If you’re spending a few days in Quito, a Papallacta hot springs day trip may be just the trip you need!
One of the easiest ways to explore the Northern Andes region in Ecuador is by setting up camp in Quito and taking day trips. Some of my favorite day trips include:
- Visiting Cotopaxi National Park
- Kayaking in Quilotoa’s Crater Lake
- Ziplining in Mindo
- Summiting Rucu Pichincha
- Shopping at Otavalo’s Saturday market
- Lounging in Papallacta’s glorious hot springs.
Where are Papallacta hot springs?
The Papallacta hot springs are spread out around the town of Papallacta, and the town itself is located about an hour from Quito, by car or bus. It’s 67 kilometers east of Quito, to be exact. that is why a day trip there is always a good choice! The town is higher up in the Ecuadorian Andes, sitting at 3,300 meters (10,827 feet) above sea level. The area surrounding Papallacta is lush, humid, often foggy and VERY cold.
Most people head to the Termas de Papallacta (Papallacta thermal baths), which is one of the best places to experience the volcanic, thermal waters of the area, however, Termas de Papallacta isn’t the only place you can visit!
On the way to the Termas de Papallacta, you’ll actually pass a few other establishments offering access to pools filled with the thermal waters. In fact, even before arriving to the town you might see signs to other locations. Many will be significantly cheaper (around $3 – $4 cheaper) than the Termas de Papallacta, which costs $9 entry per person or $22 per person to access the Spa.
How to get there?
I’ll just cut to the chase: it isn’t that straightforward to get to Papallacta by regular bus, unless you’re already heading back to Quito from Tena by bus. From Quito, it’s a pain in the butt and often involves heading to Quitumbe first, which makes no sense because it can take just as long to get to Quitumbe as Papallacta and you’ll end up spending more than 2 hours traveling when it should only take 1. Super frustrating.
Otherwise, I would strongly suggest you either rent a car for the day or pay a taxi/Uber to take you to Papallacta and back. If you have a full car (4 passengers, it ends up only costing about $20 each). You might find some day-trip services offered at travel agencies too, though they might charge you more.
Why you will love Papallacta hot springs
If you’re planning a day trip to the hot springs, you won’t be disappointed. There’s a reason locals regularly visit the hot springs. Not only is it an easy escape from the city, it also promotes relaxation and general health.
The thermal waters that are found in Papallacta are known for their health benefits and are an excellent choice if you’ve spent the day prior hiking or doing demanding physical activity. What’s even healthier is dipping into the cold pools (found in the same space as the thermal baths) to get your heart racing. This hot – cold – hot switch is, in fact, a type of therapy used to relieve pain of all types.
The weather in Papallacta, which is often cold, foggy and drizzly, is the perfect environment to experience thermal waters; the cold outside weather makes the warm baths that much better. If you’re at the pools at night, and if the clouds clear, you’ll see thousands of stars above and, if it’s a clear day, you might even catch a glimpse of Volcano Antisana in the distance.
Note: Don’t get in the thermal baths if you are
- Have high blood pressure
- Suffer from infectious skin diseases, or skin conditions, as they can deteriorate
- Have cardiovascular conditions and heart problems
- Varicose veins
- Also, if you have young children (below 12). They may not be allowed to enter the thermal water. Though I’ve seen families with toddlers enter so…
Pro tip: If after 20 minutes you start to get light-headed in the thermal waters, head to the cold pool to get your heart pumping.
Finally, after your dip in the thermal baths, you can choose from a number of different restaurants in that serve fresh trout for just $7-$8, including fries or rice.
All things considered, what’s not to love about your Papallacta hot springs day trip so far?
Other activities to enjoy at Papallacta?
Most people that plan a Papallacta hot springs day trip don’t make a plan beyond visiting the hot springs, but there’s a lot you can do in the area.
GET A MASSAGE
If you’re open to splurging, there are a few spots in Papallacta, including the Termas de Papallacta Spa, where you can get a massage. What’s better than lounging in volcanic thermal baths, followed by a deep tissue massage? Drawing a blank – it’s literally the best thing I can imagine right now.
As mentioned in the previous section, you can eat a delicious plate of fresh trout or a warm chicken soup. A personal favorite is the trucha al ajillo, or trout in garlic sauce. The restaurant at the Termas de Papallacta serves a variety of excellent dishes, but tends to charge significantly more that the restaurants you passed driving up to the entrance of the Termas. Make sure to check those out!
There are a few great hikes in the area, though not all are adequate for day-trippers. A great day hike option that ends at the town of Papallacta, rewarding the hikers with a dip in the thermal waters, is the Virgen de Papallacta to Termas de Papallacta hike. This hike takes 5-6 hours and covers 10.5 miles (nearly 17 km). It is a moderately difficult hike, especially if you aren’t acclimatized, and make sure to bring rain and sun protection, as well as layers for the cold. Specific information on this route can be found here.
At the Termas de Papallacta there is a small loop hike you can do, which takes no more than 30 minutes, though you can extend it at your leisure. Longer hikes are also available, but make sure to ask the Termas staff in case the trails aren’t accessible due to weather conditions.
The Wanderbus leaves Quito on a daily basis and will take you straight into town so you don’t have to hike all the way up to the thermal baths (if you’re going to the Termas de Papallacta).
The Wanderbus offers a safe, convenient and flexible way to explore Ecuador. As a hop on, hop off bus, you can adjust your itinerary as you like, and are guaranteed a ride to the next stop for the selected Wanderbus pass. Also, you’ll be traveling with like-minded individuals and potential friends.