Trek La Virgen to Papallacta

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South America » Ecuador » North » Cayambe
November 18th 2009
Published: January 3rd 2010
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This trek is from Viva book: Hiking and climbing in Ecuador. If you like the peacefulness that the solitude in the mountains offer we recommand this trek. It is quite an easy walk for hikers, especially down hill on a sunny day. But on a rainy foggy day it can be muddy and therefore more difficult. Personally we think that walking it up hill would be much more strenuous. It took us about 7 hours to reach Papallacta´s Thermal Baths which was a great reward for the effort of the day's trek. On the way we saw a few rabbits and two andean deers. But if you are really up for it there is enough room to camp and ambush other animals, but you have to be patient.

We went out from the beautifully located village, Papallacta, which is famous for its hot baths. We asked the bus driver to pull off at the virgin tomb which is also known as Papallacta Pass, the highest point the main road reaches. So in case you don´t notice La Virgen pay attention; so long as you are climbing you are ok, if you already down hill you have missed it. La virgn
In between lakesIn between lakesIn between lakes

Liz by one of the many small lakes along the route
is a small white concrete tomb on the right hand side of the road arriving from Quito. Opposite La Virgen there is a dirt road leading to a hut that is the entrance to the Cayembe Nacional Parque, which is seen from the road.
Entrance fee was 10$ for both and we got a map showing the trail (sendero). In fact this trail is so simple that you really don´t need the map. Starting climbing up we simply walked along the 1.5km long dirt road in the directions of the antenas, passing a lake or two, (sometimes there are more), and a car park. Where the dirt road ended we saw a locked gate in front of us. Heading toward it there is a hidden sign on the left hand side that indicates the direction of the trail. It may be a little confusing because it seems that there are two footpaths. We followed the "paved" footpath that is the right hand side of the two and runs along the left hand side of the metal fence. Continuing upwards we reached to a small gazibo where we could sit and if it wasn't as misty as it was we could have enjoyed the view.
But we were deep in a cloud, at 4370m asl we were freezing, wet because it was raining and the visibility was zero. Yet even without visibilty longer than 10m ahead the trail was clear enough to follow. The mist provides a special atmosphere as if we were walking on the verge of the world. As the clouds move along one lake is unvealed and another disappears. And any spell of sun is like god himself checking if we were o´right. Although most of the time the trail was mud and bog we didn't slip. Wherever it is too steep there are handrails and fence to protect what was a great assistance at the particular weather condition we experienced. We walked down easily for about 7.5km passing a lake every now and then, every 1km a sign showed us how many km's we have passed. The lakes in all sizes and shapes invited to swim in them or to float on an inflatable boat or at least to have a picnic nearby and hope to see an animal passing, but not in this weather. As we approached the other entrance point to the reserve we saw a nice waterfall cascading from a crick in the rock and falls to the river Papallacta. From here another dirt roads leads right and down to the thermal baths of Papallacta, 5km away. But one can also choose to turn left back into the reserve and head on to Cayembe mountain about twp days walk away. We followed the right way to the thermals starting fantasizing the nice feeling of hot water embracing our cold body.
The baths are fantastic. There are several pools at different temperatures including cold water. The pools are quite small thus invite only limited number of people to bath what gives a good intimate atmosphere. Around some of the pools there are stones that create places to sit when it gets too hot. As we came after sunset the atmosphere was really special. The dull lights around only added romance scent to the intimate feeling. And the steam that took the colours of the light and shadows as it moves gave a mistic ambience as if we were floating in a nice warm cloud. Two hours we stayed there. At first we got back the feeling in our limbs. Then simply lazed back and relaxed.
Mini hillsMini hillsMini hills

The mist kept vealing and unvealing the surroundings
There was only another couple there what really made us feel private.

Additional photos below
Photos: 11, Displayed: 11


Finally the rain stoppedFinally the rain stopped
Finally the rain stopped

Heading to the other entrance point to Cayambe Natural Reserve from Papallacta
The cascadeThe cascade
The cascade

At the lower exit from the reserve water cascading from a crick in the rock into the river Papallacta
Entering Papallacta parqueEntering Papallacta parque
Entering Papallacta parque

At the end of the trek just before reaching the thermals
The splendid thermal bathsThe splendid thermal baths
The splendid thermal baths

We splurge ourselves with a nice warm dip
Farewelling our hostsFarewelling our hosts
Farewelling our hosts

The next day it was sunny and warm

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