Baños de Aqua Santa

   Ever experience the duality of activeness that collaborates between land and humans? Sounds crazy? Ten you have to visit Baños. But first let me explain my phrase, starting with the land.

   Baños (from Spanish bath) is a town in central part of Ecuador, the country I have visited during my six months backpacking trip around South America. It is located in the land of Tungurahua province and serve also as a gateway to the nearby Amazon Basin. The area close by the town itself is absolutely unique. Volcano, high mountain range, rich in minerals hot springs, surrounded rivers and powerful, almost violent, waterfalls, that shapes the rocks around, are responsible for this fact. The volcano I mentioned is called same as the province, Tungurahua. It lies on the plateau just south of the town, and as of 2016 is still active. The pick of this stratovolcano, on 5,023 meters high, belongs to the Cordillera Oriental of the Andes of central Ecuador, and it`s located 140 kilometers south of the capital Quito. The interesting fact is that Tungurahua’s top was previously snow-covered and did feature a small summit glacier. As of increased activity from 1999, melted away. Nearby impressively high summits are: Chimborazo (6,310 meters) and El Altar (5,319 meters). These statistics can already give you the clue that this landscape must be magnificent. The fact that the volcano spectacular eruptions are visible from the town participates in it too. When the sky is clear at night, you can spot a red lava on the top, and trust me, that looks absolutely unreal. Combined with small earth shakes, that always accompany the eruption, can make you a bit thrill, but that feeling can be easily overtaken by the thoughts that you are witnessing and feeling something you have never experienced before. Its worth adding that when volcano is exploding is able to shoot an ash cloud 5,000 meters into the air. During the eruption dogs are barking all the time. How surreal is that? Volcano is so close to the town, yet you are in a safe environment to watch and enjoy this very rare moment, the moment when our earth shows you its real potential.

  It is not a secret that magnificent volcanoes are usually surrounded by little, probably everyone favourite, hot springs. Baños is well known for its hot baths with the temperature that range from 64 to 131 degrees Fahrenheit, and are reputed to have healing properties. These waters are very rich in minerals and many contain sulfur as well as calcium, sulfate, magnesium, iron, chloride, potassium, zinc and many more. Baños is full of them, and they are open everyday all day long. You can soak your body and relax, and if you still not convinced, remember that you will be surrounded by a very pretty panorama. All hot baths are very cheap (2$ for the whole day till 16.00, 3$ for the evenings), so really once there, there is no excuse for you not to try it.

 So you can clearly feel the power of this place. It display itself by recently active volcano, powerful high waterfalls and hot springs. I don’t think there’s more I need to add, to convince you that this area is fulfilled with force. The force that strikes through all the earth layers to finish right at the top, at the very soil you stand on! Its like almost this place is screaming for attention, exhibiting its magnificent strength. To show us that this land is overpowering the humans around, and we can not win!

   I started this blog by mentioning the duality. Are travelers really visiting Baños just to sit down to sip a cup of tea? No, of course not. This area is perfect for adventures people. The whole town is full of agencies where you can buy a kayaking trips, hiking tours etc. Some walking paths, up to the high hills, are so easy and straight forward that can be done without any guide. Baños is known as a good starting point for exploring the remote Llanganates National Park, surrounded mountains and hills. The city itself has a beautiful main central park with few waterfall close by. Area is also perfect for a day biking trial that goes by loads of beautiful waterfalls nearby including: Virgen de Agua Santa, Inés María, Agoyán, El Manto de la Novia, Pailón del Diablo and Machay. It is worth adding that this town never sleeps. The cute narrow streets are packed with bars and restaurants that stay open till early hours of morning. Baños is small which also helps to navigate your way back to your hotel after night out, to be ready for the next adventures day! Ok, ok….if you really enjoyed your night out, then perhaps soaking in wonderful hot springs the next day to recover would be a better idea. Either way, you will love that place like me! And for sure, your time there will be far away from lazy, sleepy holiday. But that’s what we love, don’t we?

