Behind the city of Baños, Ecuador lies a mountain just waiting to be explored. While tourists hike up on a multitude of trails or hire local taxis to run up the cobblestone road that soon turns to dirt, the vast majority head to well-known destinations like the Casa del Arbol with its swing that takes you out over mountain precipice or the Hotel Runtun, a spa famous for its pool-side views of the valley where the city of Baños lies.
The back road of Via Runtun can take you all over but one little sign, promising llamas, birds, and orchids, points in the opposite direction of the more famous locations. Wildlife? Local fauna? You don’t have to ask us twice. We were hooked.
The branch off the dirt road led us to a circular drive only a few meters down the road. We parked just below a wooden home backed by greenhouses and a mountain vista. On a clear day, it’s possible to see the Volcano Tungurahua. There was a trail that led to large bushes covered in small orange flowers where we could hear the high pitched tweets of hummingbirds. A tiny puppy full of the joy came running to greet us, squirming in every direction at the same time as she begged to be petted. She was soon followed by an older dog and the owner of the Hospedaje Panticucho, Herminia Guevara.
For a mere $1 a piece we could walk the trails. With the sounds of hummingbirds all around us, it wasn’t a hard decision to stay. With Herminia as our guide, we toured the grounds. She knew where every hummingbird would be resting in the gardens. She pointed out Collared-Incas and Chestnut-Crested Coronets and told us that many of the hummingbirds are temporary visitors which can only be seen at certain times of the year. But others, like the Sparkling Violeteared Hummingbirds, make this their home year-round.
Each branch off the main path took us to a different part of the farm. One direction, we toured the Guinea Pig barn. There, the family raises guinea pigs for eating, much like Europeans raise rabbits. We saw the vegetable garden, well protected by fencing so that the critters couldn’t snack on the organic lettuces. We saw the tilapia pond where a failed experiment to raise fish is taking place. New ponds are being built higher up the hill in hopes that the tilapia will take off in a new location.
Herminia also showed us the small cabin along the back ridge that is available for rent. We toured inside and took photos of the rooms so that we could share them with you (see below). The cabin is available to rent and looked like a cozy option, with fireplace and small tables to gather round. Or if you prefer lazying around outdoors, a hammock was available. If you’re more like myself and have a hard time sitting still, you can hunt for orchids, many of which hang from the branches of trees surrounding the cabin.
The cabin is available at $25/person per night. The stay includes breakfast and the chance to help with morning chores, like milking the cows and feeding the guinea pigs. I’ve also seen the cabin advertised for $175 a week. I think that if you were to stay more than a single night that prices would be flexible. You do have to take into consideration that a taxi ride from Baños is about $8 to $15 and would add considerably to the cost of a long-term stay. And there are no restaurants in walking distance. You can, however, let Herminia know you want to include meals and she can make vegetarian lunches and dinners from fresh produce grown on the farm or include a meat option with her own chickens or guinea pigs. She plans to offer fish as soon as the new ponds are fully working.
The property is a small oasis. You could stay and hike the trails, watch the hummingbirds, enjoy the orchids, and not really need to leave. If you’re searching for an escape from the hustle and bustle of Quito, it might actually be a better option than staying in Baños. Of course, as I write this, the Volcano Tungurahua is in the process of spitting out lava and ash on a daily basis. This location provides excellent views on non-cloudy days while being outside of the official danger zone. If you were looking for the chance to get great night shots of the volcano, this could be your perfect place.
If you don’t want to stay the night, I would still consider giving Herminia a call (099-040-056) and arranging for a lunchtime visit. You could have a traditional guinea pig lunch and enjoy all the property has to offer as you walk off your meal.
And before you go hunting online to make a reservation, know that Herminia does not have an internet connection. This is a constant problem for many small bed and breakfast operations in Ecuador. They need the internet to attract customers but they have no access and the money to get access comes from renting the property in the first place. It’s a catch 22. Please don’t let it stop you from visiting Hospedaje Panticucho.
If you would like to see the photos in large format, click on any one to start a slideshow.