Two people exploring the world, seeking adventure & unique experiences.
A town built for tourism
The Spanish translation for Baños is toilets/bathrooms/baths (which is the meaning in this case). The town is named Baños due to its famous natural hot springs.
The population is around 11,000 people and there are countless places to stay. We were met by a scout getting off the bus and stayed our first night at a place (Hostal Las Rocas) directly opposite the bus station (a little noisy) for $15. We then changed because they inflated the price to $20/night for the weekend. We found a nice place just down from the bus station (Hostal Intirayami) for $14/night with private bathroom, hot water shower, TV and kitchen. We know of other people finding a private room with single bed for $5/night. Always be willing to negotiate price, especially if it’s not Friday or Saturday nights.
Swing at the end of the world – Casa del Arbol (The Treehouse)
As we had seen the waterfall at the end of the world, see here in our blog post, it was only fitting that we go check out this swing as well. The swing is located at Casa del Arbol, about a 45 minute bus ride out of town. There are only two buses a day (11am/2pm) so we got on the 2pm bus and decided not to walk up as we were advised it would be really muddy and take over 3 hours.
The bus ride was quite scenic and for $0.50 a person, a bargain. What we noticed about this bus ride is everyone seemed to know each other and said “Buenas Tardes” or Good afternoon when they entered the bus.
We were then let off the bus on the side of the road in the middle of the countryside. It was lucky that a local pointed at a small muddy trail leading upwards over a ridge to what would be our final destination; the tree house and the swing. There were quite a few other tourists here. Immediately we asked how to get back and were informed there were no more buses. The guy that lives at Casa del Arbol was very helpful and pointed on his map the best trails with a few options on how to get back into town advising it would take about an hour and a half.
Now it was time to test out the swing that was hanging over the edge of the hill. Bring some small change as there’s a request for a minimum donation of $0.50ea to ride the swing. Rodora is not normally scared of heights but when Toby asked her to swing higher; she refused for fear of falling down the hill.
When it was Toby’s turn he instantly went as high as he could, with no fear soaring for the sky.
There was a father and daughter from the US that also had no idea how to get back and asked if they could join us. We went back down the road the bus had brought us up for about 40 minutes until we reached a school on the left hand side just off the main road. Turn right around the back of the school and follow the path down. We stopped a couple of brief times to check with locals that we were on the correct path. There were spectacular views of the countryside and viewpoints of Baños but we also made it to a hotel/café that had an amazing view point. The rooms here started at $220 a night, but the views during the day and night would have been spectacular.
After our hike it was time to check out the famous natural thermal baths of Baños. There are multiple to choose from but Las Piscinas de La Virgen (The Virgin swimming pools) is meant to be the best, so we went there.
On our way we saw someone making taffy so of course we had to try it. Taffy is mainly made in Baños due to the abundance of sugar cane in the area. Delicious sugary goodness!!
You can visit the pools either during the day 5am to 6pm for $2 or during the night 6pm to 9pm for $3 (less for kids).
When we entered the pools we followed the line of local people to the changing rooms, putting all our stuff in a large plastic box that would go in a locker space. However, we weren’t allowed to go to the pools until we rented or bought swimming caps. You can rent swimming caps for 30c with a $2 deposit. Once the person at the counter saw we were wearing our sexy new swimming caps she took our box and gave us a numbered disk that you wear like a bracelet.
After a hot shower (you must do this before swimming), we went straight to the hot pool near the cascading waterfall. Such a beautiful view all lit up at night. This pool was packed with people.
It was hard to navigate our way through all the people and claim a spot in the pool. Imagine being in a bath tub filled with people and barely enough space to move. The water is fed by natural hot spring water at around 38C and is so hot you need to frequently raise your body out of the water and into the cold night air to cool down. It wasn’t the tranquil and relaxing spa that Rodora was hoping for.
The atmosphere was great though as you could see a mix of locals and tourists with anything from babies playing in the water to pensioners gossiping in big groups about their day. We even saw a middle aged man practicing some form of martial art in his speedo’s by the side of the pool. His funniest pose was when he did sort of a handstand leaning on the rails.
