Posted by: Jena Davison | January 17, 2012

Papallacta, Ecuador: Paradise in the Páramo

After a long work week, anyone would be lucky to spend a weekend day relaxing in the hot springs of Papallacta, Ecuador. Located about 2.5 hours from Quito, Papallacta is an easy, cheap day trip, or you can spend the night at the upscale Termas Papallacta hotel and spa ($135-155 per night, cabin $192) for a fully indulgent weekend. If you are not staying at Termas de Papallacta, you can still use its private pools, which cost $18 per person ($12 per children), or get a massage or other treatment there.

Papallacta's Public Thermal Baths at Night

If you leave early enough in the morning, you can enjoy a multi-hour hike in the páramo before enjoying a fantastic, body-soothing reward with a dip in the thermal baths. Since it is in the páramo, though, the weather tends to be chilly, damp and foggy, so prepare accordingly. This is what makes the steamy hot springs so appealing, though; the contrast is truly delicious, especially at nighttime, when they are vaguely lit and even more romantic. However, you won’t be alone at the public pools; they are almost always packed on weekends.  With over 20 pools of varying temperatures, the public termales are still satisfying and worthwhile, costing $8 for the entire day.

Papallacta's Public Thermal Baths at Night

If you are looking for a bit more privacy, though, and don’t want to splurge on the spa’s thermal baths, you can go to Hostería Pampallacta instead. Pampallacta charges $6 for the whole day, and has four of its own pools (three warm/hot and one polar), one of which is located in a stone cave. If you want to stay the night, rooms run $63-150. It also has an on-site restaurant that serves up the area’s infamous trout in a few different styles ($7), plus grilled beef ($8) and chicken, lasagna ($7) and burgers. Although it is a bit pricey, if you come here, you will have little other choice, since there are no surrounding restaurants. Near the public baths, however, you will find several cheap eateries, with menus focused on fish.

Pools at Hostería Pampallacta

To get to Papallacta by public transport, you have to take the Ecovia (or a cab) to the last stop on the line, Río Coca. At this bus station, you then need to follow the signs to the green-colored buses to Cumbayá ($0.25), a valley about 20-25 minutes outside of Quito. In Cumbayá, get off at the stop near the gasoline station and Supermaxi, facing the large strip mall. From here, wait for any Tena-bound bus, which pass every 30 minutes or so, and hop aboard. Ask to be let off at Papallacta. The ride costs $2. Once you arrive in Papallacta, you can either walk the steep 2.7 kilometers to the thermal baths, or catch a camioneta (pick-up truck) to them ($1-1.50).

Although the baths are open until 10 p.m. or later, return transport becomes more infrequent after 6:30 p.m. Buses pass about every 15 minutes or so until 6:30 p.m., and then every hour or hour and a half thereafter. All you need to do is flag down any Quito-bound bus from the stop where you were dropped off  on the way here. These buses go through Cumbayá, then head straight to Quitumbe, so if you live in central or northern Quito, be sure to get off in Cumbayá and hop on a bus to Río Coca. If you take a late bus back to Quito from Papallacta, you may need to cab it home from Cumbayá ($8-10), since buses from Cumbayá to Quito don’t run very late.

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