya.

Me relaxing on a large flat rock at the summit of Fuya Fuya near Otavalo, Ecuador

This is the life!

Eventually the wind picked up and the clouds started to come over, so I decided to make my way back down the other trail.  Apparently this is actually the main route to the top – the one with the signs (well, sign) I’d read about on the internet.

The only trail sign I saw on the hike up Fuya Fuya near Otavalo, Ecuador

A few more of these would have been helpful

This whole hike is just spectacular páramo scenery.

The main hiking trail descending Fuya Fuya near Otavalo, Ecuador

The descent was also incredibly steep, and, just like on Pasochoa, I ended up grabbing fistfuls of páramo grass to help me descend.  However, at some point I realised that the route I was taking looked like (and was as slippery as) a giant, grass slippery dip…   And so yes, I actually decided to slide, rather than walk down 🙂

The very slippery main trail descending from the summit of Fuya Fuya near Otavalo, Ecuador

The descent from the summit of Fuya Fuya – exactly like a slippery dip!

I ended up with hiking pants and undies full of páramo, but I also managed to find $5 – undoubtedly dropped by someone else who had had the same idea!

The $5 note I found on my way down from the summit of Fuya Fuya near Otavalo, Ecuador

Bonus!

From there it was an easy hike back down the actual trail to the Mojanda Lakes.

The main hiking trail as it climbs to the summit of Fuya Fuya near Otavalo, Ecuador

My original plan was to hike all the way around the Mojanda lakes as well, but given that I ended up spending so much time stretched out on the rock at the summit, I didn’t have time before my taxi returned to collect me.

I did, however, manage to do a quick hike along the road out to the base of Cerro Negro and the turnoff to Laguna Chiriacu before having to turn back.

View of Cerro Negro on my hike along the shore of Laguna Caricocha near Otavalo, Ecuador

Looking up at Cerro Negro – an alternate hike in this area

Overall, it was an incredible hike and I’m so grateful for the amazing weather I ended up having!  Definitely a highlight!

Recommendation

If you like hiking, this is a great acclimatization climb that is not technical at all (well, except for that rock).  Especially if you have good weather!  In order to also hike the Mojanda Lakes after climbing Fuya Fuya, I would suggest you ask your taxi driver to pick you up at the end of the road near Laguna Huamicocha, rather than where he drops you off near Laguna Caricocha – that way you don’t have to back-track.

Cost:  I just used a taxi arranged by my hostel for USD$30.  He collected me at the hostel when I asked, and returned to collect me at Laguna Caricocha at the requested time for this price.

Time: To climb Fuya Fuya takes about 3 hours.  I spent about 6 hours out here and wished I’d stayed 8.

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Hiking Ecuador – Laguna Cuicocha

Most people come to Otavalo for the enormous Saturday market on a day tour.  They catch the bus up from Quito early in the morning or the night before, shop, and then catch the bus back, without ever stopping to explore the surroundings.  Which is a shame, because Otavalo is ringed by volcanoes and there is a lot of great hiking to be done.   

One of the easiest hikes (if you can call doing anything between 3,100m and 3,500m easy) is the 14km circuit around the rim of the crater that contains Laguna Cuicocha (I also hiked to the summit of Fuya Fuya, which is much more difficult).  Surprisingly, it doesn’t seem like many people do this – I only came across one Ecuadorian family who had carted a portable BBQ and boxes of food (!!!) up to the highest point for a picnic, and a group of older North Americans who had also only hiked part of the way around (and the not-so-interesting part at that!).

Which is bizarre – because it is a beautiful hike!

I had managed to convince my Argentinean hostel room-mate to do the hike with me to share the cost of the taxi out there (one of the hardest things about hiking in Ecuador is actually getting to the trail-head).  She was up for a 9am leave-the-hostel, but I convinced her it would be better to leave at 8am 🙂  We arrived at 8:40am to a beautifully still lake and almost perfect reflections. 

