Cotopaxi’s best secret

After our time in Quito, we walked the short distance to The Secret Garden Hostel to await our transport to Cotopaxi. Cotopaxi itself is an active volcano south of Quito. We weren’t heading for the volcano exactly, but an area of the national park nearby. From Quito, our small and very squished bus took us through bumpy and winding roads for over 5 hours until we eventually reached The Secret Garden, Cotopaxi. We loved the surroundings from the moment we arrived – greenery, mountains, volcanoes, animals and no cars as far as the eye could see. We’d booked to spend the weekend here, on a bit of a splurge, in rustic luxury and with 3 meals served a day included in the price.

Cotopaxi volcano


The first step was to leave our bags and gather with the rest of the arriving masses around the warming fire. We were given a small mug of mulled wine which went down a treat. The staff filled us in on all the details – where the facilities were, when the treks were, and most importantly, what time the food was served. After the initiation, we were shown to our room – a cute-as-a-button hobbit home built into the surrounding hills. It was like something out of a book (ha) and the views were absolutely stunning. In fact, the only view that was better than the one from our bedroom was the one from the toilet. Honestly; check the photo.

Hobbit home

Toilet view

There was no time to sit back and enjoy the landscape as we were heading off on a trek almost immediately after arriving. This one was through the forest to visit 2 waterfalls. We donned our borrowed wellies and woolly hats and set off with the rest of the group. The walk itself was actually quite enjoyable (yes, I did just say that) and not too difficult but the altitude made it quite hard to breathe. We had to climb some very slippery rocks at one point and I felt a bit like Bear Grylls. Both waterfalls we visited were beautiful and some of the group even jumped into the second one – I wasn’t brave (or stupid) enough for this. The walk back was equally as pleasant and we reached The Secret Garden just in time for a warming quinoa and potato soup. After this we had some time to relax before returning for a 5pm meeting. We did feel a bit like we were at school at times – set meal times, organised day trips, everyone sat at the same table – but we actually quite enjoyed the routine after weeks without any. Dinner that evening was nutritious and delicious and we enjoyed a bottle of red wine before teaching an older German couple how to play some card games. 

Enjoying a hike

Chasing waterfalls

Bear Grylls


The next day we arranged to go on a 5-6 hour hike up to Pasachoa mountain. We thought it would be good practise for future hikes. Little did we now just how difficult it would be. I genuinely think it may have been one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life. No exaggeration. Neither of us had hiking boots (but you know this from the Quito blog) so we took on the hike in trainers. By the end of the hike they didn’t even look like trainers – caked in mud, soaking wet and on the verge of ruin. We walked uphill for what felt like forever, waded through thick mud in the valley and climbed up wet rocks and trees in the forest. I spent 98% of the journey complaining. When we did reach the top of Pasachoa we had lunch and enjoyed the views. The walk back down was a lot easier and at one point I decided I would roll down to save time. In total, the hike took almost 7 hours and we were absolutely exhausted when we got back. Luckily, dinner was delicious (fresh burgers from the BBQ) and we were able to have an early night to recover. 

Top of Pasachoa

Views and dirty shoes


Our final day involved a lot of sitting around – we made the decision to not do another hike after the trials and tribulations of the previous day. Instead, we made the most of the breakfast and lunch served to us and read a book each. Then, along with a small group we had met, we hopped on the bus to head back to Quito. We were staying there for one more night before moving on to our next destination; Mindo. We loved our time at The Secret Garden in Cotopaxi and would recommend it to anyone who needs a break when travelling. 

The middle of the world (ish) in Quito

After a long time travelling to reach Ecuador, we were absolutely delighted to finally reach our hostel in Quito. We had booked 3 nights in Hostel Revolution – one of many recommendations from the blog ‘Two wandering soles‘. We’d been told lots of mixed reviews about the capital of Ecuador and left still unsure of our own opinion.

As soon as we had checked in we walked straight to the supermarket. Having lived almost solely on a diet of instant noodles for a while, we decided to splash out on dinner and bought rice and fresh vegetables. It was one of the most nutritious meals eaten in the last few weeks! We then more than enjoyed the hostel happy hour(s) – $1.50 for a large ice-cold beer or a rum and coke. Much needed after the long boarder crossing. The people we met in the hostel were lovely and we played cards with some of them before heading to bed feeling much more relaxed. 

Our first day in Quito started with a blissful lie-in – the first morning in 4 days we didn’t have to get up early. We decided that we would go on the hunt for some walking boots as we were (and still are) exceptionally under-prepared for our upcoming hike to Machu Picchu. Unfortunately, every pair we found was far too expensive and we decided renting them was probably a much cheaper option. On the way back we ate lunch in one of many KFCs in Quito. As it turned out, KFCs were one of the most common sites – one particular stretch of road had SIX. Still, set least it was cheap and safe. We then found a local market and bought a lovely hand-painted tray as a souvenir (this now has to be carried around for 2 more months in South America and then 9 in Australia…). Our next stop was the busy central market selling all sorts of fresh fruit, vegetables and indeterminable meats. We bought some fruit and headed off in search of coffee. A place called El Duche in the old town was in the Tripadvisor top 10 and rightly so as we found out. We had a delicious iced coffee and iced tea and watched as the bakers prepared cakes and bread in front of us. It was fascinating and really set this cafe apart from others we’d been to. After a long day out, we ate leftovers from the night before back at the hostel, watched films in bed and had an early night. 


