Only about an hour outside of Quito is a small town made famous by its thermal hot springs, Papallacta. Though there are several places to enjoy bathing in the mineral water, most people head to the end of the road at the top of the hill to Termas Papallacta. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, they have a wonderful set of public pools that are inexpensive. We chose to skip them the weekend we visited because there were so many people – the parking lot just kept filling and filling with locals! We splurged and spent a little more to enter the spa, a set of half a dozen or so pools of different temperatures and depths. Since we were staying the night, the extra cost was minimal. Also, with an overnight stay, guests have free access to pools just outside the rooms. When we visit the next time, we will plan to go midweek and enjoy the public pools as well as the natural hot spring access they are supposed to provide.

The second reason for driving to the end of the road is to enjoy a beautiful hiking trail that climbs up into the mountains, trailing both sides of the river. The trail borders the Cayambe-Coca National Park and it is possible to enter the park from this side of the mountain. There is even a small office where you can hire a guide to hike with you.

The short trail is an introduction to a unique habitat full of secretive birds and wild orchids. And when the clouds clear and the sky opens up, the views from parts of the trail are magnificent. Antisana lords over the region, its snow covered peaks shine starkly white in the later afternoon sun. Each mountain ridge is highly defined by the lengthening shadows, a reminder that Papallacta is tucked deep into the Andes and though high in altitude, is not anywhere near as high as the surrounding peaks. It seems that one can always climb higher.

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