Many Ecuadorians in Quito do just that to unwind – pack a car and go to the Papallacta thermal pools, approximately two hours away from Quito – before returning home later in the same day, to a sound sleep.
Papallacta is a town which has much to offer, with traditional dishes and grassland landscapes perfect for walking.
The drive itself is a pleasure, with gorgeous views as you pass through the valley after leaving Quito and go past the paramo vegetation, before going down to the tropical jungle.
Papallacta, located in the Cayambe-Coca Reserve offers plenty of flora and fauna to see. Its privileged location near the Antisana volcano, near rivers and the southwestern skirts of the Andes make for perfect hiking. Staying over for the night is recommended if you do decide to explore on foot.
This moorland area is home to the so-called paper trees, the polylepis. The area is also good for spotting spectacled bears and the endangered Andean condor – Ecuador’s national animal.
Whether you go hiking or not, the hot springs are a must. One of the most popular destinations is Las Termas de Papallacta, where you can soak in one of the eight pools of varying size and temperature. If you are feeling daring, you can even go in one of the cold-water pools or just jump into the nearby river.
Another option is to visit the public pools in the middle of the village, which are more modest than the spa. The public baths are centrally located, and have two large pools.
To get there from from Quito by public transport, you’ll need to take a bus. Any of the ones heading to Baeza, Tena or Puyo will stop about five minutes away from the town, and the journey takes two hours. If you’re going on to the spa, it might be an idea to take a taxi (which shouldn’t cost more than US$5) – unless you feel like going on a long walk up the mountain.
And if all of this isn’t enough and you feel like exploring even further, the Oyacachi village, an hour from Papallacta, also has geothermal pools and is closer to the rainforest. It has ecotourism facilities and you can go horseback riding and walk on the surrounding trails.