After 10 minutes in the pool, Rodora was boiling hot and decided to sit on the edge of the pool. It was also popular to jump into the cold water pool or cold showers fed straight from the waterfall and then run back into the hot thermal bath. After two hours and wrinkly skin it was time to call it quits.
Hiking around Baños
During our stay in Baños we covered a lot of hiking. As mentioned above we hiked from Casa del Arbol to Baños; which has several trails and options.
Virgin Statue hike
This is a popular view point of town. It is a relatively easy walk up a concrete stair case, taking around 20-30 minutes uphill. The viewpoint provides great viewpoints of the town and the surrounding mountains. We decided to take a beer up with us as it would be a perfect opportunity for sunset beer o’clock.
Ojos del Volcan – Eyes of the Volcano hike
This was the longest hike of them all taking us 5 hours. You start by crossing the San Francisco Bridge near the bus station and continue hiking up a long and windy road towards the town of Patate and to the top of the mountain. It took us a long time to get to the top as the road zigzagged across the mountains. At the beginning of our hike we did our usual thing of having an adorable dog find us and wanting to follow us. Dogs really do seem to have some sort of magnetic attraction to us on this trip.
How do you say no to a face like that?
We continued on our way with our travel companion Nemo (that’s the name Rodora gave our dog). Nemo had a great personality, but she was quite young and skinny. We felt bad for making it climb the hill with us so at different points Toby carried it in his arms and Rodora carried it in her backpack for a while.
The hike was really stunning with amazing views of the town of Baños below.
It took us about 2 hours from the bridge to get to a great lookout point where we decided it was time for our picnic lunch. Bread rolls with Avocado and Tomato. We even gave Nemo some of our snacks, though we didn’t have anything particularly dog friendly.
Starting our hike again, we realised that 2 minutes further walk we were finally at our destination of Ojos Del Volcan viewpoint. There was a really helpful man working at the restaurant here. He was happy to talk to us and showed us footage on his television on what the volcano looked like on a clear day, which doesn’t happen often. We only caught quick glimpses of it through the clouds. He also showed us footage of the Volcano erupting in February this year. Wow, absolutely spectacular, ash was pouring out everywhere.
He then gave us some directions of how to get back to town. Rodora had to have a go on the swing and we had to agree it was a better view than Casa del Arbol, as this one wasn’t covered in clouds.
We followed the road down and came to a dead end without seeing a trail. A few minutes of panic, we turned around and looked for any sign of a trail going down. Luckily it was only 5 minutes of backtracking to find a slightly hidden trail on a bend in the road. The trail itself was fairly good, apart from a couple of wet and muddy spots.
The trail was full of beautiful scenery including a beautiful view of the gorge and river.
Coming to the end of our hike we had the problem of what would we do with Nemo. At first we tried leaving her on a bridge near some houses and other dogs by dropping snacks and running. Nemo was too smart for this and ran straight after us. We continued on the road towards Baños and luckily ran into a local farmer with his young son. We asked him if he wanted Nemo. In our broken Spanish, we tried to explain our dilemma and how Nemo had followed us all day. A bit confused on what we were saying, the farmer was happy to take Nemo from us. The little boy picked up Nemo and carried her in his arms. Yay! We are so happy Nemo has a home.
Cycling La Ruta de las Cascadas – Waterfall route
La Ruta de las Cascadas (or waterfall route) is the bike ride from Baños to Puyo (61km), named after the multiple waterfalls you pass on the way. Most tourists end their trip 18km away from Baños at Pailon del Diablo Waterfall (Cauldron of the devil).
We delayed our planned early morning start until around 11am due to some morning rain. It cost us $5 per person to rent bikes, helmets and bike lock for the day. We forgot to ask for a spare tube and bike pump, but luckily we didn’t need it like we saw some others did along the way.