Almost perfect reflections in Laguna Cuicocha as seen while hiking the crater rim near Otavalo, Ecuador

I’ll never understand why people don’t want to start out as early as possible given the possibility of seeing something so amazing.

We then set off on the hike in an anti-clockwise direction.

My Argentinean room-mate hiking the the trail around Laguna Cuicocha near Otavalo, Ecuador

Given it is an eroded crater rim, there are plenty of ups and a few downs, especially for the first half, but the trail is extremely obvious and very well cared for.

Images of the well-maintained trail around Laguna Cuicocha near Otavalo, Ecuador

There really isn’t too much to say about the hike itself – nothing spectacularly interesting happened along the way, nor were there any real challenges.  It was all just about the changing views of the lake.

Various views of Laguna Cuicocha, taken while hiking the crater rim near near Otavalo, Ecuador

And the views to the surrounding volcanoes, particularly Volcán Imbabura, and Volcán Cotocatchi, which towers above it.

Views of the surrounding volcanos while hiking the rim of Laguna Cuicocha near Otavalo, Ecuador

Volcán Imabura (top) and Volcán Cotocatchi (bottom) from the the rim of Laguna Cuicocha

The name Laguna Cuicocha means “Lake of the Guinea Pig” in the Quechua language, possibly named after the shape of its largest island – Teodoro Wolf (the smaller island is called Yerovi).

Wide view of Teodoro Wolf Island in Laguna Cuicocha while hiking the crater rim near Otavalo, Ecuador

The shape of Teodoro Wolf island perhaps gave the lake its name

And although I didn’t see any guinea pigs, there were the last vestiges of what must have been an amazing bloom of flowers and orchids about a month before!

Many different flowers that lined the hiking route around the rim of Laguna Cuicocha near Otavalo, Ecuador

All up, I took about 4.5 hours to hike around the rim, but that was with a couple of long stops to chat, and taking lots of photos.  For me, the first half (going anti-clockwise) was the most rewarding, as the last third basically tracked along a road.  Though I admit there were great views across to Volcán Cotocatchi.   

Volcán Cotocatchi as seen from across Laguna Cotocatchi while hiking the crater rim near Otavalo, Ecuador

I didn’t end up calling into the tourist enclave at the end, but my understanding is that boat trips on the lake only cost a few dollars if you don’t want to hike.  However, you would be missing out on the best part, as you really need the height that the rim provides to have the most spectacular vistas.

Recommendations

Do this hike!  It is beautiful and well worth the effort.

Time:  about 4.5 hours

Cost:  USD$12.50 each (USD$25 for the taxi).  I was lazy and just got the taxi provided by the hostel, given I could split the cost.

 

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Hiking Ecuador – Cascada de Peguche

I finally managed to extract myself from Quito after 3 months of living there and becoming very comfortable indeed!  Given that I hadn’t done much hiking for quite a while, I decided to base myself in Otavalo for a week to do at least 2 of the hikes around that area – the Laguna de Cuicocha and Volcán Fuya Fuya.

It turns out that Kryštof, a Czech guy I’d met in Quito several weeks earlier, was also in Otavalo, so we caught up for drinks and then managed to go for an afternoon hike together the next day.   

We caught the local bus (eventually – it was quite a wait) out to the trail that led to the Cascada de Peguche – one of the key attractions close to Otavalo. 

Krystof hiking in front of me along the trail to the Cascada de Peguche near Otavalo, Ecuador

It was a lovely short walk through the trees to reach the campground, where the idea of these pyramidal tent platforms really grabbed me 🙂  I can imagine pitching my tent on top of one, and they remind me of something out of the X-Files!

Pyramidal tent platforms at the Cascada de Peguche campsite near Otavalo, Ecuador

Then down to the waterfall itself.  It is about 20m high and in a really beautiful spot – so definitely worth a visit if you have a spare hour or two.

