My review of The Secret Garden, Cotopaxi, Ecuador
How was the Secret Garden, Cotopaxi?
The grounds of The Secret Garden, Cotopaxi are absolutely beautiful!
The Secret Garden in Cotopaxi sits at 3,500m above sea level. That is something they omitted to mention whilst coming into the van. Upon leaving the van, I suddenly felt my head go and felt a bit strange. “How high up exactly are we?” I asked.
Actually above 3,000m you really start to feel symptoms of altitude sickness. This website here is a great resource.
TIP: there is no signal, and no Wi-Fi! Just access to a computer and even then it is mandated very strictly. I’m telling you this so you download books and Netflix shows in advance. I didn’t do this, as I didn’t know there’d be no Wi-Fi – it isn’t advertised at all! I had to ask to use the computer to let my mum know I hadn’t died…
Getting to The Secret Garden, Cotopaxi
A shuttle bus runs to and from the sister hostel in Quito. The shuttle bus leaves at 9am every day – ensure you’re on time as they get p*ssed off if you’re still checking out as they arrive. The shuttle bus takes approximately two hours. When you leave The Secret Garden in Cotopaxi, shuttle buses can be arranged either back to Quito or to Quilotoa or Baños. The return shuttle bus is not included in the package price.
We had this group of American girls on our shuttle bus to Cotopaxi. MY GOODNESS one of them was annoying. I shall name her Britney because I cannot remember her name. This was one of many irritating conversation starters Britney pulled on the rest of the bus:
“Theoretical situation guys. A brother and a sister are in the jungle, they are alone and they decide to have sex. They use contraception so a child cannot be conceived, and then afterwards they depart and never speak of it again. What do you think of this situation?”
????? Britney I think that is disgusting. Of course we were horrified. I told her, “Mate, the scenes between Jamie and Cercy Lannister in Game of Thrones are meant to disgust – they aren’t saucy scenes.” Britney was trying to make a point that we pre-judge situations first and then justify it afterwards. We told her there is a reason that incest is banned throughout cultures and that we would not get on board with this game. She then moved onto a debate on female genital mutilation.
Britney, if you’re somehow reading this when you meet new people ask about their travels, where they’re from and maybe their hobbies. Don’t ask people about their thoughts on forced genital mutilation. It’s not normal.
Tea and coffee is available after 7am, and from 8am breakfast is served. Pasachoa, Rumiñahui and Cotopaxi tours depart at 8:30am and Horse Riding departs at 9am. Most tours finish and come back before lunch is served at 2pm. For Pasachoa, Rumiñahui and Cotopaxi, you get a sandwich and then lunch when you return – extra food is always a win win situation. Horse Riding includes cake and tea – how British! 😎
Snack time is at 5pm (usually vegetarian, sadly not vegan), and dinner is around 7pm. There is always tea or coffee and also banana bread available, so you won’t go hungry! The meals have generous portions, the snacks are delicious, and there is also local craft beer, wine and (for those on antibiotics 🙋🏻♀️ soft drinks) to purchase. You keep a running tab and pay everything when you check out.
I highly recommend booking their 3-day package deal, which includes transportation, all meals, two nights accommodation, and a guided hike up Pasochoa. At time of writing it cost $95 per person.
What were the volunteers like?
So of course, the volunteers will obviously have changed if you refer to my blog and then visit Secret Garden years later.
We had a French couple that were sweet but spoke no Spanish and no English. We also had an Israeli girl who I quite liked but who wasn’t popular at all with some of the other backpackers whom found her surly and stern. Then again I am used to surly Israelis. I have one as a father.
There was also Michael. Oh Michael, Michael, Michael… Meet basically Michael.
Michael was patronising, but I’m not even sure it was intentional? I just think his head was a bit in the clouds? Although one evening our room was freezing; the volunteers are supposed to light the fireplaces in the rooms, but ours had not been done. Michael was busy serenading Oasis to some French chick (who Lucy and I didn’t take to at all – she wasn’t really a girls girl, the type of gal to get angry if the boys are giving any other girl attention). He was playing Wonderwall – how cliché. The girls from my dorm and I disturbed Michael to ask him if he could help us with our fireplace. He simply looked at us all, responded, “No” and continued with Wonderwall!
There was also Diego, who helped us with the fireplace instead. He was an absolute babe. He took me to the hospital on day 2 also. Patrick (he wasn’t called Patrick, Lucy and I named him Patrick because we forgot his name and he was Irish) was also a babe because he allowed me to help myself to free Cola promising it was good for diarrhoea. We will come to diarrhoea later.
What I loved about The Secret Garden, Cotopaxi
- The lack of Wi-Fi – initially annoying but it did force us to be sociable; there isn’t even signal! Instead we spent our evenings actually talking to each other and playing cards. Here I learned the card game Cambio (which was introduced to me as Canggu, don’t ask me why, but when I found out it was Cambio I had an ultimate lightbulb moment 💡) and became obsessed.
- The food – more specifically – the unlimited banana bread. On the first day we also had unlimited ginger cake which was also fantastic. I think unlimited cake and tea should be a standard at any hostel. And of course, unlimited crisps.
- The animals – I mean they’re no Barnaby (my dog is absolute 🔥there is no competing with how cute Barnaby is) but the hostel has SO MANY dogs! Sadly some of them are super old (i.e. 14 years old; one had a sling on as it had just undergone an operation to remove a cancerous tumour) so many not be around if you visit.
Outdoors there are also horses and llamas to play with – one llama was such a model, we named it Tyra.
