When most people think of Ecuador, they think of the Galapagos Islands (and maybe that 90s club classic by Sash). But, let’s not forget about the rest of this captivating country!
Yes, the Galapagos Islands are a great reason to visit Ecuador however, there is also SO much more on offer in this country. Sacred snow peaked volcanoes, opalescent blue lagoons and intriguing indigenous communities, are just a few of the things that this tiny country boasts.
During my time in Ecuador, I decided to save the Galapagos Islands for when I could actually afford to do it properly and instead, went on a quest to uncover what the rest of Ecuador has to offer. Enter Cotopaxi National Park…
What is Cotopaxi National Park?
Cotopaxi National Park is a sprawling landscape of diverse scenery located around 2 hours South of the capital, Quito. Despite covering approximately 128 square miles, the main draw to this National Park is the impressive active volcano, Cotopaxi, which protrudes from the otherwise flat vista.
Standing at a staggering 5,897m above sea level, this snow peaked beauty can be reached by huffing and puffing your way up to the windy refuge or, can be enjoyed from afar with a cup of coffee and a slice of banana cake at The Secret Garden…
What is The Secret Garden, Cotopaxi?
The Secret Garden is accommodation located in the ass end of nowhere.
Owned and built by Australians, Tarquin and Katherine and run mostly by outdoorsy backpacking volunteers, this eco-friendly home is a cosy refuge where you can disconnect from the outside world (there’s no wifi – dum dum dummm) and reconnect with nature and other travellers.
The Secret Garden offers multiple room options to accommodate all visitors and budgets including dorm rooms, private cabañas, ‘birdhouses’ and their ridiculously cute hobbit holes. Nonetheless, whichever room you go for, you will always benefit from the one running theme at The Secret Garden. THIS VIEW…
Oh, and the jacuzzi, cute puppies, amazing food and toasty fires…
How does it work?
The easiest way to book a stay at The Secret Garden, Cotopaxi is to book one of their packages online.
I booked a 3 day, 2 night package in a dorm room with a fireplace for $95. This included transport to The Secret Garden, Cotopaxi from their sister hostel in Quito, 2 nights accommodation, 3 meals per day including a two course dinner, snacks, unlimited coffee and banana bread, use of the jacuzzi/sunroom, a free 2 hour guided walk to nearby waterfalls, a free 6 hour guided trek to the summit of Pasochoa volcano and a free day to book onto any additional activities you may want to do.
If you opt not to book a package, it’ll cost $40 per night in a dorm excluding the transfer from Quito and any of the free activities.
The Secret Garden is like a home away from home and all guests eat, relax and socialise together in the living room and dining area.
How to get to The Secret Garden, Cotopaxi
The best way to reach The Secret Garden, Cotopaxi is to jump on the shuttle from The Secret Garden hostel in Quito, which is included when you book one of their package deals or, costs $5. This transfer leaves the hostel at 10am everyday and must be booked and confirmed in advance.
If you are travelling up from the South of Ecuador, hop on a bus to Quito and get off at Machachi. You will be able to organise for the shuttle to pick you up from here on its way from Quito.
Our dorm room was super cosy. Squeezing in around 10 people over two floors with one en suite, it was basic yet, had everything we could have needed for a comfy nights sleep – beams, blankets and a blazing hot fire.
Brekkie, lunch and dinner were all served family-style at the dinner table in the main chalet-like lodge. Whilst I was there, we ate everything from pancakes, eggs and yoghurt to soup, sandwiches and sticky toffee pud. It was hearty, well-cooked grub and we never went hungry!
The two free treks included in The Secret Garden’s packages are well worth doing.
On our first afternoon, we followed one of the enthusiastic volunteers to explore the surrounding area of where the hostel is located. We visited multiple waterfalls, waded through pools of water and even had the opportunity to climb up the side of a waterfall – I was very grateful for the wellies they provided us with pre-trek!
The next day we set out to conquer the Pasochoa summit. Voted one of the best treks in Ecuador, this trip will take your breath away – in more ways than one. Standing at 4,220m above sea level, the altitude is tough however, when you make it to the summit, the gobsmacking view across Quito and beyond will make that pain melt away. I did this trek with a group of 40 – 60 year olds so don’t write it off straight away if you’re not the fittest, just keep in mind that it might take a bit longer than 5 hours (we did it in 8 LOL).
There are also additional activities you can book onto at an additional cost on your ‘free day’. These include trekking to the refuge at the top of Cotopaxi ($30/$35 if you want to bike back down) and horse riding ($35-40pp) and can be booked while you’re there.