The tiny town of Papallacta is located in the Napo province of Ecuador, on the road to the Amazon from Quito. The town is best known, and most visited for its lovely hot springs. However, the journey to Papallacta, out of Quito, through the suburbs and then up into the mountains is fabulous in itself, with views across one of the “lake districts” of Ecuador on a clear day. You’ll eventually reach the Papallacta pass, which will literally take your breath away, before dropping down for a few miles into the town of Papallacta. Papallacta is one of our favorite places in the whole country and we recommend you spend an overnight here to make the most of it. Here is our Papallacta travel guide to help you plan and enjoy your trip.
Most people would agree that the biggest highlight of a visit to Papallacta is a trip to the fabulous hot springs there. Relax in pools of a variety of different temperatures, from piping hot, to freezing cold plunge pools, and take in the humming birds buzzing around the pretty vegetation. This is one experience you won’t want to miss on your visit to Ecuador.
A very special highlight for those that like walking is to take a hike that ends up at the hot springs. You can then soak away the aches and pains from the day in the springs.
As indicated above, one of the main things that Papallacta is famous for is its lovely hot springs. There are different options for a visit to these. One is to visit the public pools, which are open for long hours during the day, but these are busier – however, they are a good option for those that want just a quick stop in Papallacta. Then, there are the somewhat more expensive spa pools that include jets of water and Jacuzzi-style pools in the springs. A third option is to stay overnight at the hot springs and enjoy the peaceful pools outside your cabin. You might combine this with a trip to the spa pools, and you might also book some treatments during your stay. If you forgot your swimsuit, never fear – you will find vendors outside the hot springs eager to sell you one.
Papallacta is a great place for hiking – the hot springs are surrounded by the jagged mountains and paramo (tundra-like landscape) that typifies much of the Ecuadorian highlands, and there are some splendid walks to be had here. Take a guide, as trails are not well marked. There are also some fairly well-marked short trails that lead up from the hot springs.
Papallacta sits at a fairly high altitude of 3,300 meters above sea level which means two things. One, it can get cold very quickly, and it will often be chilly at night. Two, you can get burned easily at this altitude – a mistake that many make while lying in the hot springs for hours. Make sure you bring your sun screen and apply regularly! That aside, weather wise, any time of year is good to go to Papallacta, as it matters not if it rains while you are in the hot springs. If you do prefer drier weather, your best chance is June to September and December and January.
Papallacta gets very busy around Ecuadorian public holidays. These include Carnival, Day of the Dead, and Christmas and New Year, as well as various others spread throughout the year. It is worth checking with your tour operator – we can advise on this – to avoid a spectacularly busy day at the springs. Sundays are also exceptionally busy here, as Quitenos head out to relax in the pools.
A bus from Quito to the small town of Papallacta takes around 1.5 – 2 hours. The bus drops you at the bottom of the road to the hot springs, and from here you have to walk the two miles to the springs – unless you are lucky, and a truck offers you a ride. You could also get a taxi from Quito or take a day tour to the springs.
Papallacta has few nearby attractions, but it is on the road to the jungle. Just a short way down the road (about an hour) is a gateway town to the Amazon, Baeza and here there are some nice places to eat. There are also some cloudforest areas nearby where you can spot hummingbirds if you are lucky. There are plenty of great hikes around Papallacta, but most are not well marked, so it is best to take a guide.
The main accommodation in Papallacta is the hotel and spa. This is not a cheap option, but it is certainly very lovely. There are also other hotels on the street leading up to the hot springs for those looking for a more inexpensive place to stay.
Papallacta is located in the highlands of Ecuador, so you can expect that the commonest options are meat or fish with rice and/or potatoes, served with a soup first and a tasty juice. There are a lot of trout in this area, which are served up in a number of different ways – you’ll want to try some while you are here.
One of our recommendations is to stay overnight at the hot springs, in a cabin. It is simply lovely on moonlit night, gazing up at the stars from the comfort of a warm pool.
A second Insiders recommendation is to try some food outside of the hotel complex. There are a number of cheap local restaurants nearby the hotel and hot springs offering fresh “trucha” (trout) which is typically served with fries and rice, sometimes both, and a small salad. The food is considerably cheaper and very hearty.
Finally, bring your binoculars with you. Andean spectacled bears are known to reside in the vicinity and you might just get to see one! If not, there is plenty of fascinating birdlife around that your binoculars will help you enjoy closer up.
As Ecuador and Galapagos experts, we can help organize your visit to Papallacta, including a stay at the luxurious spa resort if you wish. Why not get in touch to see how we can help?