On our last day in Quito we walked back to El Duche for our coffee fix and then visited the beautiful La Basilica church (avoiding the political protest in the main square). It turned out that you can actually climb the church towers all the way to the top for a small fee. Rickety ladders, steep stairs and wooden draw bridges lead to some heart-in-mouth moments but it was worth it in the end. The view from the top of the church was incredible and we were really glad we made it to the very top. After getting the lift back down most of the way (lazy, I know), we set off to Mitad del Mundo (where the equator supposedly lies). I was really excited to see this as I thought it would be a great story to tell in future – I’ve stood on the equator. Unfortunately, the 3 hour one-way journey on 2 busses was not worth it and I later found out that Mitad del Mundo is not even the real equator – how gutting! That night we stayed in again and packed in preparation for our next adventure in The Secret Garden, Cotopaxi…



Our first border crossing 😩

The next major obstacle in our South American travels – and one I was absolutely dreading – was the border crossing from Colombia to Ecuador. We’d read horror stories of night busses being hijacked, crossing the border itself taking hours and countless other problems. So, we decided to do it in 3 days in the hope that it would be easier. In the end, it was hellish. Enjoy; this is a long one! 

Day 1: Salento to Popayan

Admittedly, our starting point wasn’t the best as Salento was not only very far away from the border but also had no real bus connections to anywhere. The first step therefore was to get a bus to somewhere that did – Armenia (not the country FYI). That bus took just under and hour and then we had to find a bus to our next destination. We soon found out that only one bus company (apparently) go from Armenia to Popayan. Unfortunately, as it turned out, this bus was far from the luxury of our previous long journey. In fact, the bus was so old we were surprised it was still functioning. On the 7 hour journey we had no toilet and only a couple of toilet breaks. I was back to my old complaining self. 

When we finally reached Popayan we decided to walk (20 minutes) to our hostel. As soon as we left the bus terminal the heavens opened and it chucked it down. The two of us, our clothes, our shoes and our bags got absolutely soaked and we arrived at the hostel looking like drowned rats. We dried ourselves off and made it to the supermarket 5 minutes before they closed (more luck than judgement) to buy noodles and snacks. The one night stay in Popayan was uneventful and we just used it as a stopover.

Day 2: Popayan to Ipiales

The next day involved travelling to the last town before the Colombia-Ecuador border: Ipiales. At the bus terminal the same company we had used the day before tried to rip us off and then squeezed us onto a bus that was already full. We claimed 2 seats together at the back after complaining. We were pretty sure the bus was even older than the one from the day before. The journey itself was absolutely horrendous. The bus hurtled through the mountains and swung us from side to side for 8 hours straight. It also stopped at various points for no apparent reason. When we did reach Ipiales, we were travel-sick, exhausted and done with busses. We were looking forward to a good night sleep in the hotel that we’d booked. Unfortunately, it turned out that our ‘hotel’ was dirty, dowdy and dodgy (and not exactly a hotel). We didn’t feel safe being there and it was freezing. We wanted to be out of there as soon as we could.

Day 3: Ipiales to Quito

At 7am we left the hotel and hailed a taxi back to the bus terminal. ‘Collectivos’ (collective taxis) heading to the border were easy to find and cheap. When we got there we had to first get our exit stamps from Colombia. Now, Colombians are only in a hurry when it suits them so of course there was only one desk open. After a long wait, we were leaving Colombia and walked across the border into Ecuador. All done? Nope. Next we had to get our entrance stamps for Ecuador. As it turned out, Ecuadorians are not in an hurry either and we waited another hour here. The next step was a taxi to the local bus terminal in Tulcan. 

From there we had to get yet another bus, this time to Quito (our final destination). As soon as we got out of the taxi we were accosted by 3 men asking us where we were going. We were ushered onto a bus leaving “NOW” to Quito. Almost an hour later, after picking up more passengers at every bus stop in sight, we were on the way. The bus didn’t stop once for a toilet break but did stop countless times along the way for pick-ups and drop-offs. We had about a million different people trying to sell us everything from ice-creams to cooked meats. The 5 hour journey took almost 7 hours and ended up going nowhere near our hostel. So we jumped off and, after receiving the help of various kind Ecuadorians, found a bus heading towards our hostel. Eventually we made it and after 3 days of hellish bus journeys, needed a cold beer or 12. Hopefully the next border crossing won’t be so terrible…