Must do activities while in Baños, Ecuador

  Without a long beginning about Baños, you can find here, I will take you straight to the best activities to do while in this marvellous Ecuadorian town.

1. Cycling day tour trough the waterfalls.

 Ruta de las Cascadas is the name you want to remember. This road goes via all the beautiful waterfalls ending right at the biggest one, called El Pailón del Diablo. Yep, the name perfectly describes the evil powers of these wild waters. But starting from the beginning, the road itself makes a perfect bike trial that you will need just half of a day to complete. The whole path is only 18 km long, and mostly downhill, which makes it easy to explore. Even that you will cycle mostly on the motorway (no worries, the nature will accompany you all the way trough), you will be safe, as it is a very touristic road, and you will probably see many cyclists on your way too. Alternatively, you can walk there as well, but that will be a day long trip, so really up to you. Whatever way of doing trial you pick, you will be fulfil with the stunning fauna (many eagles) and flora of this amazing part of the world. I personally would suggest renting a bike, as the whole way has been especially remake for cyclists, and that’s not so common in Ecuador ;). Please note that there is another option, bus, that can take you right by the entrance of El Pailón del Diablo, but you wont be able to see all other waterfalls on the way, just the biggest one at the end, thought, most impressive one. Surprisingly, there are also minibuses, well vans, where you can put your bike in and ride back to Baños, if you are tired after your trip to el Diablo. They are easy to find, usually waiting just next to the entrance, and they leave once are full (5-6 people). I waited just 20 minutes and was first on the board.fdfdfdfdfd.jpg

You can hire a bike from every singe corner in Baños, loads of hostels provide that service too. The price depend on the quality of the bike and the length of the rental time, but usually range from 5 to 10$ for the whole day. You will be given all the needed gear like: helmet, pump and spare tube. Look after your helmet, I’ve left mine somewhere on the road (dunno how) and had to pay 40$ to the agency. Even my Shrek like a smile did not help. Oh well….happens. Once you ready, you can head off. Every agency or hostel will provide you with a free map, you can fallow. Frankly, the road is so straight forward, with all the sights pointing the way, you really wont be needing it much. Just to locate all the waterfalls.

  From the city center you will take a main road to the west. The name of it, surprisingly same like this trial, is Ruta de las Cascadas. During the course of the trip you will also get a chance to do a quick zipline or ride an old rickety cable car. I even saw a little bungee jump spot. Food stands with drinks are also on your way. Before the main attraction, El Pailón del Diablo, you will see many other waterfalls, but please note that not all of theme are visible from the road. To spot some you may have to walk downhill a bit or up. Just fallow the map you have been given, it should explain how to get the best view of them.

  Once you are at your final destination, you will have to leave your bike somewhere. The hostel or agency will provide you with a good lock, or you can climb right at the top of a tree to leave your bike there. The fee for the entrance is just 1.5 $, and that’s for the bottom part, from where you will see the whole waterfalls anyway. Please remember to bring a waterproof jacket, if you’re planning on getting very close to the falling waters. There is another option too (with the fee of another 1.5$) to see the falls from the top, but by the time I was there, that part was closed due to some maintenance (April 2016). Wait! I think I know now who took my helmet.ecuador.jpg

Now after seeing all the waterfalls, you can either cycle back or take a van, I mention previously. Just remember, while making your mind, that the way back will be uphill.

  Just quickly at the end, I would like to add that el Diablo was second most magnificent waterfalls, after Iquazu Falls in Brazil/Argentina, I saw in South America.

