The best hot springs near Quito lie about an hour outside of the city in the small town of Papallacta. This rural village lies along the dramatic E20 highway, immediately next to trailheads into the Cayambe-Coca National Park. On sunny or partly cloudy days, the drive can be stunning. It’s possible to see the Cotopaxi Volcano before you hit the mountains on the far side of Cumbaya. Further on, a dense thicket of Polylepis forest, an endangered habitat once prolific in the high paramos of Ecuador, lies on the righthand side. At the pass, where the shrine to the Virgin Mary is oft-visited, is the best place to see Antisana, another glorious volcano. However, the highlight of the day will be the deep, steaming mineral baths in Papallacta.

The Antisana Volcano on a clear morning in September | © Angela Drake

Papallacta Hot Springs

When people hear about Papallacta Hot Springs, their minds immediately turn to the most popular and oft-visited destination, Las Termas de Papallacta. While there are other establishments offering access to mineral springs, Las Termas de Papallacta has a consistent reputation of providing clean pools, quality service, and an exclusive spa-setting for customers willing to pay a little more than public pool prices. Even if you are on a budget, Las Termas can be affordable. If you want to go a little cheaper, feel free to explore the various options in town.

Hotel and grounds, Las Termas de Papallacta, Ecuador | ©Angela Drake

The Most Affordable Pools at Las Termas de Papallacta

Most visitors to Las Termas will head to the most affordable pools, a set of four large swimming pools that are both deep and wide. Priced economically for middle-class Ecuadorians, expect to pay about $7 per person. Accordingly, it means on most weekends, especially holidays, these pools are packed with city dwellers escaping the rat race.

That said, these larger pools can handle a large amount of visitors before they overly crowded. But they rarely provide a sense of calm. Children are often running around and playing. Families gather in reunions and take over entire sections at a time.

Inside this gated area, Las Termas provides amenities like a locker room and showers as well as a restaurant offering semi-expensive food items. We don’t have pictures as it did not seem wise to bring a camera where we could not guarantee its safety, both from theft and water damage.

Because calm can be hard to come, we save the public pools for mid-week day trips or early opening and just before closing. This works best if we are staying the night as the entrance fee is included with an overnight stay.

Stone sculpture, Las Termas de Papallacta, Ecuador | ©Angela Drake
A Shining Sunbeam Hummingbird photographed just outside the main pools; Papallacta, Ecuador | ©Angela Drake

The Spa at Las Termas de Papallacta

On our first overnight visit, 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. The day fee was approximately $25 for non-hotel guests.

These pools are smaller than the public pools but there are fewer people using them. And the variety of temperatures is far greater than in the public setting. For example, one pool could be nick-named the Polar Bear Plunge while another was so hot that a few minutes was all I could manage. Like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, there is a pool the right temperature for everyone!

This spa also has access to a private dining room and spa-like add-ons like massages are easily arranged. The locker room feels less like a high school gym and more like a private gym. Since many people using these pools are overnight guests, they leave their belongings in their rooms and make their way over in robes and shower shoes.

Staying Overnight at Las Termas

Also, with an overnight stay, guests have free access to pools just outside the rooms. These pools are shallower than the public pools. Yet they provide an immediate oasis just steps from your room. They are my favorite part about staying overnight. There is nothing better than a good soak right before bedtime, especially if we’ve spent the day exploring the hiking trails on the property!

Hotel and grounds, Las Termas de Papallacta, Ecuador | ©Angela Drake

Hiking Around Papallacta

Las Termas de Papallacta is located above the main town. That means it has direct access to hiking trails in a lovely mountain setting. The trails eventually lead into the Cayambe-Coca National Park but we have never hiked that far. Two trails of immediate note are readily accessible from the parking lot.

First is the river trail. The short trail is an introduction to a unique habitat full of secretive birds and wild orchids. Furthermore, when the clouds clear and the sky opens up, the views from parts of the trail are magnificent.

Wild Yellow Orchids; Papallacta, Ecuador | ©Angela Drake
Orchids and Bromeliads; Papallacta, Ecuador | ©Angela Drake

The second trail goes up the mountain towards the National Park. We stopped at a huge Christian cross planted on the hillside. From there, it is easy to see Antisana on a clear day. The volcano lords over the region, its snow-covered peaks shine starkly white in the late 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.

Antisana from above Papallacta, Ecuador | ©Angela Drake

This post was originally published on January 21, 2014. The post has since been updated with edited grammar, clearer photography, and a new format.