The Secret Garden hostel was one of my favourite hostels in South America. But it is more than just a hostel, it is an experience. Based in the volcano region of Ecuador, the Secret Garden Cotopaxi hostel is surrounded by rolling hills, green pastures and a horizon that is dominated by the majestic Cotopaxi volcano. With no WIFI and limited access to the outside world, the Secret Garden hostel, Cotopaxi has nailed the digital detox revolution.
** Heading south? Why not check out our travel guides on Cuenca and Vilcabamba, two more of my favourite places in Ecuador. Vilcabamba offers another incredible hostel in the middle of a mountain oasis!
The Secret Garden Cotopaxi, is the sister hostel to The Secret Garden in Quito. It is important to note, that the hostel is not actually in Cotopaxi, they call it that to separate it from the Secret Garden hostel in Ecuador's capital! The Secret Garden Cotopaxi is based around a 15 minute drive from Machachi.
To book the remote experience you can either head to the Secret Garden hostel in Quito or book online. The Secret Garden Cotopaxi fills up very quickly so book 3 or 4 days ahead. The most popular option is to book the 2 nights/ 3 day package experience which costs $95 (€80) for a bed in one of the mixed dormitories inclusive of all food (3 meals per day and unlimited tea and coffee and homemade banana bread), a hike to a nearby waterfall and a trek to the Pasochoa volcano at 4200m (13,779ft) There are other accommodation options such as hobbit holes, private cabanas, a tent house, a large house and tree-houses (yes really!) but at a higher price (see below).
If you are coming from Quito, The Secret Garden hostel in Quito has a direct shuttle service which costs $40 (€34). You meet outside of the Secret Garden hostel in the historical centre (Antepare, E4-60 y Los Rios) at 10am and arrive at the Secret Garden Cotopaxi at 12pm (you don’t need to be staying in the Secret Garden in Quito to book the experience) passing through the outskirts of Machachi at 11am.
If you would prefer to make your own way there, head to the southern bus terminal in Quito and take any Latacunga bound bus. Get off the bus on the outskirts of Machachi by the bronze horse statue (tell the driver where you want to get off when you board the bus) and from here you need to take a pre-arranged (through The Secret Garden Cotopaxi) pick up which will cost $5 (€4).
If you are coming from Banos or Latacunga, you need to catch a bus heading for Quito (do not get a bus going to central Machachi). Tell the driver you would like to get off the bus in Machachi by the bronze horse statue. For more details head to the Secret Garden Cotopaxi website.
For onward travel from the Secret Garden Cotopaxi:
You will need to take a private taxi booked through the Secret Garden Cotopaxi, to the nearest bus stop in Machachi ($5 / €4). The private taxi leaves the Secret Garden at 3pm or after, so you have the time to do an activity on your last day at the hostel. Alternatively, if you wanted to leave sooner, just let the staff know when you first arrive.
The Secret Garden Cotopaxi is incredibly beautiful. Surrounded by mountains each of the property types are connected by cobble stone paths. You can choose to stay in the two story dormitory, a hobbit hole, tree-house, a tent house or private cabanas.
In the middle of the complex, sits the main communal house with a mud brick and thatched roof; it is like stepping into a fairy tale.The main house feels like home, with sofas and a fireplace, an open plan kitchen, a communal dining space and a conservatory offering the perfect place to read your book whilst gazing out at the view. Outside there are llamas, cows and horses and a giant hammock with a view of Cotopaxi volcano - not to mention babbling brooks, a vegetable garden and 5 friendly dogs to keep you company. There is a jacuzzi to relax in after a long day of hiking and the finest white and red wine for sale.
The dormitory, which used to be the main farm house, is split over two levels and is heated by an inviting log fire, perfect for cosy evenings and early nights. There is minimal noise and no Wifi.
