Gruta de la Paz and more from Ecuador…

Today was an awesome day!  After getting an early start, we headed up into the northern highlands of Ecuador for another day trip, this time to the small village of La Paz, just north of Bolivar and a few miles south of the Columbian border.  Heading west out of Ibarra we rounded a bend in the road amid sugar cane fields and started a very long climb up towards the town of Bolivar.

A few miles past Bolivar we came to the town of La Paz.  Just a mile or two further we turned off the main highway onto a nicely paved back road that took us down into a steep sided, narrow valley where the grotto is located.  The views were nice, but because of the narrow twisting roads, we could not stop too often to take pictures..

Finally at the bottom of the canyon, we encountered a very modern looking tourist facility with a church and restaurant.

After the usual almuerzo (lunch) of soup with a main dish of chicken and rice, we headed out to find the grotto.  There was a steep paved walkway that led us down into the bottom of the canyon that ended at this beautiful cave…..

After investigating this beautiful spot we headed further down the path and across a small suspension bridge to a public hot tub area, complete with change rooms, showers, and a picnic area.  There was nobody around and the water was only lukewarm, so we didn’t stay.

On the way back we saw another hot pool area just below the grotto.  It also had change rooms, bathrooms, showers, and a smaller pool with nice hot water running into it.  We decided to try it out – it was free after all.

After a nice soak in the pool we headed back up to the car and decided to take a different back road up and out of the gorge.  It was a rough cobblestone road, but not in too bad of shape and it brought us up into the middle of the small village of La Paz.  Once back on the highway we decided to explore further by taking an alternate route back to Ibarra through the town of El Angel.  There were several small villages along the way, each with its own beautiful church.  One town, San Isidro, had a beautiful church with a small topiary garden out in front.  Some of the towns had large statues on the highway where the road went into the town.  The town of El Angel is located just south of the large El Angel Ecological Reserve which is home to many unique Andean highland plants and animals.