Wide and close-in views of the Cascada de Peguche waterfall near Otavalo, Ecuador

From there our plan was to hike over to Parque Cóndor – which looked do-able according to the ever trusty Maps.Me.  But first we explored the hanging bridge and Inca Pool.  This latter is theoretically a hot spring, but the finger test quickly dissipated any ideas we had about going in for a dip – it was not warm at all!

Krystof walking over the hanging bridge, and locals checking out the Inca Pool at the Cascada de Peguche near Otavalo, Ecuador

Heading up the trail that climbed to the top of the waterfall, it seemed like it would continue in the direction we wanted to go.   And it did … kind of.

Kryštof leading the scramble up the cliff-face near the Cascada de Peguche outside of Otavalo, Ecuador

It was a bit of a dodgy, almost vertical scramble, but we made it eventually and strolled along a semi-rural road on the way towards the park.

We were hiking on semi-rural roads to get from Cascada de Peguche to Parque Condor near Otavalo, Ecuador

This is a really cool little hike that would have fantastic views of Volcán Imbabura and Volcán Cotocatchi if it were completely clear.  

Views of Volcán Imbabura and Volcán Cotocatchi, as we hiked from the Cascada de Peguche back to Otavalo in Ecuador

Volcán Imbabura (top) Volcán Cotocatchi (bottom)

We figured that by this point that we were probably too late for the cóndors, so we went and checked out the viewpoint at La Lechera instead (sunset would be incredible from here).  We came across this little old lady herding her cows and pigs (I couldn’t understand a word she said – I maintain she was speaking in Quechua), and then headed back down into Otavalo for dinner.  

Black and white silhouette of an indigenous woman and her animals as we were hiking from the Cascada de Peguche to Parque Condor near Otavalo, Ecuador

Thank you for an awesome afternoon Kryštof!  

Kryštof and I and the viewpoint over the Cascada de Peguche

Kryštof and I and the viewpoint over the Cascada de Peguche

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Hiking Ecuador – Volcán Pasochoa

There are several hikes that are within reach of Quito on a day trip, but the main issue is getting to the trail-heads on public transport.  Given that I’d already hiked to the summit of Rucu Pichincha last year, the one I particularly wanted to do was Volcán Pasochoa, but it seemed like it was going to be difficult or expensive to get there on my own. Plus I really would prefer not to hike by myself (I’ve been trying to find a hiking group ever since I arrived).

So imagine my elation when I saw an event for climbing Volcán Pasochoa come through one of the expat Facebook groups I’m part of.  I immediately deposited the $10 in the bank account (why doesn’t Ecuador use PayPal??!!) and was in!

Of course, the day of the hike turned out to be the worst day weather-wise since arriving in Ecuador 3 months ago.  Usually the days start out with brilliant sunshine, and then the clouds come over by about lunchtime.  But to start with rain… It didn’t bode well!

Still, at 6:30am I headed to meeting point at the Universidad de las Américas (UDLA), hoping that by some miracle it would suddenly clear up.  I was just about to send a message to Nicolas saying I was piking and going home, but ended up sticking it out and heading off in the school bus with 10 other intrepid souls.  Turns out I’d gatecrashed the UDLA Outdoors club!

The UDLA minibus that would take us to the trail head of hike to Volcán Pasochoa, just outside of Quito, Ecuador

Yes, we went in a school bus

It took about an hour to get to the trail-head of Volcán Pasochoa, and the weather still looked pretty ordinary.

View from the start of the hiking trail to Volcán Pasochoa near Quito, Ecuador

View from the start of the trail – Volcán Pasochoa

Nicolas started us off with a warm-up – we each had to introduce ourselves, say a little about ourselves and then choose a warm-up exercise to get our bodies prepared for hiking.  I was the only non-Latino in the group, which I get the feeling was a bit of a novelty.

Hiking companions warming up before starting along the trail to Volcán Pasochoa near Quito, Ecuador

Warming up and introducing ourselves

Introductions made and warm-up done, it was time to start the hike.  The first part was not very steep, though doing any form of activity at 3,200m always give the lungs and heart a good workout.

