Papallacta Ecuador (Termas de Papallacta)
For relaxing hot springs in Ecuador, look no further than Papallacta Resort. Located just 1 and ½ hours drive from the capital city Quito, it’s an easy getaway for a day trip or weekend escape.
Glacial spring water and natural thermal heating have combined to create the perfect hot spring pools for some quality R&R. Or, why not splurge on a massage or facial at Termas de Papallacta Resort’s award-winning spa?
The Countryside scenery around Papallacta is also idyllic, with spectacular mountain vistas at every turn. So, get your hiking shoes on, ready to explore the high Andean Cloud Forest. Even the local wildlife is in on the secret, as Andean Bears roam the area, and colorful hummingbirds call Papallacta home.
Keep reading for everything you need to know to plan an unforgettable visit to Papallacta Ecuador. From fun activities to lodging and travel tips, we’ve got you covered.
Everything You Need To Know About Papallacta Ecuador
Let’s kick off with some fast facts about Papallacta.
Papallacta Elevation: 3,250 meters above sea level.
Papallacta Population: 634 (yes, it’s a tiny town).
In Ecuador, Papallacta is famous for one thing – the popular hot spring resort of the same name.
Locals say that “Papallacta” translates as “Land of Potatoes” (Tierra de Papas). The area was discovered by the Incas, and recognized for its fertile volcanic soil, high altitude, and cold year-round weather – the perfect conditions for growing potatoes.
Now, let’s discover where Papallacta is, and how to plan your visit.
The route to Papallacta from Quito first heads through the Cumbaya and Tumbaco Valley area. From Pifo the highway climbs steeply over the Papallacta Pass at 4000 meters, before gradually descending towards the Andean Cloud Forest and Amazon Rainforest. Papallacta is the first village on that descent, at an altitude of 3,250 meters.
In truth, it’s a very scenic highway over the mountains, with spectacular views of the high paramo (Andean plains). With clear skies, lucky tourists might even catch a glimpse of the snowcapped peak of Antisana Volcano.
The paramo on either side of the highway is the territory of the Andean Spectacled Bear. These shy and retiring creatures can sometimes be spotted crossing the road, or ambling along the mountainside.
What Makes Papallacta Termas So Special?
Papallacta Ecuador is all about the thermal hot springs.
This area benefits from high volcanic activity and crystalline glacial meltwater. The resulting hot water pools make the perfect natural spa and have become a popular tourist attraction among both locals and foreign visitors.
The pools are not only relaxing but have also been proven to offer excellent health benefits. The hot spring waters are rich in calcium, sulfates, chloride, and traces of magnesium. These properties can improve blood circulation, reduce stress, ease aches and pains, heal skin conditions, and reduce stress and tension. A relaxing soak can also help improve conditions of rheumatism and inflammation.
How to visit Papallacta Ecuador?
The good news is that Papallacta Ecuador is easy to visit with just a minimum of planning. It’s possible to head there by public bus, private transport or as part of a guided tour.
With a free day or a weekend on your hands, Papallacta Thermal Hot Springs makes for a wonderful getaway.
So, let’s discuss the different ways that you can plan your Papallacta trip.
1. Papallacta On Public Transport
The Good news for backpackers is that it’s very easy to get from Quito to Papallacta without burning a hole in your travel budget.
All buses on the route from Quito to Tena, Baeza, Misahuallí, Coca, and Lago Agrio will pass through Papallacta town. Just request that the driver makes a stop to drop you off there.
There are bus departures every ½ hour or so from Quito’s Quitumbe Bus Terminal to the south of the city. That’s the final stop on Quito’s new Metro system. The bus fare to Palallacta should set you back around $3 per person each way.
From Quito’s valley area, the buses also stop at the large Santa Clara supermarket in Tumbaco.
No advance ticket booking is required, except on public holiday weekends.
As always on Ecuador public buses, tourists often complain about pick-pockets onboard. Keep your valuables close to hand at all times and be vigilant, and never use the overhead luggage area. Thieves have been known to slash bags from under seats, so we recommend keeping your backpack on your lap where you can keep an eye on it.
From the Papallacta bus stop to the hot springs resort is a 45-minute (1.8 miles, 3km) uphill walk. Alternatively, grab a pickup truck taxi for $2-3 up to the entrance.
2. Papallacta Using Private Transport
Already got your own rental car? Then just plug in google maps and expect the journey to take from 1 to 1 & ½ hours depending on traffic. The route is straight forward, and impossible to get lost once you’re out of Quito.
