Papallacta, one of Ecuador’s renowned hot springs towns, is about two hours east of Tumbaco on route 35 (could be 3o minutes as the crow flies) or 30km (22 miles). We have been to or past it several times, mostly when it is heavily overcast, misting or raining. Not really a tourist haven, but often visited by both Ecuadorians and tourists who are made aware of its existence.
The trip to Papallacta can be a little frantic as one winds up and down the narrow two-way road that is now even more challenging as a massive road construction project is underway to widen the road from Pifo to Papallacta into a four lane mountain trail with steep drop-offs and few guard rails.
This stretch of highway 35 under construction is the only straight section.
In the photo above, notice the snow on the mountain top to the left. This was in mid-February this year. Our missionary friends who have been here for 40 years said it was the first time they have ever seen snow on these lower mountains.
The narrow roadway with all its twists and turns with no shoulders is normally a dangerous route with no sightseeing permitted for the driver. Now with construction and the steep drop-offs it has created in places, driving has become even more hazardous as the tour bus driver below discovered.
Tour bus flipped off the road into a steep drop-off created by road widening construction.
Scenery along route 35 to Papallacta goes from dry mountain terrain to lush forest and many long ribbon waterfalls and mountain streams that feed the rivers hundreds of feet below.
One of many ribbon waterfalls along the route.
Along this mountain highway also runs an above ground oil pipeline that delivers Amazon jungle crude oil to a refinery on the Pacific coast of Ecuador. Ecuador’s rich oil reserve helps to keep the country’s gasoline and diesel prices steady at around $1.48/gallon and $1.03/gallon, respectively.
Oil pipeline that runs from the Amazon oil field to a refinery on Ecuador’s Pacific coast.
Precious Andean water is also pumped through a pipeline from the mountains on the east to the capital city of Quito about 50 km to the west.
Mountain fed stream heading to the river way below.
One of many mountain streams flowing to a river below.
Just before you get to Papallacta, as you are coming down the mountain into the valley, on the left there is a little hot spring with a series of pools known as Termales Jamanco. The day we were there it was cold and overcast, but the water of the pools fed by water from nearby volcanoes was just right.
The thermal pools of Termales Jamanco are warm and soothing.
Termales Jamanco has several different size thermal pools and spas.
Just down the mountain from Termales Jamanco you will see Laguna Papallacta, a small but picturesque Andean lake.
Not far beyond Papallacta, on top of a mountain vista is a shrine or grotto to the Virgin Mary, where she has been declared Reina del Paramo or Queen of the Wilderness. Everywhere you go in Ecuador there are little and big shrines to Mary. At least one at the entrance to every little village or along isolated roadways.
Reina del Paramo (Queen of the Wilderness) grotto in the mountains near Papallacta.
At the sight of Reina del Paramo, on a clear day (which is not very often because of the altitude), you can get a beautiful view of the volcan Antisana.
Photo of the volcan Antisana taken on a beautiful August day.
About 20 km past Papallacta you come to a “Y” road split. To the right and south takes you to the little mountain town of Baeza where there is a monument to the former method of mail and milk delivery by mule or horse over the mountains. The mountain passes were too steep and narrow, so the “postman” mostly led his steed instead of riding it. For milk transport, the mule or horse carried two large milk cans. While the postal service has upgraded to vehicles, milk delivery through the mountains uses the same centuries old method.
The quiet village of Baeza.
Baeza’s monument to a former and current method of delivery.
Milk is still delivered by horse or mule today in the mountains of Ecuador.
A little outhouse along a stream near Baeza with the discharge into the creek.
All along the mountain roads are thousands of Bromeliad species that saprophytically cling to native trees. Some of these saprophytic plants can be three feet in diameter and eventually sprout an impressive and colorful flower stalk two or three feet high.
A large cluster of Bromeliads covering several host trees.
If one continues on the road through Baeza for another mountain road-twisting 50-plus kilometers you will reach a straight stretch of road that takes you to the large jungle river town of Tena. Three rivers converge in Tena and in April, 2010 a “state of emergency” was declared as much of the city became inundated with flood waters from heavy winter rains. Another flood (less severe) occurred on September 25, 2011, impacting many families living near the rivers.
Taking the left fork and driving north about 15 or 20 km you will come to the mountain village of Chaco. Chaco is “famous” for the whitewater rafting and kayaking on the Rio Quijos that runs parallel to the town.
The Rio Quijos near Chaco.
Rio Quijos is also a favorite trout fishing river for the local inhabitants.
Rio Quijos as it flows through the mountain jungle near Chaco.
Chaco is also home (at this time) of the curious red-spotted calf.
Red-spotted calf of Chaco.
Whatever road you take, if you are the driver, be sure to keep your eyes on the road. If a passenger, you are likely to spy one of many species of colorful orchids along the roadside. Unfortunately, there are few places along the narrow mountain roads to pull over and get a closer look at their beauty. But on a side gravel road, a quick stop allowed for a quick observation of the beauty below.
The beautiful Sobralia rosea orchid near Chaco.