Hiking companions starting up the trail to Volcán Pasochoa near Quito, Ecuador

We passed through (squeezed through in some areas) a small forest 

Hiking companions following the trail through a small forest on the way to Volcán Pasochoa near Quito, Ecuador

and emerged to a welcoming party of cows … who were not at all keen to let us pass.  They specifically came running towards us to block our path!

Cows blocking our hiking route to the summit of Volcán Pasochoa near Quito, Ecuador

These cows thought they were trolls … guarding the route to the summit of Volcán Pasochoa

After negotiating half of a ladder

Hiking companions negotiating a fence along the hiking trail to the summit of Volcán Pasochoa near Quito, Ecuador

the climb began in earnest though the páramo – Ecuador’s high grasslands.

Hiking companions climbing through the Páramo on the way to the summit of Volcán Pasochoa near Quito, Ecuador

The weather was not improving as we climbed higher, but at least it wasn’t raining … yet!

The group hiking through fog and the Páramo, en-route to the summit of Volcán Pasochoa near Quito, Ecuador

The fog kept rolling across, but we could see the summit of Pasochoa when we weren’t too far away.

Summit of Volcán Pasochoa near Quito, Ecuador. As seen from the hiking trail below.

The summit of Volcán Pasochoa is at the top

And I was very, very happy to finally see the “classic” view of the ridge-line (at least) of the volcanic crater on our way up.

Ridge-line of the crater as seen from below while hiking to the summit of Volcán Pasochoa near Quito, Ecuador

The classic view of Pasochoa

I can only imagine what the view must be like on a clear day … a volcanic crater that drops away suddenly with vistas to the even taller volcanoes of the region.  But I did find the fog-filled crater really compelling – moody, and very, very mysterious.   Despite not being able to see much, this view was spectacular, and made the hike totally worthwhile.

Crater ridge and crater filled with fog, while hiking to the summit of Volcán Pasochoa near Quito, Ecuador

My favourite image from the hike

We had a fairly quick lunch at the summit (4,200m above sea level) as the fog socked in around us

Me at the very foggy summit of Volcán Pasochoa near Quito, Ecuador

Here I am at the summit of Volcán Pasochoa. I include my location and altitude on Maps.Me, just in case you don’t believe me…

before starting the return journey.

2 of my hiking companions following the ridge lining the fog-filled crater of Volcán Pasochoa near Quito, Ecuador

It did actually start raining on the hike down, turning the already very slippery mud track into an absolute nightmare

The very muddy and waterlogged trail we were hiking along while descending from the summit Volcán Pasochoa near Quito, Ecuador

Thank goodness páramo grass isn’t blade grass, because the only way to ensure you didn’t slip and fall was to grab handfuls of it in order to anchor yourself as you very carefully took the next step.   Of course, with the rain, the páramo was constantly wet, which in turn froze our hands and soaked our pants to the point where we couldn’t get any colder or wetter if we tried.

Wet Páramo grass with beads of moisture along the hiking trail to Volcán Pasochoa near Quito, Ecuador

Despite the less-than-stellar weather, I had an awesome time with the UDLA group, and I’m trying to arrange my schedule so I can do a few more hikes with them in January.  Wish I’d found these guys 3 months ago!!

Oh – I also discovered that at least several of the group spoke good English, though we spoke in Spanish the whole day.  I did suggest at the summit that because we’d spoken Spanish all the way up, we had to speak English all the way down – but they out-voted me.   I really didn’t mind 🙂  Great practice for me and I look forward to our next adventure together!

Recommendation

This was a beautiful hike, despite the fact that we didn’t get to see very much. I imagine it must be spectacular on a bright sunny day!  Another great acclimatization hike if you can figure out how to get to the trail-head.