Do drive carefully during rain or snow, as this section of highway is prone to accidents. Also, watch the speed limit as bears sometimes cross the road when least expected.
It’s also possible to hire a taxi or Uber from Quito. Expect to pay anything from $50-80 in total. The return journey from Papallacta is even easier. With a bit of negotiation the local taxi drivers have been know to transport tourists back to Quito for just $35-40.
3. Papallacta Day Tour
If the bus sounds like a hassle, fear not, it’s also possible to book a Papallacta day tour. This is a stress-free option and can be a great way to make the most of your time. A private guide takes care of travel logistics, with pickup and dropoff from your Quito Hotel. The itinerary includes as much time as you wish at the hot springs, and the option to trek or visit Papallacta Lagoon.
Things To Do At Papallacta Ecuador
The thermal hot springs might be the main gig in town, but there are plenty of active Papallacta activities to keep you busy too.
1. Relax at Papallacta Hot Springs Resort
The undisputed #1 reason to visit Papallacta is the award-winning hot springs resort complex, Termas de Papallacta.
For visitors to Quito with a free day on their hands, some free time spent at Papallacta should be high up on your to-do list. Whatever the weather, Papallacta is a magical place to soak for a few hours, easing away the aches and pains of a long-haul flight or active travel schedule.
The Papallacta thermal springs are divided into two main areas – the public pools (Balneario) and the more exclusive Papallacta Spa Pools. In deciding which to visit you’ll want to take into account your budget as well as which type of experience you prefer.
Balneario – Public Papallacta Baths
The Public Papallacta Balneario charges an entry fee of $9 per person. These pools are open every day from 6 am – 9 pm. Paid guests are welcome to stay for as long as they desire. The entrance is to the left-hand side as you pass the main entrance.
The network of 10+ pools can get crowded at weekends, but during the week it’s not hard to find a private pool all for yourself. Water temperature varies between pools, so take time to explore and dip your toes in. It’s a fun family atmosphere in these public pools, with kids splashing around, and attractive garden surroundings with colorful flowers.
Papallacta Spa Pools
The Papallacta spa pools offer a more private, serene, and exclusive experience, with the same opening hours as the Balneario.
For the steeper price of $22 per person, you can enjoy more privacy, and use of a fancier shower and changing area. Towels and shower caps are also provided, as are private lockers. The entrance is at the hotel and spa reception, to the right as you enter the complex.
The Spa Pool area is beautifully maintained with manicured gardens and reclining loungers. Some pools come with waterfalls and hydro-massage. I love the cold plunge pool – alternating from hot to cold pools can improve blood circulation.
2. Indulge Yourself With Spa Treatments
Let’s head into the Papallacta Spa to crank it up to the next level of pampering.
At the reception of the Papallacta Spa Pools, one can book a full range of tempting spa treatments. The Papallacta Spa menu includes everything from facials to body wraps, massage (soft and deep pressure), and ayurvedic treatments. The delicious chocolate wrap and hot stone massage are particular favorites.
Most treatment prices range from $40-$60, which is very reasonable compared to rates in most Western countries.
3. Hike in the Papallacta Countryside
For a more active endeavor, why not explore the riverside trail from the Termas de Papallacta complex?
The La Isla Nature Trail offers an easy hike along a well-signposted path. It takes around 1 hour to complete the loop walking at a regular pace with photo stops along the way.
The trail guides visitors through the high Andean cloud forest habitat, rich in mosses, bromeliads, ferns, and orchids. Also look out for Polylepis trees, recognizable for their paper-like peeling bark.
Cute wooden bridges crisscross the river, and special platforms set the scene for perfect family photos against the natural backdrop.
Pay attention to wildlife as you trek. Birds frequent the trail, while mammals including deer, fox, and bears can occasionally be sighted.
It’s an easy trail to explore unguided by yourself, but there’s also the option of hiring a guide for those who enjoy learning more about trees and flora. The Papallacta Exploratorium is located just behind the Balneario. Here a guide can be hired for a longer hike exploring wetlands, forests, and a glacial valley.
4. Bird Watching
Papallacta is also an area of special interest for bird watchers.
Let’s start with the easy targets. Birders don’t even have to leave the relaxing confines of the hot springs to spot colibris, including 2 of my personal favorites, the sword-billed hummingbird, and the wonderfully named Shining Sunbeam. Just look for them flitting around the flowers of the hot spring gardens.
