Cool, crisp air crushed me as I hurried to a nearby pool.
There, steam rose in a puffy cloud from the gurgling, blue water. Its wispy tendrils framed the great, snow-capped, Antisana Volcano towering above me.
Ah. There’s something about taking a dip in a hot thermal pool on a quiet, chill morning. Surrounded by abundant vegetation and serenading birds, it can take your breath away.
Luxuriating in a shallow bath in the tiny town of Papallacta, south of Quito, seemed almost decadent. With few fellow bathers, it was serene, peaceful and soothing.
I was at Termas de Papallacta, a lodge artfully constructed of stone, wood and concrete. Nestled into a valley high in the Andes Mountains, its grounds are immaculate. The landscape is well-populated with dozens of plants and flowers I have come to associate with this verdant, lush country of Ecuador.
How could I not know about his place? My preferred tourism expert in Quito, Amanda Mena of Ecua Touring, casually mentioned it as a possibility for a recent girl’s trip.
Never heard of it, I said.
As they say, once you have heard something, you can’t unhear it.
Termas de Papallacta is permanently on my Quito layover list. It was born of a dream in 1994, when a group of six Ecuadorians combined their love of nature and healing waters to launch the project. Two years later, the first five hotel rooms were built. In 2014 it received its first World Travel Award as Ecuador’s Leading Spa Resort.
Just an hour from the city’s airport, it is doable in a day. Day passes to the spa range from $15 to $23. There is a lovely spa that rivals any in a major U.S. city, offering services such as a heavenly hot stone massage for $59, a sleep-inducing facial for $45, and a variety of wraps for $45 to $60.
The hot springs that feed Termas de Papallacta bubble up through layers of volcanic rock and ash at temperatures ranging from 86 degrees Fahrenheit to 158 degrees Fahrenheit. The pools are kept at 97 to 100.4 degrees. Far from my understanding are the elements that make thermal bathing “healthy.” The springs are said to be rich in sulfates, sodium, calcium, chloride and traces of magnesium.
I was a bit disconcerted that the first three items on my welcome information involved the availability of doctors. But I guess with the resort at 10,660 feet, the extreme temperature of the pools and the availability of alcoholic beverages made this a prudent offering.
Meals are available at the public pools (there are five hot pools plus a polar pool), at the spa, and inside the hotel restaurant. We didn’t get a chance to dine at the pool or spa, but the hotel has a diverse menu of Ecuadorian and international cuisine. Most dishes are made with fresh ingredients and vegetables grown in the hotel’s own gardens.
After dinner, take time to relax in the hotel’s comfortable, rustic bar. We found it to be a great conversation center and enjoyed the fireplace as the evening cooled off.
Rooms at the 10-year-old lodge range from $158 to $200. You can include breakfast on your reservation. And breakfast is a lovely display with eggs cooked to order, a variety of cereals, fruits and breads, plus juices and coffee. There are family bungalows for $246 a night and a separate area of cabins for the same price as hotel rooms.
The 32 hotel rooms are cabin-like, made of preserved wood, with a homey feel. And, surprise! The bathroom floors are heated by the same thermal waters used for the pools. What a treat to walk onto warmed tile floors with cold, bare feet. The hotel rooms are grouped around shallow hot pools that are open 24 hours a day, to overnight guests only.
If relaxing in thermal pools, warm sun and during therapeutic treatments isn’t enough, the hotel has a well-though-out interpretive museum and five hiking trails. Termas de Papallacta owns a protected area of just under 500 acres, called Canyon Ranch, located at the entrance of Cayambe Coca Natural Reserve.
The easiest trail, a self-guided walk along the river, is free to hotel guests and $2 for day-trippers. It is one of the most beautiful one-hour walks I have ever taken in Ecuador. The circuit ambles along the Loreto-Papallacta River through a primary forest and grasslands. Throughout the route are multiple varieties of orchids and other flowering plants, as well as the beloved paper trees. The route offers multiple river crossings on sturdy, well-constructed bridges as well as viewpoints to enjoy waterfalls.
The two most challenging hikes scale the mountaintop and require a local guide. Hikers are charged $2 to $15 depending on which path they choose.
Termas de Papallacta. Easy to get to, blissful hot baths, heavenly spa, substantial food and drink, and a wide variety of breath-taking hikes. What are you waiting for?