In my last post I discussed the amazing hostel that is the Secret Garden Cotopaxi. I briefly mentioned that included with your stay is a free guided hike to some of the nearby waterfalls, but I wanted to share more about what that was like.
For me, it wasn't that great.
While this was a fantastic opportunity to explore the area and see some amazing scenery, I highly recommend allowing yourself to acclimate to the altitude before attempting any type of physical activity. I personally arrived in Quito the night before, slept for about six hours, and then headed straight to the mountains. I do not recommend doing this.
I somehow managed to make it through the hike, which was quite honestly not terribly difficult. I was just very sleep-deprived from traveling and not at all adjusted to the higher elevation.
If you enjoy hiking, waterfalls, and trudging through knee-deep water uphill in gigantic rubber boots, this is the activity for you. The hostel will provide you with the boots needed, and while they may be uncomfortable and awkward to walk in, I cannot stress enough how much I recommend that you wear these and not whatever pair of hiking shoes you brought with you. It. Is. Muddy. And wet and slippery and messy.
The part that I vividly remember the most is scaling a low all over the river, arms stretched out in front and behind me along a ledge, muddy and wet, when the girl behind me suddenly exclaims, "Oh my gosh your ring is GORGEOUS!" She was referring to my engagement ring, which at that exact moment was streaked with mud and I probably should not have been wearing. Forgetting the position I was in, I of course responded, "oh wow that is SO nice thank you SO much."
The entire hike was made worth it when we caught a brief glimpse of the volcano peak for which the park is named after. That sight with the sun shining after a quick rainstorm was the cherry on top. Of course, getting back to the hostel and enjoying a nice dip in the jacuzzi was an added bonus.
In case you missed it, I wrote an earlier post about horseback riding through the Andes mountains of Ecuador. What I didn't share with you was that, because of the three hour van ride from Quito, this was not exactly an easy day trip. This required some additional lodging and boy did we pick the right place.
The Secret Garden of Cotopaxi is a hostel located deep in the Ecuadorian countryside, roughly a three- hour bumpy van ride from Quito. You can arrange lodging and transportation from the sister hostel of the same name, located in Quito.
From here, we were able to book the horseback riding excursion that I detailed in an earlier blog post (you can find it here).
One of the biggest draws of staying at the Secret Garden, besides its utter adorableness, is its proximity and access to Cotopaxi National Park, and more specifically, Cotopaxi volcano. If you're lucky, during your stay you will be able to witness a sighting of the volcano- which is truly a gift as it provides a stunning landscape.
When selecting your lodging, you have the choice between several options, including small dorm-style housing, bird's nest cottages, or hobbit holes. I personally stayed in one of the hobbit holes, which was a very basic but very cozy room that featured a warm and comfy bed, some basic furniture, and a great view of the park.
Included in your stay at the Secret Garden is a free guided hike to some nearby waterfalls, which you can read about here. You will also be provided lunch on the day of your arrival and departure, as well as all other meals during your stay. You have access to unlimited water, coffee, and tea, as well as little snacks such as fruit or bread.
The hostel staff can help you book excursions with outside organizations, including the horseback riding tour through Cotopaxi National Park that I opted for. You can also choose from a variety of different hikes through the park or to the volcano. Read more about the available excursions here.
You'll definitely want to take advantage of the heated jacuzzi, where you can enjoy views of the park and a comfortable place to relax. If you're lucky, you may even spot a llama or two.
Check out the amazing video below to get an inside look at the BEAUTIFUL grounds and surrounding park at The Secret Garden in Cotopaxi.
The capital city of Quito is Ecuador's largest and most populous city, with almost 3.5 million people within the metro region. At 9,350 feet in elevation, it is the second-highest capital city in the world and the closest to the equator. In 2008, Quito was designated as the headquarters of the Union of the South American Nations. As one of the world's first World Cultural Heritage Sites declared by UNESCO in 1978, Quito has one of the best-preserved historic centers in the Americas.
While in Quito, I was on my own to explore the city. I knew I wanted to see the best the city had to offer, but because of its massive spread, it's not the type of place that's easily walkable. So, I decided to start in the heart of the city at the Basilica of the National Vow.
The Basilica is the largest neo-Gothic basilica in the Americas with a spire height of 377 feet. With the first stone laid on July 10, 1892, the basilica was constructed for almost the next 20 years. Pope John Paul II blessed the basilica on January 30, 1985 and inaugurated on July 12, 1988 but remains technically unfinished. According to local legend, the completion of the basilica would signal the ending of the world.
When visiting, you will want to make sure you have enough time to walk the grounds and explore the various nooks and crannies. While the basilica itself is gorgeous, you will not want to miss the experience of seeing the sprawling expanse of Quito from the top. You can take an elevator from one of the main towers to the top, then walk across a catwalk through the attic, before arriving on an outdoor walkway. While you're high up, there's more to go! Be sure to locate the iron staircase that takes you to the very top- it is from here that you will find yourself eye-level with the clock towers while gazing out upon unparalleled views of the city landscape and surrounding mountains.
Once your knees stop shaking from experiencing the shear height, you will want to take some time to appreciate the unparalleled views of the city. On your way back down, be sure to take a peek at the workers repairing and assembling the beautiful stained glass found throughout the basilica.
Horses? Check. Mountains? Check. Adrenaline-pumping blood in your veins as the wind whips across your face? Check!
Horseback riding through the foothills of the Andes Mountains in scenic Ecuadorian countryside is not only a descriptive mouthful, but a fantastic way to spend a Saturday. Parque Nacional Cotopaxi, or Cotopaxi National Park, occupies over 82,000 acres in the Cotopaxi Province of Ecuador and sits roughly 30 miles south of the capital city of Quito. Gaining its name after the Cotopaxi volcano that sits within its borders, the park also features two other volcanoes. Cotopaxi volcano is the second highest summit in Ecuador at 19,347 feet and one of the most active volcanoes in the region. Cotopaxi can be seen from Quito on a clear day and is one of the most commonly depicted landmarks in Ecuadorian art and culture.
Now- back to the horses! If you have never been horseback riding before- this experience is for you. If you are a seasoned pro- this experience is for you! No matter what you experience or comfort level when it comes to horses is, this is guaranteed to become a memory you will never forget.
Upon arrival, you will likely have a bit of waiting to do as the guides saddle up your horses. During this time you can shop the small market for any urgent goodies- in my case, I ended up buying socks, a hat, and gloves, as it was quite frigid, and I knew it would only get colder as we sped along on our mighty beasts. Remember, the elevation is high and the air is thinner- it gets cold!
Once the horses are geared up and ready to go, things start to move pretty quickly. You will be paired with a horse and assisted in getting on and getting situated. And then you're off! This was such a fantastic way to see the park because you will cover substantially more ground than if you were to hike or bike. At the halfway point, we stopped for snacks and tea, and then mounted back up and headed back out.
We were lucky and got to see a small herd of wild horses on our return journey. Wild horses are found throughout the park and being able to watch them run through such untouched beauty was a truly majestic sight.
I like hidden gems, hole-in-the-walls, and offbeat destinations