- The rooms – really homely and cosy, kept warm by a log fire.
- The view – now I’m not easily blown away, but the view from the front door of Cotopaxi was most spectacular. The picture below is not zoomed in and without photoshop!
What I didn’t love about The Secret Garden, Cotopaxi
- Michael – just… Michael.
- The hot tub – a cool idea, but it was either freezing cold or boiling hot. Basically un-usable. We all sat in the hot tub with a beer (and a coca cola for me, cheers antibiotics) trying to convince ourselves that the water wasn’t too hot. We got out 2 minutes later.
Run down of the excursions at The Secret Garden, Cotopaxi
The Waterfall Hike
It wasn’t really a hike, more a 30-minute walk to the waterfall but we had ascended 600m quite quickly in a car and boy, I could feel the altitude. The group followed Michael (who stopped every 40 seconds to pick up a flower and regurgitate some hippie nonsense) past two waterfalls and through to a final spring which was beautiful but absolutely freezing.
I’m gonna level with you here – I was not well on this hike. At all. I was feeling unwell upon arriving in Quito, but after eating simple foods my stomach seemed to have subsided. Or so I thought. Our lunch at Cotopaxi was quite rich and I’d eaten some dairy. On the way back from the waterfall I suddenly felt my stomach churn, and I began to sweat. I knew exactly what was going to happen. My friend Lucy asked if I was all right and I simply whispered, “babe I need the toilet right this second, I need to hide.” Others on the walk back could tell something was up, and everyone slowed to look at me as I doubled over in pain. The lead volunteer asked, “Amber do you want us to wait for you?” and I responded “No, I JUST NEED EVERYONE TO MOVE ON NOW.” And I ran behind a bush. You can guess why…
😂😂😂 HAHAHAHA oh my days Amber oh dear
The next day after the Pasachoa hike finished I had to go to hospital. It was then I discovered I had a stomach parasite. I was told by the doctor to eat no dairy and nothing fried. 💔 It was pizza night that night. 💔 They even had flaming GOATS CHEESE pizza! My favourite! Dairy free pizza is NOT a thing in Ecuador and I sat there with vegetables on bread. 💔💔💔
Whatever, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger right?
I don’t think that applies to going dairy free…
I’m vegetarian. You try being a dairy free vegetarian in South America. It isn’t easy. I still can’t even really eat dairy now. I’ll forget, and I eat an ice cream and it all goes a bit tits up. I have the upmost respect for people with dairy free allergies now. It isn’t like you can pop to Waitrose and get some almond milk alternatives. There isn’t any VioLife here.
Oh sorry. Anyway there is also two possible returns back to the hostel – the way you came and the ‘adventurous’ route. Due to my stomach being in bits and me not having the patience nor the ability to climb over rocks I went back the normal way. As I kept having to stop… I got a bit lost. I remember shouting “HELLO WHERE IS EVERYONE?” and one of the Americans going, “HERE!” – if I knew where ‘here’ was I’d be there???
The adventurous route has actually had a few casualties. A German I met in Quito, who I will refer to as Bjöncé going forward (yes, pronounced Beyoncé – his name is Björn and he is an absolute diva) slipped and injured his foot quite badly the day after I arrived. He also broke his camera. The following day a girl went to hospital and returned to The Secret Garden with her leg in a brace.
Michael asked me if I “enjoyed the hike back” upon returning to the hostel. I responded “Michael is that a f*cking joke, you know full well what happened. You witnessed it.” Oh Michael.
This is a great ‘practice’ walk for if you’re doing the Classic Inka Trail (or any trail)– especially for the 2nd day (to Dead Woman’s Pass). Pasachoa involves a 3h ascend up 800m from 3,500m to 4,300m. You then ascend for 2h after enjoying a sandwich at the top. When you return to The Secret Garden at about 2pm you get a second lunch – so a win win situation. The 2nd day of the Inka Trail involves a 4.5-5h ascend up 1,300m for 5h from 2,900m to 4,200m so it makes great acclimatisation. The hike is included in the price of the Cotopaxi package.
Cotopaxi National Park
Cotopaxi National Park is listed as being one of Ecuador’s most popular national parks, for both national and international visitors. The draw? Cotopaxi, a snowcapped volcano whose peak reaches a very impressive 5897m. The volcano is still active and gave an impressive display of it’s might in 2016. Many climbers attempt to summit Cotopaxi, not an easy or cheap decision to make. At our hostel you could organise the tour for US$280 per person, and while we were staying a handful of people left to make their ascent.
At The Secret Garden, you could climb up to the glacier and cycle back down through the park. This cost $30. For $35 you could hire a horse and trot around the volcano and the national park. I opted to do the latter and the views were spectacular.
FYI: on my blog I refuse to call Horse Riding the American Horseback Riding. Even the name annoys me. I’m sorry but where else does one sit on a horse? Before they renamed it Horseback Riding were a load of Americans sitting on the horses head? Or clasping onto their tail? “Now look here I know it is horse riding but where do y’all sit on this thing? OH the back? Well we gotta make the name more specific!”
The horses all did the weirdest things when we dropped them off back at the park entrance. Gotta love horses – they’re massive weirdos.
This sounded awful to be honest – freezing cold and you had to apparently climb for the last hour, which some travellers found dangerous.
Would I recommend The Secret Garden, Cotopaxi for those coming to Ecuador? Absolutely – great value for money, great food and such a cosy hostel. Apparently Michael has since left, so you can save yourself feeling like the following…
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