Cost:  It cost me USD$10 to do this with UDLA, including guide and transportation

Time:  We took about 5 hours to hike to the summit and back.  It was another hour each way in the minibus from and to Quito

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ecuador-condor-machay-hike-main-waterfall.jpg

Hiking Ecuador – Cascada Condor Machay

In my efforts to do a little hiking while I’m staying put here in Quito, I headed out to Cascada Condor Machay this weekend with Laura and Mark.  I’d met them at my Saturday night language exchange group a few weeks ago and, given the run of cloudy weather we’ve had recently, we decided to visit the waterfall rather than climbing a mountain for a probably less-than-spectacular view.

Being a little lazy and needing to get back to Quito by mid-afternoon, we caught a Cabify out to Selva Alegre, the town closest to the waterfall and where our instructions advised us to find a taxi to take us to the trail head.  Our helpful Cabify driver offered to take us, but it was clear that he had no idea where he was going, so we decided to find a local taxi driver instead.

Although there was plenty of roasted cuy (guinea pig) on offer in Selva Alegre, taxis were a little few and far between.  So we jumped in the first one that came along, agreed on $15 to take us to the trail (which is what our instructions said it should cost) and then did a few laps of Selva Alegre because our driver seemed to want us to tell him how to get there!   

With the help of Maps.Me, we finally headed off in the right direction, but not before patience was tested and stress levels had risen a little.

Inside the taxi to Cascada Condor Machay from Selva Alegre, near Quito, Ecuador

It didn’t help at all that our taxi driver seemed to not be “all there” … or he was on something.  I would have sworn he was drunk except that we could not smell alcohol on his breath…  He kept up a mumbled monologue (that was impossible to hear thanks to the rattling of the car) the entire 17km journey out to the falls … I have to admit it was a relief to arrive!   

However, our only real option to get back to Selva Alegre was to have him come back and pick us up at a pre-arranged time … so we would have to do this all over again later in the day 🙁

Having escaped the taxi and registered with the very lovely park ranger, we finally headed off towards the Condor Machay (El Nido de Cóndor in Spanish, Condor’s Nest in English) waterfall.   

It is a really simple, but incredibly beautiful hike along a very well maintained trail that has several bridges that take you from one side of the Rio Pita to the other numerous times.  

My hiking companions crossing one of the many bridges along the trail to that Cascada Condor Machay near Quito, Ecuador

You walk through damp forest for most of the way, accompanied by the continual sounds of birds and frogs (unfortunately we didn’t manage to actually see any).

The very clear hiking trail to Cascada Condor Machay near Quito, Ecuador

The trail is lined with enormous numbers of moss-covered trees, bromeliads, a surprisingly large amount of bamboo, as well as numerous other plants.

Plant life along the hiking trail to the Cascada Condor Machay near Quito, Ecuador

There are occasional glimpses of another stream that seems to run through the mountain

Hole in the rock revealing an underground river next to the hiking trail leading to the Cascada Condor Machay near Quito, Ecuador

Amazing, sheer walls covered in plants

A wall of green plants seen from the hiking path to Cascada Condor Machay near Quito, Ecuador

And, of course, several smaller waterfalls

Smaller waterfalls on the hike to Cascada Condor Machay near Quito, Ecuador

including this one that falls right beside the path.

Mark and a small waterfall right beside the hiking path on the way to Cascada Condor Machay near Quito, Ecuador

It took us about 1hr 45mins to hike out to the Cascada Condor Machay, but we were walking very slowly and taking lots of pictures along the way.  The initial view of the waterfall is amazing

The Cascada Condor Machay itself as seen from the hiking trail. Near Quito, Ecuador

and, at ~85m tall, it really is enormous!

Me standing in front of the impressive Cascada Condor Machay near Quito, Ecuador

We got to enjoy the waterfall in peace for about 10 minutes before we were descended upon by about 150 secondary school students out on an excursion.  Some of them decided it would be a great idea to go fully-clothed into the plunge-pool below the waterfall and, well, I guess peer-pressure is a terrible thing!

Students at the Cascada Condor Machay near Quito, Ecuador

I couldn’t believe that the adults who accompanied the group actually let them do this because a) it wasn’t exactly warm and none of them had a change of clothes, and b) the force of the water coming over the fall would certainly drown a young person, and even an adult, if they happened to get too close and go under.

