We left Quito quite early in hazy sun, and drove down the famous Avenue of the Volcanoes. Some were very clearly visible, but others were disappointingly shrouded in cloud which seemed to build up the further south we travelled. We arrived in the area immediately around Cotopaxi to find that the clouds had descended over the mountains and our destination was hidden from view. Jose Luiz suggested that we delay our drive up the mountain as he thought the weather might improve in a bit, and proposed that we detour to visit the rose farm belong to the hacienda where we were to stay later in the day. I was more interested in seeing the mountains than in roses, but as we couldn’t see any mountains just then, it seemed a good idea.
There are a lot of these rose farms in the area, but only a few can be visited. The one we went to is only open to those staying at the Hacienda la Cienega and security was tight, with Jose Luiz having to sign us in and accompany us everywhere while on the farm.
Rose-growing is an important part of the Ecuador economy and has increased dramatically in the last ten years. Many people in this region work on the farms. Jose Luiz explained that most of the roses grown here are exported to the USA, Russia and Indonesia. We saw the many varieties being grown here, under plastic to protect them from the cool nights. The climate here in the equatorial highlands, especially the consistent year-round hours of sunlight, means that the bushes produce a crop every six to eight weeks, making this a lucrative business for the growers and an important one for the country. Fairly unusually for Ecuador, it seems, this is an organic farm – one of only four in the country. It switched from using the pesticides that are common here (including, or so I have read, some that are banned in more developed countries) and now prides itself on using only natural pest-control methods, including growing herbs to deter them near the entrances of the greenhouses and putting little bags over the most vulnerable blooms.
We then went into the packing area where we could see how carefully the flowers are graded. The least good (that is, the smallest or those with too short stems) are kept back for the domestic market where they are sold very cheaply – you can get a large bunch (25 flowers) for the price of a single rose in the UK or US. The rest are packed in bunches of 12 and exported in refrigerated containers from a local airport. In one corner of the packing room we saw some very unusually-coloured blooms. These are specially produced for the Far East market and are dyed with food colourings just as I used to do as a child – see photo five.
If you get a chance to visit one of these farms I would recommend it as it makes you realise how much effort goes into those bunches of flowers!
Next tip: at last we can go up Cotopaxi
Laguna de Limiopunga is not often on the tours of Cotopaxi National Park; most tours head to the refuge and the museum and that's it. But the laguna is well worth a visit. It has a trail winding around its perimeter, and takes about 1-2 hours to circumnavigate. It is an easy trail (except the 3800m elevation), and delivers some beautiful views of the lake, Cotopaxi, and Ruminahui. Definitely worth it to hike around, bring a picnic, enjoy a beautiful day on the side of the lake.
Ruminahui, a dormant volcano found at the edge of Cotopaxi National Park. It is not as visited as the park's namesake, but it is a beautiful climb to the peak, with views over the paramo and the alpine fields. It rises about 4700m above sea level, and is about a 5-6 hour hike from the edge of Laguna de Limpiopuguna.
Cotopaxi National Park may be the Ecuador’s second most popular but few people get further than Laguna Limpiopungo. So once you get beyond that you can say you are off the beaten track. It’s a shame as there is so much beauty like this roaring river that we stopped to replenish our drinking water.
I stayed two nights at Hostal Cabañas Quilotoa where I paid $12 per night (July 2011) including...more
I think Hostal Tiana is overpriced, but it is a good place to meet other travellers and exchange...more
I paid for my nights at Hostal Llullu Llama when I was in Latacunga at Hostal Tiana as the hostels...more