Sunday, June 10, 2007

Day Trips in the Andes - Chachimbiro

One of my favourite day trips when I'm based in Cotacachi is the journey to the hot springs at Chachimbiro. There aren't a lot of places in this high mountain terrain where you'd enjoy swimming or bathing. Certainly it's not like being on a beach vacation, where the water is warm, plentiful and turquoise. Imbabura province has its share of lakes, but they're not the best for swimming. Lago San Pablo, near Otavalo, is good for sailing, but the shores are muddy and reedy, and the water at this altitude is definitely not warm.

However, because of the volcanic activity of the area, there are several great hot spring and spa locales in Ecuador. Chachimbiro is about an hour away from Cotacachi, by car or bus. This is a journey through the countryside on cobbled roads that wind down into deep valleys, then back up to the hilltops. Located in a deep valley, at the upper end is the public area. Here people come to 'take the cure' in the mineral waters, and it can be quite crowded. But, just below this Spa is a privately owned hot spring area, and this is where I'd advise you to go.

You pay your $4 fee, and descend the concrete steps under a bower of vines and exotic flowers. It's impossible for me to bypass the hibiscus, canna lilies, bougainvillea, and honeysuckle that line the pathway without stopping to admire them.

At the foot of the steps is a colorful gazebo-like construction. Inside, the hot (and I mean HOT!) water gushes forth from the rocks, and the room is a marvellous steam room. Just beside that is a deep cold pool, and another very hot pool. It's very invigorating to go from hot steam to cold pool, and back to the hot pool. I will admit, though, it always take me a few minutes to get my nerve up to leap into that cold water!

Below this, there are several pools, each a little cooler than the last, as they cascade down the valley. The final pool is a wonderful swimming temperature, and large enough to get a bit of exercise. Just below it is the change area. The changing rooms are clean, but plain. You get a basket for your clothes, and after getting suited up, step under the outside showers adjacent to the change area. You have a choice of hot, warm, or cold showers, all coming from pipes overhead in the rock-paved area.

As tempting as it might be, you'll need to be careful here. The sun, remember, is directly overhead, and it's easy to forget how long you've relaxed , floating dreamily in the warm water.

The pools are clean, the water is wonderful, and the mountain air crisp and pure. A day trip you definitely don't want to miss!