After a great week in Banõs, we spent two nights in Quito at The Secret Garden hostel. I heard mixed reviews about Quito with many people telling me that it wasn’t worth the trip, and I’m glad I didn’t listen. I thought Quito was incredibly beautiful and the old town district we were in was so quaint with charming buildings and stunning views of the city. This family-run hostel is also an ideal place to meet awesome people. The owner, a nice Australian man, even turns off the WiFi on the terrace after 6 p.m. in an effort to have people socialize more. Which in turn probably causes him to sell more beer. Smart move, man! Since the food is pretty good, we ate dinner each night at the hostel. There’s also a great tour company within the building that offers a free city tour and other fun activities in and around Quito. The owner makes an effort to ensure everyone is taken care of and he’ll definitely sell you on the trip to their sister hostel, The Secret Garden Cotopaxi. Sure enough, two days later we were off to Cotopaxi to spend three blissful nights at hands down one of the best hostels I’ve ever been to.
I knew the Secret Garden Cotopaxi had to be good since it was voted 2014 best hostel in Ecuador by Hostelworld, and rightfully so. But I didn’t expect to be so taken back by this wonderful place. As soon as we pulled up to the hostel after the short two hour drive, I was filled with excitement. The scenery is breathtaking with animals roaming the property, gorgeous landscapes among the Andes Mountains, and most importantly – an absolutely stunning view of Cotopaxi, one of the highest active volcanoes in the world. We were greeted in the lodge area upon arrival by the amazing volunteers with mulled wine and three of the cutest pups who called the Secret Garden their home.
The hostel has a few lodging options (private cabanas, dorm rooms, or tents), we thought we’d be one with the outdoors and stay in the tent option. I was a little concerned at first since it got to be quite cold at night, but it was actually nicely comfortable and relaxing. Plus, I loved waking up to the sound of Cenela the calf moo-ing right outside our tent each morning followed by walking out to an incredible view of Cotopaxi. The price is really great as well – $35 per person per night includes your accommodations, three delicious meals a day (complete breakfast, lunch, and two-course dinner) plus unlimited tea and coffee, free use of mountain bikes, afternoon snacks, and access to the hot tub. Who could pass that up!? Oh yea – and there is no WiFi and no electricity in the rooms or tents. I was actually pretty excited about a couple days of digital detox!
After we got settled in and ate a tasty lunch, everyone who arrived that day went on a free guided two-hour welcome hike to the nearby waterfalls. We heard from other travellers that if you jump in the freezing cold water, you get a free drink at the hostel that night. And obviously we couldn’t say no to that! I was the only girl in the group to jump along with four other guys, including John. I had some trouble walking out of the water afterwards from my legs feeling semi numb, but the jump was exhilarating and totally worth the rush of cold water.
Each evening, everyone gathers in the lodge to relax after a day of adventure. This is the perfect place to read a book, unwind by the fireplace, chat with friends, enjoy an ice cold beer or a nice glass of wine, and plan your next days activities from horseback riding, treks, mountain biking, and even a summit tour of Cotopaxi. The summit tour was a bit to extreme for my taste, so we decided to do the morning hike up to the glacier the following day.
I felt great after a peaceful nights sleep and was ready to hike up an active volcano! We first drove about an hour and a half to Cotopaxi National Park where we then hiked up an hour or so to the refuge camp (15,953 feet of altitude!) When we arrived, we enjoyed some sweet tea and banana bread to recharge. It was only about another 30 minutes of vertical hiking up to the glacier (now about 16,400 feet high) and we were lucky that it was pretty clear out when we arrived so that we could take in the incredible view. Going down felt a bit like skiing since the volcano is quite rocky and sandy, but this gets you down quite fast. After the long drive back, I was ready to unwind in the hot tub followed by cuddling up by the fire with a good book. Rough life.
After a fun night with new friends, we decided to just relax and enjoy the hostel the next day. Thank goodness we didn’t book any activities because I actually was pretty sick when I woke up and could hardly do anything. It’s frustrating when this happens because you can never really tell what it is. Could be something I ate or drank, the high altitude, who knows. Maybe it was my body telling me I needed to slow down. Regardless of not feeling well towards the end, I had the most incredible time in Cotopaxi. I can’t remember the last time I really got to enjoy the outdoors as much as I did there, and I truly felt a sense of peace that I haven’t felt in a really long time. I think it was the first time I was really able to tune out the outside world and decompress entirely. Being away from technology, surrounded by nature and animals gave me a sense of well-being that I really needed to help me put certain matters in perspective. It’s easy to get sucked into a world of meaningless problems, stress, packed schedules, over use of technology, etc. This helped me reflect on what’s important to me on this trip and even made me realized that I 100% need to make more time for nature and the outdoors when I return back home. So after another day of laying low in Cotopaxi, we headed back to The Secret Garden Quito. I’ll admit… I was secretly excited for some WiFi!!
We spent a few more days in Quito hanging out with friends, exploring the local markets, and of course taking a trip to the middle of the world, aka the equator. Ecuador has been unforgettable! This country is small but remarkably diverse with so much natural beauty. From sipping Coco Locos on the coast, exploring the tropical jungle, swinging off a cliff, to hiking up a volcano – this country truly has it all. There was so much more I wish we could have explored, but I’m convinced I’ll be back one day. For now, we’re off to COLOMBIA!!!