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South America » Ecuador » North » Quito
August 25th 2015
Published: July 28th 2017
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Geo: -0.223151, -78.5127

After what turned out to be a long, lazy lie-in and a delicious breakfast in the opulent dining room of the hotel, complete with chirping birds in various cages, we joined our new travelling companions at their even more impressive hotel on the main square of the city - the Hotel Plaza Grande, the first luxury hotel built in Quito. We found ourselves a taxi and driver and began our journey out of the city to Papallacta Hot Springs complex in the mountainous region about an hour and half away.

We drove out of the city, the narrow streets giving way to winding roads that looped and curled around the hilly terrain. Candy coloured houses were stepped into the hills, sugar-coated terraces providing a beautiful frame to the city below. As we left the city behind, on both sides of us, mountains rose up steeply, waterfalls cascading down the lush, green hillsides as we drove higher and higher into the clouds. Soon, we were driving through thick cloud, water running in deep rivulets down the windscreen as we passed through the vapour. In the distance, the outlines of volcanoes were just about visible through the fog. The road we were driving on was in a terrible condition - we bounced over potholes, huge cracks in the road forcing us to alter direction and swerve dangerously close to the edge of the mountains we were twisting along. As we passed one rust coloured hill to our left, a huge lump of the rock face had fallen into the road, spilling out and blocking one of the lanes, meaning cars were on our side of the road as they came towards us.

Eventually, we arrived at our destination, the rain lashing down on us as we dashed across the car park to the sanctuary of the spa area of the hot springs. There are two thermal hot springs areas at Papallacta - the public baths with 14 different pools at different temperatures, and the spa which has seven including plunge pools. The spa has the distinct advantage of more hydrotherapy style pools - bubbles, hot jets and cascading water, and although it came with a higher price, we were ready for some serious R and R and so paid the $22 entry fee, which included the use of towels, lockers and the oh-so-fetching (and mandatory) swimming cap.

After changing and making ourselves look like a ramshackle water polo team with our black and white striped cloth caps, we braved the freezing air and entered the first pool, steam drifting across its surface. It was a pleasantly warm temperature and gave us some respite from the cold outside. The pools were surrounded by verdant hills, their peaks shrouded in mist, reflecting the vapour that poured across the pools as we lounged around in them. We moved around six different hot pools, increasing in temperature each time we tried another, boiling water pouring from terracotta pots into the pools, heated by the volcanic activity far below our feet. One of the pools had incredible bubble jets that soothed our aching muscles, another had water gushing from spouts above alcoves where you could sit and stand and allow the water to cascade over our shoulders, massaging our knotted backs.

After a very quick dip in the freezing plunge pool, our extremities tingling and our faces flushed, we enjoyed hour-long facials, the only un-relaxing part being the playing of Enya's 'Orinoco Flow' which tarnished the mood slightly, but only for the duration of the track. After having our skin pummelled, cleansed, exfoliated, moisturised and masked within an inch of its life, and feeling like we were floating on air, we got back in the car for our journey back through the clouds to the hustle and bustle of Quito, seemingly a world away from the tranquility of Papallacta.

As we drove along the patchy road, we passed by more waterfalls, invigorated by the morning's rain. Clouds dipped even lower in the sky, resting on the top of the trees that coated the mountainsides. As we edged closer to town, the sunlight began to filter through the clouds, sending fractured beams of light and illuminating the city below. Pine trees carpeted the edges of the city and we could see the volcanoes rising up in the distance. A meal at the hotel and an early night beckoned, as we were anticipating an early morning start to the volcanic crater lake of Quilatoa in the morning.

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