Rodora wasn’t happy about riding with traffic so she decided to walk her bike out of the town, while Toby was checking and setting up his bike. It wasn’t until Rodora started riding that she decided to check her bike, and couldn’t work out the gears so needed a quick lesson from Toby. We were on our way. Rodora was petrified every time a large bus or truck passed her and got a fright when a truck with a really loud horn beeped at her from behind to warn her he was coming. She instantly moved the opposite way, nearly falling into the gutter. The road is officially a bikeway, so vehicles are meant to give space to people on bikes, though we are in South America, so anything can happen.
We continued downhill and we were soon near a bridge at the outlet to a Hydro-electric dam perfect for a photo stop.
The next stop would be our first visit to a Tarabita at Agoyan. These are effectively small cable cars, initially built for residents to cross the high canyon carved by the river. This is still the case for some, but mostly it’s a tourist attraction and typically $1.50 buys you a return trip to a waterfall. Little did we realize there would be plenty of these along our bike path that day however we were happy with our choice as it seemed to offer one of the best views.
We jumped on the cable car, and instantly were heading straight towards a waterfall with spectacular views of the valley below.
If you don’t like heights this is definitely not for you. The cable car stopped near to the waterfall ready for people to take photos. We got out on the other side and went to explore. We walked across a bridge and along a trail until we were stopped by an old man telling us it was a private trail and we had to pay $1ea to continue. This was our signal to return to our bikes.
After our cable car adventure it was time to go through our first tunnel. This was Rodora’s least favourite part of the adventure. Not only was there the chance of traffic but we were going to be in a long dark tunnel (232m long). Luckily nothing passed us as we sped as fast as we could to get through the tunnel.
After the tunnel we passed many more canopy, zipline and bungee tours with beautiful views of waterfalls and the river. A guy even asked us if we wanted to zipline across on our bikes. We didn’t believe this was possible until he should us a video; we very nearly did it.
We then came to our next tunnel. Rodora was relieved to see that there was a path around the tunnel for bikes. This was an amazing bike ride with spectacular views and very peaceful without cars.
It was then time for lunch. Toby got distracted the World Cup Football (Brazil v Chile) that was on so we stopped to watch some of the game as we ate our lunch.
Pailon Del Diablo Waterfall
After a bit over 2 hours of riding we were at the town where the main waterfalls were. Toby once again stopped outside a local shop to watch the penalty shootout for the Brazil v Chile game, Brazil coming out with the win. We parked our bike at the free bike parking lot for bikes (as indicated by a sign). We then hiked down through the lush green rainforest to see the waterfall, paying the $1.50ea entrance fee. Wow, absolutely breathtaking. You can actually get so close to the waterfall that you get completely drenched in the waterfalls powerful spray.
At the bottom of the waterfall the trail continues through a cave. This was easy for a small person like Rodora, but Toby really struggled as he barely fit in the cave and hit his head and other body parts several times. After following the tunnels through the cave you end up behind the waterfall.
When you exit the trail on the way back you get given a token to visit the other side of the river via a suspension bridge. This gives great views of the waterfall.
Rodora was done for the day at this point and returned by truck to Baños. Toby still had some energy left and continued to the next major waterfall of Machay about 3km down the road. This one cost $1ea to hike down and was again worth the effort and money.
In summary the Ruta de las Cascadas bike ride is an amazing as well as easy downhill bike ride through spectacular countryside.
Risking our lives Canyoning down waterfalls
Canyoning involves lowering oneself down a waterfall on a rope (abseiling/rappelling) while attached to a harness. Yes this sounds insane! What better place to do it than Ecuador.
What agency to go with? All agencies basically offer the same deal and go to the same place; a 4 hour tour and 5 waterfalls with return transport and all the gear you need. We tried two shops and the price went down from $30 to $20 per person if we left in an hour so we booked it straight away.
Our tour would be with 6 friendly Colombians and our two guides Javier and Johnny. We were the only English speaking tourists on the tour which was awesome as we got to practise our Spanish. Our Spanish skills were vital as it could mean falling down a waterfall.