There are also many bird species to spot on the walking trail along the river, including colorful mountain tanagers and trogons.
For more serious birders, head a little way into the Cayambe-Coca National Park at the Papallacta Pass (also known as the Papallacta Antennas). Some of the more unusual Papallacta bird species to look out for here include the Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe, Bar-winged Cinclodes, Stout-billed Cinclodes, Many-striped Canastero, Tawny Antpitta, Red-crested Cotinga, and Black-backed Bush Tanager.
Another recommended spot for birders close to Papallacta is Guango Lodge. To reach Guango just head a few kilometers further along the main road from Quito, past the town of Papallacta, until you spot the Guango sign to your right. Guango Lodge has excellent trails and bird feeders all around the lodge for excellent birding.
5. Make a Stop at Papallacta Lake
Many visitors also enjoy a brief stop at Papallacta Lake, which you’ll pass along the route from Quito before arriving at Papallacta Town.
The lake water is sourced from the meltwater of the surrounding Andean peaks of Cayambe, Sarahurco, and Antisana. Given the purity of this water, it is also used as a potable water source for the north of Quito.
There’s also an interesting local legend that tells of a monster who once lived in Papallacta Lake. A local shaman medicine man defeated the 7-headed serpent monster, before changing into a duck and returning in this form to his homeland. Ok, it doesn’t exactly have the same pull as the Loch Ness Monster, but it does add an air of mystery for visitors.
Hotels in Papallacta Ecuador
In terms of accommodation in and around Papallacta, visitors have several choices.
Top of the list has to be the official spa complex hotel, Termas de Papallacta. Book in advance as the hotel often fills up, especially over weekends and public holidays. The cozy rooms and family cabins all have access to a small, private area of thermal springs, perfect for a relaxing dip at night. There’s also a hotel restaurant serving up hearty, home-cooked style meals in the evening.
Another nice choice is Mamallacta, located right outside the main Termas de Papallacta complex. Mamallacta is a cozy hostel in a somewhat bohemian setting. The bar serves local craft beer, and the restaurant food is good value.
For backpackers, your best bet for cheap digs is in town, where local hostels offer simple, good-value lodging.
Practicalities for Visiting Papallacta
Here are a few practical tips for those planning a visit to Papallacta in Ecuador.
- Altitude Sickness – at Papallacta’s elevation of 3,250m some visitors may feel mild effects of altitude sickness. Remember to drink more water than usual as it’s especially important to stay hydrated at high altitudes. Paracetamol pills can help alleviate altitude headaches, and chocolate is said to assist too. Check out our Quito Altitude blog for more info on managing the impact of altitude Sickness.
- Go prepared! It’s cold up this high, so appropriate gear like gloves and a wooly hat are recommended, as are rain gear and warm layers to keep the cold out in the evening.
- Sun protection is always required – sunglasses and high-factor suncream to avoid burning, even on cloudy days. Also, take lots of drinking water and energy snacks to keep you going.
- For food at Papallacta, there is a restaurant and Café in the Termas de Papallacta complex. Otherwise, there’s a row of simple, typical restaurants located just outside of the entrance. Fresh trout is considered a specialty of this region.
- Both the hotel and the Papallacta pools get busy over weekends and local public holidays. If you can time your visit during the week then it’s a good idea – you will almost have the pools all to yourself at certain times of day.
- Papallacta is increasingly becoming an alternative overnight place to stay instead of Quito City. If you’ve already visited Ecuador’s capital, why not spend the last night of your Ecuador stay relaxing at the hot springs? The drive time to the airport from Papallacta or Quito works out almost the same.
- Don’t leave valuables unattended when you are bathing. Use the lockers, or keep your gear in the baskets provided and close to you at all times.
Contact us for a FREE TOUR QUOTE – Happy Gringo specializes in customized trips right across Ecuador, Galapagos, and the Amazon. We’ll be happy to include an unforgettable trip to Papallacta Ecuador in a vacation itinerary for you.
In conclusion, Papallacta Ecuador offers a compelling combo of relaxation and adventure. From chilling out at the award-winning spa and inviting natural thermal springs, to exploring the stunning Andean scenery, Papallacta does not disappoint.
Easily accessible from Quito, Papallacta makes the perfect complement to an active itinerary in Ecuador. So, why not take a down day in your trip to put your feet up and rejuvenate, ready to continue your adventure again the next day?