Posted by: Jena Davison | September 5, 2011

La Esperanza, Ecuador: A Magical Place

Since I have a backlog of places I have visited without posting, I am going to dedicate this post and many upcoming ones to some of my favorite trips over the past few months.

First, I take you to La Esperanza, Ecuador, a little-visited destination with an interesting past. La Esperanza is a tiny indigenous village about three-and-a-half hours from Quito and just 15 minutes from the city of Ibarra, in Ecuador’s northern Andes. So why on earth did big music names like Bob Dylan, members of Pink Floyd, Manu Chao and Joan Baez come all the way here to spend some time in this small, agricultural community? The answer is simple: magic mushrooms.

La Esperanza became famous in the 1970s due to the rampant amount of hallucinogenic mushrooms growing in its fields. Once discovered, hippies from around the world flocked here and camped out for weeks (or in some cases, months) at a time to sample the hongos (mushrooms) and find themselves.

La Esperanza Landscape

A generous older lady by the name of Aida had recently moved to La Esperanza from Quito upon a nasty divorce. As the hippies started arriving, Aida invited them to camp out in her backyard, a safe space for experimenting. She fed them and cared for them without asking for a cent in return. The famous musicians listed above were among some of her many guests over the years. Inspired by the tons of interesting stories she heard and people she met, Aida started a guestbook system, which is comprised of multiple books scribbled with poetry, psychedelic drawings and thoughtful commentary, and signed by some of these famous people.

Flowers, La Esperanza

Over time, Aida transformed her house into a hostel, expanding the accommodation area into her backyard. When I went to La Esperanza, I stayed at this hostel—Casa Aida ( http://www.casaaida.com/)—and had the chance to meet and chat with Aida herself. She and her family are very warm and welcoming, and gladly invited us into their kitchen to show us some of the guestbooks and to entertain us with some stories.

Casa Aida has both dorm-like accommodations and private rooms, and Aida’s family provides home-cooked meals for an extra price. Aida will likely boast about her famous pancakes drizzled with marmalade.

Casa Aida

Casa Aida

La Esperanza itself is a beautiful, tranquil place. It is located at the foot of Volcán Imbabura, so most people now come here to start and end their climb up the volcano. Hiking to the Cubilche lagoon is another popular activity here. Otherwise, sampling the magic mushrooms is still a possibility, and the multichromatic landscapes make it an excellent place for tripping out. You are more likely to be bothered by the roaming cows than by the traditionally dressed, rather reserved locals. In fact, don’t be surprised if you are the only foreigner in town.

Indigenous Woman with Her Flock

Indigenous Woman with Her Flock

From Ibarra, La Esperanza is easily reached by a short taxi ride or by local bus. Since it is not frequently visited, the tourism infrastructure isn’t too developed, and things come cheap. In fact, we got a huge fried tilapia, accompanied by an overflowing plate of french fries and salad for just $2.

Huge Tilapia

Huge Tilapia

I really enjoyed La Esperanza. Good people, good vibes…a great escape. Q buena onda.

The Street of the Happy, La Esperanza

The Street of the Happy, La Esperanza

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Responses

  1. Your article brought back fond memories for me. Thank you. I have visited Casa Aida on several occasions over the years. She must be getting on in years now. Her food is fabulous and the hiking in the area is super. I’m glad to see Esperanza has changed little and some parts of Ecuador remain unchanged. I will be returning to Ecuador in 2012 to visit family in Quito. And I am hoping to retire there in a few years.

  2. Heard about Casa Aida. She´s quite a woman. 20 years ago there was only Maria’s Hospidaje there, but Aida came to town with a significant sum of money, stole Maria’s husband and built a hospidaje right beside Maria’s.

    • I stayed at Casa Aida thirty four years ago: Both Casa Aida and Maria’s place next door were operating at the time. Aida didn’t steal Maria’s husband. Maria stole Aida’s husband, who was a local like Maria. (Maria also stole Aida’s rake and we had to go next door and get it back for her.)

      • These two made me chckle out loud. 🙂 The immorality of humanity thrives even in remote places.

  3. Great article. I am in Quito and headed this weekend to Esperanza to stay there.

  4. Thanks so much!

  5. […] the very least, I’d have a plausible excuse to drink heavily or regularly partake of the infamous magic mushrooms proliferating at the base of Imbabura volcano, very close to my temporary […]

  6. Great. Your article reminds me of good memories merci beaucoup. I was in La Esperanza several times in 1980, long time ago … They were two places at this time to stay: Casa Aida and Casa Maria (cheaper, basic, my choice). After, we rented a house whith friends i met in this village. It’s a great place and the landscape is so beautiful.


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