2. Swing high on Casa del Arbol.

  Fancy a swing right up to the sky? Why not! Seems like everything is possible in Baños. So called Swing at the End of the World is one of the most popular attractions there. Basically, you are getting (by food, bike or bus) right to the top of the mountain 2600 meters above sea level. Once there, if the weather is good, you will get an amazing panorama of the surrounded area, town beneath and mountain range around that will include the volcano itself. As of 2017 is still active, so you will be able to see the eruption that is accompanied by bursting ash clouds from caldera. So that’s pretty amazing already, but you still have to face swinging in to the air, don’t you? Yes you do! The tree-house is located just 200 meter above from the entrance to the side. Once you will see a little cute wooden building, you will see the swings too that are attached to it. There are two of them. The interesting fact is that nobody knows who set this whole thing up. I personally have a theory that it has been built by the aliens as a catapult, that was used by them to shot them back home. Well, whatever the destination of it was, or is, go for it, have some fun, feel some adrenaline, swing. It is safe (relatively) and not as scary, as it may looks on the photos. Close by restaurant is nice and not too pricey. I can’t say that they have a rich menu, but hungry and thirsty will find something for sure. Probably after an hour you will be done, since there’s not much to do around. Now you can cycle, walk or take a bus back to the town.

 So In order to get there by bus, you have to catch one from Rocafuerte and Pastaza stand, with first leaving at 6 a.m (for vampires). There is a more realistic option at 11 a.m. The ticket cost just 1$ each way and the bus, that will take you all the way up, will wait for you there. The return time is 1 p.m. That’s pretty much all the time you need there to spot the volcano, panorama and to have a swing.

   You can book a tour there too, but really, it is so easy to get there by yourself that in this case it is just a waste of money. The bus will, as I mentioned, costs $1 each way per person, and entry to the side is an additional $1 per person….so that’s 3$ for the whole trip. Whaaaaat?

   Again, cycling and hiking is always an option. Regarding the bike ride, it really is for a fit person, as you will have to cycle right up. Having said that, road is nice and smooth.

  Walking? Much possible, but It will be a day tour, and I have heard of a better hiking paths than this one, so I would really suggest bus over the foot.

3. Relax in hot spring.

  Since the Baños means bath in Spanish, you can not go there without soaking in a hot spring. The town is well known for it, and loads of people come here for its natural healing goodness from all around the country. You don’t have to look to far to find one. Spring pools are very cheap, and they are open all they long everyday. If you are not keen on sharing the bath with too many visitors, try to go early morning. Maybe even that’s better, when the temperature of the air is still low. Either time you will pick, you will enjoy a lot both: the water and the background around. I personally couldn’t stay for too long in hot, but if you do like it, it is a perfect place for you. The price for the entrance is 2$ before 16.00 and 3$ after. The hair cover is available for borrowing with a fee of 1$. One of the most popular pool to choose is called Las Piscinas de la Virgen.

Soaked well? Feeling relaxed? So it`s time for the activity number 4.

4. Hiking

  I will be honest with you on this one. I did not do any hiking once in Baños. I was just simply lacking of time to do so. I don’t really like writing or giving tips on something, I did not experience. However, since the hostel kitchen is better than Vikitravel, I got to learned that the area is full of great hiking trials that are easy to fallow and complete. Please ask locals or other travellers at your accommodation for some advice on it. I am sure most hotels will have a map with best ones to do. I can assure you, yet, that the entrance fee is as much as free, and you will be able to spend a day in a stunning Ecuadorian nature in peace.

5. Bike ride to Puyo

  This bike trip is very similar to the first one, I wrote about. It is just that the distance is way longer, finishing right at the village called Puyo. The whole road is 60 kilometers long, so if you are planning on going, I would suggest starting in the early morning. For a fit person is around 4 hours on a bike. Again you are taking a road towards west (Ruat de las Cascasas), and again, you will have loads of wonderfully waterfalls (yep, they are still there) on your way, combine with stunning Ecuadorian nature that will reward you with its magnificent beauty after all the cycling you will do. This time I am not so sure if you can get back on a van from Puyo, but surly from the entrance by El Pailón del Diablo.

The End