We put up with the squealing and shouting for about 1/2 hour while we ate a quick lunch, but then decided we’d had enough and started hiking back.  The return journey only took about an hour, and was nice and peaceful … until the kids caught up to us, given they were running back to the car park.  Yes – call me a cranky old woman … but I was after some tranquility, not the squeals of pre-teens/teenagers!

Our mad-as-a-hatter taxi driver was waiting for us when we arrived at the car park, so back in the taxi for another monologue to accompany our trip back to Selva Alegre, and then the bus back to Quito. 

Recommendation

This is a really beautiful and easy hike not far from Quito.  Great day trip!

How to get there:

From the Playon La Marin terminal in Quito, take the bus to Sangolqui/Selva Alegre (50 cents).  Once there, find a taxi to take you the 17km to the trailhead.   It should cost a maximum of US$15 one way – though the meter in our taxi only showed $10 (unfortunately we’d agreed to $15 beforehand).  You are also going to have to get back to Selva Alegre afterwards, so unless you want to see how you go hitch-hiking (there were very few other people – apart from the schoolkids – there when we went on a Saturday), you should probably arrange for the driver to come back and pick you up at a specific time.   

Time:  about 3.5 hours to enjoy the waterfall.  There are other waterfalls you can hike to in the opposite direction from the same car park (though some involve river crossings – no bridges), so it is very easy to make a full day of it.  Add in another hour each way to get from and to Quito (Playon Marin) on public transport

 

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São Miguel Island – Part 2 – Azores – Portugal

Continuing on from my first 3 days of exploring São Miguel Island…

On Day 4 it was time to explore one of the two tea plantations on the island.  We were going to visit the Porto Formoso tea factory for a change of scenery for Pedro (he’d visited the other one previously), but it was closed on Sundays.   So we went to the Fábrica de Chá Gorreana (the oldest tea plantation in Europe) instead.

Chá Gorreana - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

They started growing tea in the Azores after the orange orchards were decimated by a disease in the late 1800’s.  The tea industry was of great commercial importance in the Azores up until WWI, when many of the tea factories closed.  Then, with the emergence of African teas, all the remaining factories – with the exception of the Fábrica de Chá Gorreana – folded.

We started out by walking through the display of machinery they have (unfortunately not a lot of explanation)

Chá Gorreana - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

and discovered the difference between the 3 types of black tea they produce here.  Turns out that Orange Pekoe has the strongest flavour and is made with only the first leaf of the plant, Pekoe is made with the second leaf, and Broken Leaf (mildest flavour) is made with the third leaf.

Buying tea at Chá Gorreana - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

I bought the green tea and the Orange Pekoe. Photo: Pedro Torres

There is free tea tasting at the factory (you can also try the green tea they produce) and they made the best queijada I ate during my whole visit.  If you are there – do try the orange queijada – it is incredible!

After our little snack (and trying to avoid buying more of the orange queijadas “to go”), we went for a stroll through the tea plantation itself.  You really could be in Asia right?  Would have been great to have a tour actually – to learn more about the how the leaves are processed into tea.

Tea plantation at Chá Gorreana - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

From there we continued our drive around the Eastern side of the island, which had some beautiful towns with very typical architecture – black volcanic rock used as decoration on whitewashed buildings,

Typical architecture - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

amazing views

Miradouro da Ponta do Sossego viewpoint - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

More hydrangeas! They are everywhere on São Miguel

and delicious food!

Chicharros - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

My favourite dish of the whole trip – Chicharros at Restaurante Costaneira in Ribeira Quente. Photo: Pedro Torres

We ended the day again at another swimming spot – this time the Ponta da Ferraria.  The fascinating thing about this spot is that the water is actually geothermally heated!  On hearing this, I have to admit I was expecting temperatures akin to those found in the hot springs, so you can imagine my shock when it turned out to be only slightly warmer than the temperature of the ocean normally.  OK, admittedly it was high tide so the warm water was being overwhelmed by the cold ocean water (they tell me that at low tide it is so hot that sometimes you can’t enter at all).  And I did manage to find some “mostly warm spots” to hang out in.  Interesting experience!

