Exploring El Refugio in Calacali


The day after Christmas, we headed 18 miles north of Quito to the town of Calacali. The drive takes about 40 minutes depending on traffic and which part of the city you leave from. But even with the relatively short distance, the landscape changes dramatically.


Quito’s green-topped mountains and lush parks give way to arid high altitude desert. You’ll spot Pululahua, a dormant volcano surrounded by a national park.

We passed Mitad del Mundo and the Intiñan Museum, both of which are first-visit must-dos, but we’ve all been there multiple times, so we skipped them.

[If I need to state the obvious: Ecuador takes its name from its geographic location at the center of the earth, aka the equator. The Mitad del Mundo campus is a monument and museums to Ecuadorian culture and history. The line was first measured in 1736. Centuries later using modern GPS units, it was discovered that they were off by 240 meters. But STILL! They had no modern technology, using math and the stars and best guesses were able to come very, very close. When my dad’s company first got GPS units for the airplanes in the 90s, we took one out there for fun. Yep, it was off, and we trekked out into the field near the Mitad del Mundo and giggled that we’d found the “real” middle of the world. Today, that area is occupied by the Intiñan Museum, which explores the fun little physical quirks of either side of the equatorial line. We didn’t do it this time, but you should.]


We were headed for Hacienda El Refugio, an outdoor adventure training and retreat center.


My sister and brother-in-law’s organization runs the place, and they wanted us to see it.


The grounds are lovely, so we spent some time wandering and enjoying, but we headed pretty quickly up the eucalyptus-lined trails winding up the mountain on either side of a ravine. There was some stick gathering and throwing.


We passed the rock-climbing wall and the zip-line, and headed straight for the top and the tree house.


This is the stuff Swiss Family Robinson Dreams are made of.


Ladders, bridges, platforms, trap doors all strung between fragrant eucalyptus trees with peeling trunks.




Hiking at that altitude when you aren’t used to it is taxing, so we relaxed while the kids played.


While the tree house stretches over a drop of more than 100 feet, we felt totally secure letting the kids climb around. The whole structure is encased with netting and everything is anchored really well.


We finally made our way down the dirt trail to the retreat center, after more stick and rock collecting along the way, and we made sure to stop and spot the llamas.


Then, with our tummies rumbling for lunch, we piled in the cars to head for a friend’s house for Christmas leftovers.

That was something we could all agree made us happy.



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