Hostels get a bad reputation with most people relying on an often incorrect stereotype of sweaty dorm rooms and rowdy residents who wouldn’t be out of place on an episode of “Bad Brits Abroad”. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth at Cotopaxi’s “The Secret Garden Hostel“.
Dubbed “the best hostel in South America”, The Secret Garden is located less than 2 hours from the capital and is the perfect balance between a hiking hot-spot and a relaxing sanctuary. The main building has an almost ski-lodge feel to it with a cosy fire, big communal dining table and 5 very friendly dogs who often come hiking with you – be sure to get to the sofas early for the best cuddle opportunities!
One of the very few similarities to traditional hostels that The Secret Garden Cotopaxi bares is the fact that you will meet some amazing travellers from all over the world. The hostel really encourages people to mingle with super comfy sofas around the fire to relax in, a huge dining table for everyone and friendly volunteers who lead you on all of your treks.
New Zealand is a very long way for us Brits to travel to, so while Hobbiton still remains on my bucket list, The Secret Garden Cotopaxi might quench your wanderlust slightly as it is famed for it’s “hobbit homes”. I didn’t get to see inside them but love the idea of staying inside one – if they are available during your visit – book them!
Despite the hobbit homes, friendly puppies and amazing food, the real draw to The Secret Garden Cotopaxi is the incredible view of Cotopaxi Volcano on a clear day!
For 2018, The Secret Garden has a 3 day / 2 night package deal which you simply can’t miss out on! During my visit in April 2018, the package cost $88 (USD) per person but now appears to have increased to $95 for the basic rooms.
The package includes:
Essentially, the only things you will have to pay for is your transport to leave the property (which they will help you arrange), any alcohol/other drinks you may want and additional tours that you want to complete on your spare day (although the hostel is the perfect place to chill out, so you’re not obliged to partake in any extra activities) – perfecto!
At 10am, two shuttle buses left the Secret Garden Quito filled with travellers awaiting a chance to spy one of the highest active volcanoes in the world. Two hours later, we were pulling into the gorgeous Secret Garden Cotopaxi – easily recognisable on the drive by the hobbit hole accommodation with brightly coloured doors!
After getting settled into our rooms (I booked an 8-10 bed dorm room but ended up in a small 2 bed room which I had to myself for one night – result!), I had a quick explore of the area (read: took some pictures of the hobbit houses and made friends with the onsite llamas and alpacas).
We were then treated to a hearty stew for lunch. The best thing about the food at Cotopaxi is that it seems to be never ending. There’s always a second or third portion available, so fill your boots and tell yourself that all of the hiking will balance it out…
At 2pm, we chucked on our wellington boots (provided by the hostel) and headed out with our guide for the afternoon (Lorenzo) to hunt for some waterfalls. The 2 hour hike was actually more strenuous than I was expecting! This is mainly because I am a very clumsy human who shouldn’t be allowed on slippery rocks… despite Lorenzo’s guidance while hopping to a rock on the opposite side of a river, I still managed to fall and gain a rather large purple bruise on my backside – oops!
If you bring your swimsuit, you are able to enter the last waterfall, but given the chilly 5 degrees water temperature, I decided against it. The screams of the girls who were much braver than I were entertaining however…
Before we knew it, we were back at the hostel and treated to huge snack platters of crisps, cucumber and carrot sticks with an amazing garlic/hummus dip – nom! All hikes should be followed with snacks by the fire in my opinion!
Of course, the evening was filled with good chat, card games and a great dinner before retiring to bed before another day of hiking.
I woke up early (travelling across 6 time zones in 3 months really messes with your sleeping pattern) and was one of the first to excitedly realise it was a clear morning and the view of Cotopaxi volcano was GLORIOUS! Slowly, more people emerged donning their cameras and gawping in awe.
After a great breakfast of pancakes, we began our second hike to the summit of Pasochoa! If there’s one thing we learnt on this day, it’s that you shouldn’t trust the weather…. despite the very bright and clear morning, we were treated to a lot of fog and rain just as we reached the summit!
When the fog isn’t rolling past, the views are gorgeous (although somewhat reminiscent of the English countryside – ha!). The walk is looooong and I think we may have got slightly lost during the process – this is one of the fun parts of the staff being continually rotating volunteers rather than permanent staff!
Given the fact that the walk is so long, you should be properly acclimatised before trying to complete it – that will be easy if you’ve come from Quito! While we were panting, the hostel dogs showed us how it’s done, happily running along the trail with us (even a tiny Dachshund with little legs)!
If you aren’t a fan of hiking, this is probably an activity you should miss… but don’t worry, there are other activities you can choose from (albeit they come at an extra cost).
Despite the fact that we stopped at the summit to eat sandwiches and banana bread, we were treated to a soup lunch on our return too – I wasn’t lying when I said you would be well fed on these three days! After such a long hike, we spent the afternoon chilling out in the cosy lodge before snacks/dinner. As the lodge doesn’t have WiFi (to some unprepared traveller’s disgust), it means you really do have to integrate and chat with others.
On day three, a group of us opted to hike to the refugio/glacier of the Cotopaxi Volcano for a cost of $30. Don’t feel pressured to buy another tour however, lots of people used day three to chill – three days of hiking is pretty intense after all!
If you don’t want to do more hiking but want to enter the Cotopaxi National Park, you could opt for a gorgeous horse riding adventure instead.
The hike is fairly short but is tough on your lungs due to the altitude. You are driven part way up the volcano to the main car park before beginning the hike. There are two routes that you can take, a longer but easier zig-zag path and a shorter very steep straight uphill hike. Both will take around 2-3 hours to complete, so we opted for the easier route on the way up and the steeper route on the way down!
Make sure you wrap up warm with lots of layers. It’s very windy up there, so you will get cold when you’re standing still and lots of layers means you can strip off when you start getting warm from hiking.
Once it started snowing and we reached the glacier, the path became pretty slippery (of course, I fell flat on my arse again, yay). It was the first time I had ever hiked on an active volcano/hiked to a glacier, so it was pretty exciting!
You can of course hike to the summit of the volcano, but it’s expensive to do with a guide and you will require proper equipment to hike through the snow – the refugio was good enough for me! Make sure you try the hot chocolate in the and get your passport stamped in the refugio!
You will have the option to mountain bike down from the car park to the main road for an additional $10. I opted out of this as I had already done some mountain biking in South America (“Death Road”, I’m looking at you) and I didn’t fancy being out in the snow for longer than necessary!
Unfortunately, returning to the lodge and eating lunch signalled the end of our time at The Secret Garden Cotopaxi… if I had more time, I could have definitely stayed! As there was a big group of us who were all heading to Latacunga, we arranged a private shuttle to take us directly to our respective hostels for $40 ($5 per person) which is only slightly more expensive than taking bus but is so much easier.
All in all, it was a perfect three days filled with great scenery, amazing people, lots of food and a few more bruises than I anticipated. I couldn’t recommend this hostel enough!
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