Ponta da Ferraria - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

On Day 5 we headed out again into the classic vistas of São Miguel – happy cows, hydrangeas delineating fields and lining the side of the road, and verdant green hills. 

Typical vistas - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

We got a more moody vista this time of Lagoa do Fogo on our way to the Caldeira Velha hot springs.

Lagoa do Fogo - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

Lagoa do Fogo in the fog

We didn’t actually go in for a dip at the hot springs here, but just checked out the nature surrounding them.   Essentially – Australian Tree Ferns, Australian Blackwood and Australian Cheesewood trees!  I felt right at home 🙂

Caldeira Velha - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

And I have to put this photo in because I love it so much.  Me trying to take a decent selfie of myself (I still don’t have the knack!)

Selfie time at Caldeira Velha - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

Thanks for the photo Pedro!

Our plan was to do the 7.5km Caldeiras da Ribeira Grande – Salto do Cabrito hike, but we ended up not finding the start point and just ending up at Salto do Cabrito itself.   Oh well.

We walked down an enormously steep hill to arrive at the river below the falls and followed the sign to a mineral water spring.  It was a beautiful spot.

Salto do Cabrito - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

Photo: Pedro Torres

We refilled our bottles from what I assumed was a still-water spring, so imagine my surprise when I took the first sip and realised that it was sparkling water!   Yes – fizzy water straight out of the ground!  How does that even happen naturally?   And it was different to the normal carbonated water that you buy, somehow it was “softer” – kind of like the sensation you get with sherbet on your tongue.  It was strange but awesome!

Mineral Water Spring at Salto do Cabrito - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

Photo: Pedro Torres

We checked out the “Little Goat Waterfall”, which was in itself quite pretty, but unfortunately located right beside a rather noisy hydroelectric plant … “Ah the serenity”!

Salto do Cabrito - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

And then hiked to the top of the waterfall up a lot of stairs and along a metal walkway which would definitely not meet OH&S requirements in Australia.  Note in the picture below that there is no handrail on the right hand side of the walkway.  While this is fine in this part where it is pretty much flush against a rock wall, there were other (quite elevated) parts where it was just a sheer drop into the abyss!

Walkway above the falls Salto do Cabrito - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

Photo: Pedro Torres

We finished the day at my favourite of all the beaches we visited – Praia do Moinhos (it is also Pedro’s favourite).  This beach had waves, wasn’t too crowded and, I don’t know, just was very relaxing and nice.

Praia do Moinhos - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

Photo: Pedro Torres

Day 6 was our to return to Porto.  We had just enough time for a short walk in front of Conceição’s amazing home

Conceição's house - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

Conceição’s amazing home where we stayed. Middle image is the view from my bedroom window!

before boarding our Ryanair flight at lunchtime.

Flying over São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

Million thanks to Conceição and Laguita (her gorgeous puppy)!  I had a fantastic time and it was wonderful to get to know you both 🙂

Conceição, me, Pedro - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

Conceição, me, Pedro and Laguita. Photo: Pedro Torres

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São Miguel Island – Part 1 – Azores – Portugal

Given that I’d spent several days in Porto on my last trip to Portugal earlier in the year, Pedro decided that we should head further afield and spend some time with a friend of his on São Miguel Island in the Azores. Located between Europe and North America, São Miguel is the largest of the 9 volcanic islands making up the Azores, one of the Portuguese autonomous territories.

When you think of an Island holiday – you expect amazing beaches and incredible weather.   Well, the beaches were amazing, but we were greeted on our first evening with fog and rain.

Great weather - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

Of course this didn’t stop us from heading out to visit the first of many hot springs on the island.  The Poça da Dona Beija has 4 hot pools (~38 degrees – heaven!) and one colder (but still not cold) plunge pool set within in a beautifully landscaped area.   Wonderful way to spend the evening!