We were then fitted out into long wetsuits and shoes and headed off in the party van, with music blasting out of the window and our new Colombian friends singing all the words to the Spanish songs at the top of their voices. We then stopped for refreshments with the guide asking us what we wanted. Toby joked around and said “cerveza” meaning beer in Spanish, and everyone else agreed. To our surprise he bought two beers, one for the guides and one for the tour group. We sat in the back of the van sipping on beer and from the start we knew this was going to be an awesome trip. Only in Ecuador can you drink beer with your guide just before throwing yourself off a waterfall on a rope.
We then arrived at the starting point and were told to get changed into our wetsuits. We were then given hilarious harnesses that looked like large nappies.
We then started our hike which would take about 40 minutes uphill most of the way. Our guide was telling us to go “faster, faster” and trying to pump us up for what was ahead of us. He thought we were going too slow, so he started clipping all our harnesses together. This was a disaster as we ended up tripping all over each other and had to unclip immediately. It was extremely hot hiking in our wetsuits, so we had to stop a few times to wipe off excess sweat that was pouring off our faces.
We finally made it to our first waterfall. Wow, this looked really scary and definitely dangerous. Rodora freaked out and didn’t even want to go down and wondered why she originally thought it was a good idea.
The guide then told us in Spanish how to use the harnesses and how to go down the waterfall safely. We decided to wait until last to see the others go down first and see how it was done.
The first person that went down may not have been listening as they weren’t holding the rope properly. They ended up slamming into the waterfall and were twisting around in the air unable to control where they were. The others in their group found this hilarious and couldn’t stop laughing making the person dangling from the rope laugh as well. Rodora didn’t find this comforting as pounding into a waterfall didn’t look like fun. However it was obvious we were all in the same boat and novices so this was bound to happen.
It was now time for us to go. Rodora decided to go first, because if she was left until last she may never go down. Wow, if you’re scared of heights this is definitely not for you. The hardest bit is stepping over the edge so best tip is not to look down as it’s really intimidating.
Rodora held on to the rope as tight as she could, nearly instantly forgetting everything she was told due to the fear of hanging off of a cliff. Then one by one she moved her feet down the waterfall grabbing onto crevices in the rock wall, lowering herself down the rope with her hands. The guide then asked her to take her hands off the rope to pose for a photo; she reluctantly took one hand off of the rope to pose for a photo (not two as she was too scared).
This is when chaos struck. The waterfalls strong current pushed her off balance and she slipped and fell and ended up dangling from side to side. This was scary as for a while she didn’t know what to do. When she calmed down, the guide convinced her to continue lowering herself down. Yay, she made it to the bottom. Her heart was still pumping at a million miles per hour. Everyone cheered when she was at the bottom making her feel so proud of herself.
Toby on the other hand made it look like he’d been abseiling his whole life and was one of the quickest within the group. However he had an advantage of long legs, enabling him to avoid the waterfalls strong current. He was so happy, he shouted give me more. Toby definitely has no fear of anything, which you can see in the photo below with no hands holding the rope.
We would then continue on to abseil down four more waterfalls. The more waterfalls we went down, the more confident and better we got. Rodora only had one issue when she was so slow going down that another person caught up to her. The guides were telling her “muy rapido” meaning faster, however she had nowhere to go as the ropes got tangled. Lucky the other guide at the bottom saw this and told her to duck under the rope to untangle it and all was well again.
The tallest waterfall was the most tiring, so much so that Rodora took a break in the middle. When she was at the bottom, the guide asked her why she stopped, which she answered “Estoy cansado” meaning I’m tired, which he thought was funny.
Our guide was fantastic. We were amazed at how quickly he abseiled down the waterfalls. He was totally crazy as some of the waterfalls he actually ran down head first.
They left the best waterfall until last. This one we were clipped on the back and lowered down facing the waterfall legs first, as if we were going to slide down, with the guide lowering us down. At the halfway point the guide actually pulled on the rope and pulled us back into the waterfall. It was funny when the Colombians went as they urged the guide to pull their friends into the waterfall more than once.
In summary canyoning was a heart pumping, adrenaline rush experience that was definitely worthwhile.
Plenty more to explore. Keep following the blog and our Flickr account for updates.http://www.flickr.com/photos/toraadventure/