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La Esperanza

La Esperanza, six kilometers (3.7 mi) from the city of Ibarra, is a little pocket of peace and quiet in the Northern Andes. This small, indigenous village became famous in the 1970s for its magic mushrooms, which used to rampantly grow in the valley’s fields. Droves of hippies from all over the world came to La Esperanza to sample the hongos (mushrooms), some camping out in tents for multiple weeks at a time. Although some foreigners do still venture to La Esperanza for the mushrooms, many simply come for a relaxing break or to base themselves for hikes to Volcán Imbabura (which La Esperanza sits at the foot of), and to the Cubilche lagoon (a three-hour walk away) and nearby aguas termales (hot springs).

The landscape here is dominated by green pastures occupied with grazing cows, wooded areas with dirt paths and small streams, and grass-blanketed mountains. La Esperanza is a primarily agricultural area, and most people still wear traditional, indigenous dress. Locals are very friendly and things come cheap, which is especially convenient for budget travelers. In fact, the area seems as if it has not quite hit the tourism scene, meaning you may be the only gringo in town. But, if you want relaxation and quiet—the sounds of bird tweets rather than human voices, the smell of fresh grass rather than exhaust from automobiles—you will find it here, without a doubt. Once you spend a few hours in the tranquility of La Esperanza, you will realize why people don’t want to leave.

The main street is called Calle de la Alegria (The Street of Happiness), which further emphasizes the easygoing vibe you will find here. A main plaza has a tourism agency and church. There are just two hotels here, Casa Aida and Refugio Terra Esperanza. The delightful Casa Aida (Tel: 266-0167/266-0291, URL: www.casaaida.com), run by the hospitable Aida and her family, is a homey hostel with room for 70 guests. Beds run $15 a person, no matter if it is a private room with matrimonial bed or a single bed in a dorm. All bathrooms are detached from rooms and shared. Breakfast and dinner are included in the rate; Aida’s pancakes with marmalade are always a big hit. Some well-known musicians— including Bob Dylan, members of Pink Floyd and Joan Baez—were among visitors to this hostel, and Aida, in her warm, grandmotherly way, will happily share stories with you of the numerous interesting guests who have set foot in her home over the past few decades. Aida's grandson is a tour guide and can guide hikers up to Imbabura ($25 per person), to Lago Cubilche ($15 per person) and to the nearby hot springs.

Refugio Terra Esperanza (Tel: 266-0228/0997-766-889, URL: www.refugioterraesperanza.com) is another pleasant place to stay. If in a group, beds cost $12 a night, with breakfast included. If traveling alone, a single room will set you back $25. This hostel-meets-restaurant-meets alternative tourism agency is run by friendly La Esperanza native Emerson Obando, who will enthusiastically teach you about the culture, traditions and activities in the area. The agency organizes tours to Imbabura ($40-70, Cubilche ($30-40) and nearby waterfalls ($15-20). Additionally, Terra Esperanza makes and sells regional artesanĂ­a products, including leather hats, belts and saddles. It is just about the only place in town to kick back and have some drinks in a social environment.

There's not much else in La Esperanza: some very basic eateries, a few stores selling snacks and drinks, and a couple of Internet cafés, which are sometimes open and sometimes not. For meals, most tourists eat at one of the two hotels.

Getting To and Away from La Esperanza

To get to La Esperanza from Ibarra, note that buses don't leave from the main bus terminal. Instead, head to Parque GermĂĄn Grijalva, on Calle SĂĄnchez Cifuentes (from Ca. Oviedo, walk directly down SĂĄnchez for 8 blocks). Buses leave every 20 to 30 minutes from the small parking lot on the Larrea Andrade side of the park (25 min, $0.25). To return to Ibarra from La Esperanza, simply flag down the bus as it trundles down the hill. Alternatively, a taxi from Ibarra's bus terminal to La Esperanza will cost around $5-6 one-way.

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Other places nearby La Esperanza : Oyacachi, Otavalo, Salinas Valley, Lagunas de Mojanda, El Ángel, Tumbabiro, Cayambe, San Antonio De Ibarra, Cotacachi-Cayapas Ecological Reserve and Tulcån.







By Martha Crowley

I work as an Editor/Writer at Viva Travel Guides in Quito, Ecuador. I first came to Latin America five years ago to escape rainy...

20 Nov 2012

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