The Secret Garden Cotopaxi has plenty on offer and it is incredibly well organised! You choose which activity you would like to do the night before, and then the hostel staff sort it out for you. All activities are at an additional cost and this will be added to your bill and paid on your last day.
- Horse riding: 3 hours through the stunning Cotopaxi National Park
- The Cotopaxi experience: Walk to the base camp of the Cotopaxi volcano which is at 4,800m (15,748ft). From here you will continue to ascend for around 40 minutes. You will mountain bike back down!
- Summit Cotopaxi volcano: Not for the faint hearted. You will spend a night at the base camp and start hiking up to the summit at 1am in the morning to catch the sunrise at the top at 5am. You must be acclimatized (spending at least 1 month at altitude) before you decide to do this, have good hiking gear (although you can rent boots and other items) and be in good physical shape. Cost: $300 (€258).
- Volcano climbing: Whilst hiking up the Pasachoca volcano (4200m / 13,779ft) is included in the package, you can opt to climb Ruminahui; another volcano that is a little higher at 4,700m (15,419 ft). This is at an additional cost.
- Trout fishing
Tea and coffee is available from 7am and people slowly start to gather in the main house around then. Breakfast is served at 8am and there is plenty to go around, setting you up for your day ahead. Depending on what activity you have chosen to do, people start to leave around 8.30am / 9am.
Most tours finish and arrive back at the hostel around 2pm and lunch is served. If you tour goes on for a little longer, you are given a packed lunch to take with you. The food is incredible (see below)
Snack time is at 5pm and dinner is at 7pm. Depending on who is staying at the hostel, some guests arrange yoga sessions (if you love yoga, you must head to Vilcabamba after the Secret Garden), or you can chill out in the giant outside hammock, looking out at the view. If you ever get hungry, there is free and unlimited banana bread on offer.
After dinner, people cozy up around the fire, do some arts and crafts or retire to a hammock to read their book. There is also the option of heading to the Jacuzzi, which is in a building higher up, offering insane views of Volcano Cotopaxi.
It is incredibly communal at the Secret Garden Cotopaxi and due to no WIFI, no one is glued to their phones.
Everything is made by their amazing team of chefs and believe me, you will not go hungry. Included in the $95 (€80) deal, you get 3 meals a day, inclusive of a starter, main and desert and you have an unlimited supply of banana bread and a snack time at 5pm. You are also given packed lunches during the days you are out on tours.
Meal times are set to encourage communal eating and chatting with your fellow travelers. The food is out of this world with homemade lasagnas, delicious burritos, gourmet burgers, pizza nights, stuffed peppers and exotic salads and don’t get me started on the puddings! If you’re a vegetarian, no problem, the options are incredible!
The hostel has a huge focus on sufficiency and sustainability with the majority of their vegetables and fruit coming from their own garden. The household compost (from a compost loo with a view!) is used to fertilise the grass, which feeds the animals and helps grow the food for the guests. Guests are also encouraged to recycle and the hostel uses very little electricity, again focusing on sustainability, giving way to a beautiful candle lit atmosphere.
The Secret Garden Cotopaxi are always on the look out for volunteers and it would be a wonderful place to spend an extended amount of time. The volunteers share the responsibilities, from taking the activities to looking after the guests, so you must be happy with hiking and taking groups out and up volcanoes! All food and board is included. They ask for a minimum commitment of 1 month. You could go there as a guest first to check it out, and then ask to stay on as a volunteer or send them an email via their website.
I highly recommend the Secret Garden Cotopaxi Hostel. For the price, you get so much for your money. The food is wonderful, the surroundings are second to none and you will meet incredible people with great stories to share. The volunteers are super friendly and you will immediately feel part of a family.
What more could you want? This is a MUST on your Ecuador itinerary, so make sure you book the Secret Garden Cotopaxi!
** Heading south? Why not check out our travel guides on Cuenca and Vilcabamba, two more of my favourite places in Ecuador. Vilcabama offers another incredible hostel in the middle of a mountain oasis!