If you’re looking for a relaxing getaway with the opportunity to hike, ride horses or even just relax in the jacuzzi, I found just the place in Ecuador.

The rustic Secret Garden Hostel Cotopaxi is the perfect spot for outdoor lovers or even those just wanting to relax while acclimatising to the lofty 3,500 metres altitude.

And it may just be South America’s best hostel.

I first heard about the hostel from a friend of mine who said I must go – claiming it was the best hostel in South America. I wasn’t disappointed and since then, I’ve met many other travellers who have also raved about this hostel.

The beauty of the hostel is in its natural surroundings, the community feel, and the numerous activities on offer. The hostel is located about a two-hour drive from Quito but feels a world away from the city in its picturesque location surrounding by mountains and farmlands.

From the hostel, you can hike to a waterfall, trudge up to 4,200 metres above sea level on Pasochoa mountain, check out the glacier on the Cotopaxi volcano – or even just pat llamas, play with the resident dogs or soak in the onsite jacuzzi.

Various accommodation options are on offer ranging from 11 bed dorms to hobbit cabins that look like they’re straight out of a Lord of the Rings movie set. All packages include meals, and selected activities.

I opted for the package which included two nights accommodation in a dorm with a toasty fireplace, all meals, filtered water, tea and coffee, and two hikes.

On arrival at the hostel, I headed out on a short waterfall hike led by one of the staff. Most of the staff are volunteers – travellers who fell in love with the place and decided to stay for a month or two.

The hike is about a two-hour round trip up a creek to the base of a beautiful waterfall. If you’re feeling brave, you may even want to take a dip in the refreshing water.

Day two at The Secret Garden Cotopaxi took me up even higher - up to 4,200 metres to the summit of the extinct Pasochoa volcano, which sits behind the hostel.

This hike was hard work. There was thick mud through a beautiful mossy forest, slippery ascents, and 700 metres of elevation gain. I sure was huffing and puffing when I reached the top largely due to the altitude, but the views were worth the effort.

This hike was about a seven-hour round trip.

But it was the hiking adventure out to the active Cotopaxi Volcano that was the highlight hands down of my stay at The Secret Garden. This hike can be organised by the hostel, but is not included in the accommodation package and costs an additional $30USD per person. It’s worth the extra spend.

The snow-capped 5,897metre Cotopaxi volcano is Ecuador’s second highest peak, and one of the country’s most visited volcanoes.

The adventure starts with a drive up to the 4,500 metre mark on the volcano, stopping below the Refugio Jose Rivas. The aim is to at least reach the refugio, which sits at 4,850 metres elevation.

The hike up is along volcanic sand so it’s a hard push up combined with the altitude. To reduce the risk of altitude sickness, I had to hike slow and steady and rest often.

Once at the refugio, the group felt okay to press on and we continued up for another 15 minutes to reach the base of Cotopaxi’s glacier – and a great view of the surrounding mountains and valleys. At this point, we were 4,864 metres above sea level.

Once back at the carpark, hikers have the option to mountain bike down the volcano. Bike hire costs an extra $10USD.

The hostel can also organise a hike to the summit of the 4,631 metre Ruminahui volcano, which also sits inside the Cotopaxi National Park.

All that hiking is certainly going to work up an appetite, but luckily the hostel provides hearty meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as an afternoon snack. Part of the beauty of this hostel is that everyone sits down together for dinner (there’s no wifi so you have to talk to each other!), and you get the chance to find out the stories of your fellow travellers. This community feel has to be one of the secrets to the hostel’s popularity.

If you happen to feel hungry between meals, homemade banana bread and bananas are also available all day.

If hiking is not your thing, other activities you can do to enjoy your stay at The Secret Garden Cotopaxi include:

  • Taking a dip in the jacuzzi
  • Enjoying the view of Cotopaxi from the viewing deck and net (sunrise is a particularly magical time of day here)
  • Reading a good book or playing board games or cards by the fireplace
  • Wandering the grounds and saying hello to llamas and the resident dogs
  • Exploring the local area on horseback for $35USD per person
  • Getting to know your fellow travellers
  • Kicking back with a few glasses of mulled wine

Things You Should Know

  • Spend a couple of days in Quito before heading out to Cotopaxi as altitude sickness is a real threat.
  • The hostel only accepts payment in cash so bring all you will need from Quito as there are no ATMs here. The US Dollar is Ecuador’s official currency.
  • There’s a range of accommodation packages. The cheapest option is $88 USD, which includes two nights in dorm style accommodation with a shared bathroom, meals for three days, shuttle bus transfer from Quito, and the guided hike to the waterfall and Pasochoa mountain. Private rooms are also available.
  • To get to the hostel, a shuttle bus departs from its sister hostel, The Secret Garden Quito, at 10am daily for the two-hour drive to Cotopaxi. Depending on the accommodation package you choose, the bus may be included in the price or is $5USD per person.
  • Free purified water is available all day at the hostel
  • Bring warm clothing as it can get cold in the mountains both during the day and night at any time of year

Lisa Owen is a pint-sized Australian following her dreams to travel to as many places as she can, and loves to share her photography, travel hacks, hiking adventures, and food discoveries along the way. At last count, she has travelled to more than 70 countries in between working in public relations and discovering hidden gems in Australia's great outdoors. Instagram: @thelittleadventurer. Facebook: The Little Adventurer Australia.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and are meant as travel inspiration only. They do not reflect the opinions of Cover-More Insurance. You should always read the Policy Documents available from your travel insurance provider to understand the limits, exclusions and conditions of your policy and to ensure any activities you undertake are covered by your policy.