Poça da Dona Beija - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

On Day 2, our first stop was the Reserva Natural do Ilhéu – a mostly submerged volcanic crater just off the coast from Vila Franco do Campo.  

Reserva Natural do Ilhéu - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

Reserva Natural do Ilhéu as seen from Vila Franco do Campo

We had originally planned to kayak out, but the wind had picked up and it was going to be very tough going, so we caught the boat instead.  Beautiful place to swim and relax with amazing views!

Reserva Natural do Ilhéu - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

We then headed to Furnas so that I could try one of São Miguel’s most typical dishes – the Cozido – and then onto the gardens and thermal pool (yay for hot water!) of Parque Terra Nostra.  Unfortunately, given how late we arrived, we had very little time to explore the gardens, and yes, the water really is the colour of rust due to the high iron content!

Parque Terra Nostra - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

Photos: Pedro Torres

Like Melbourne, São Miguel suffers from 4 seasons in 1 day, though it is generally said that if there is cloudy/crap weather on one side of the island, just drive to the other side (~12km away) and it will be fine.   Quite often though in the late afternoon, all the peaks are covered in cloud.  On this day, it was beautifully clear, so we drove home via the high road for some awesome views over the crater lake: Lagoa do Fogo

Lagoa do Fogo - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

A few minutes after this, the fog started rolling in over the hills

Day 3 on São Miguel saw us doing the wonderful ~12km Mata do Canário – Sete Cidades hike.  But first of all we stopped off at the very famous Vista do Rei viewpoint for the classic view of the island that you see on every postcard.

Vista do Rei - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

The hike we were about to embark on started off to the right of the above image and basically followed the rim of the crater all the way around to Sete Cidades, the town that you can see on the left.

I was extra-excited because one of the first things we saw along the route was an old aqueduct.  Yes another of the things in this world that enchant me for no obvious reason are aqueducts.  I find them fascinating and beautiful, and this one was no exception!

Aqueduct - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

Oh how I love aqueducts! This one is called the “Nine windows wall” for obvious reasons

The views all the way around the hike were absolutely gorgeous, and really showcase just how green and blue the colour palate of the island is when the sun is out (quite the contrast to Greenland, where I’d spent the previous 5 weeks!).

Mata do Canário - Sete Cidades hike - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

We arrived in Sete Cidades after a very enjoyable few hours of walking, and sat down for a coffee before trying to figure out how we were going to get back to the car.  Yes, the only problem with this hike is that it is a linear one – which means you end up a looooooong way from where you started, and to get back to your car, it is all up a very, very steep hill.

Our plan was to hitchhike (something I’d never done before), and it was beginning to look a little grim, as the first 1/2-dozen people drove right past us as we walked along the road.   We’d just gotten to the last of the flat bit when, fortunately, a local lady and her daughter pulled over and gave us a lift all the way back to our car.  A million thank yous to these lovely ladies!!

We drove a little further along the road so I could gawk at another part of the aqueduct

Aqueduct - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

Did I mention how much I love aqueducts?

and to visit a place Conceição (Pedro’s friend who we were staying with) recommended to us –  Lagoas das Empadadas

Lagoas das Empadadas - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

This area has two lovely, peaceful lakes surrounded by a forest of Criptoméria  (Japanese Cedar) trees, and the the Miradouro do Pico do Paul for some of the best views of the island. 

Miradouro do Pico do Paul - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

Amazing view of the island

We finished off the day at the Praia do Pópulo beach.  Yes – I did go in the water (it happens occasionally), but not for long … while it may not be as cold as the water in Porto, I wouldn’t say it was warm!   We also figured out that the last time I was at a beach was last March! Poneloya in Nicaragua … with Pedro!

Praia do Pópulo - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

Yes, I do occasionally go to the beach! Mostly with Pedro it would seem… Photo: Pedro Torres

Continued in Part 2.

 

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