Why Ecuador has long names for places only to shorten them we’ll never know, but here we are at Baños de Agua Santa, more commonly known as Baños. The gateway to the Amazon and located at the foothills of a volcanos, we were ready for a few days of relaxing in the natural hot springs and eating taffy.
Winding down the mountains
Coming down slightly in altitude from Cuenca helped the hangovers slightly… winding roads for nine hours? Not so much.
To try and save a little money we’d been trying to make sure the hostels we booked were close to bus stations, or close enough to public transport so that we didn’t need to pay for a taxi and barter prices in Spanish. Our hostel this time around was walking distance from the bus station; however, Google maps has had a lot of problems being able to accurately locate us, usually placing us within a five block radius of where we actually are. This has resulted in Dee’s ‘Female Map Disorder’ and James’ logic having to work together whilst hungover to find our hostel, as it started to rain. We survived and are still married.
Regaining our composure we headed for a walk around Baños in the rain to find some dinner. Unfortunately for most of our time in Baños the weather wasn’t quite 100% but we were able to see some pretty cool things.
Dinner on the other hand was excellent; James got a rack of ribs and Dee, a steak cooked on the stone very perfectly… It was one of our best meat and beer meals yet.
Killing time in toilet
The literal translation of Baños from Spanish to English is ‘bathrooms’ (originally hot spring baths), though when you ask to use the toilet in Spanish you also use the word baño/baños. There are a heap of adventurous kinds of sports to do in the surrounding areas of Baños, including buggy rides, sky diving, bungy jumping and swinging off a giant swing over the top of a cliff next to a tree house… these are not things we were overly interested in; instead we went to the natural hot baths on one of our days, got massages and tried a few of the different brew pubs scattered throughout the town, the best being Stray Dog. Our adventures also involved a few drinking games of cards with some fellow travellers at the hostel, as well as a night out into the nightclub stretch with some locals.
Baños is home to many lolly shops, which claim to make some of the best melocha (taffy) in the world. Walking through the streets you’d easily come across five lolly shops one after the other, with a person standing out the front softening the melocha over a giant hook that sits in the doorway. Needing to see if their claim to the best taffy in the world, we stopped in at one of the shops and got some multi-coloured sugar on James’ way to the Ruta de las Cascadas tour. The taffy was pretty delicious!
Seeing the waterfalls
The “Ruta de las Cascadas” (waterfall route) tour started off by standing around near the tour agency waiting for the transport to turn up - James was told he needed to be there by 2pm, but it didn’t appear until 2:30pm. The bus was not a normal tourist bus, but a “chiva” an open-side bus with a pile of benches in the back. There were a few people already in there, and the next 15 minutes were spent driving around the town (barely making some corners) picking the rest of the tourists up from the various booking agencies. On the same bench seat was a lady from Quito with her 8 or so year old granddaughter.
The bus headed out of town along the old highway, which is almost exclusively used by tours now, next to a small river canyon, with a few small waterfalls on the other side draining into it. The first stop was in a section of the road where one of the waterfalls came down on to the road, and to the surprise of everyone on board we stopped right under the falling water! It was nice to see, and we could jump out to get some photos, but not everyone was happy being wet.
With everyone back on board, the bus continued on passing many small waterfalls and a lot of zip-lines crossing the river canyon. The next big stop was at one of the zip-line company’s buildings so that you could enjoy the ride if you wanted. There were three parallel lines so that a family could go together (and buy the video) if they wanted. If you didn’t want to do that, you could walk 80m down the road to the “puenting” site, which is basically bungee jumping off a small bridge, so that you just touch the 2m deep river. Only a handful of people wanted to do either, so most of us just stood around or bought some icecream.
The next big site was much more interesting, a horizontal cable car which takes you almost all the way to the big waterfall on the opposite side of the canyon (around 300m). Being Ecuador, this wasn’t a fancy cable car and was powered by a truck/tractor engine run by a guy in earmuffs. When it was time to come back he just threw the gears into reverse! Allegedly this is the longest horizontal cable car in Ecuador - most of the big ones are for going up hills.
Chugging along in the chiva for a while we arrived at Pailon del Diablo (“Devil’s cauldron”), on the Pastaza river. While you can kind of half see it from the top, it’s definitely worth the half US dollar to walk down towards it. There is a suspension bridge and a stone/cement path along the cliff, but I wasn’t sure how to get to the second half of it, it seemed to just stop.
Walking back up to the bus stop at the top, there was a small restaurant with bathrooms that I decided to use. Not only was it free, there was even toilet paper! I think that must be a first for Ecuador. Heading back towards Baños, we stopped across the road from the Casa del Arbol (“tree house”), home to the “swing at the end of the world” where you can ride a swing attached to the tree in the air over a gully. Unfortunately the bus doesn’t wait for you so you’ll need to catch the next one in an hour, which would be too late since James had already organised to meet Dee right after the tour ended.
Whilst James took the tour, Dee took some time around the town to check out the local markets, as well as some of the local coffee shops, whilst getting some delicious food and wine from a Swiss place.
Unfortunately, in the afternoon we had to get ourselves ready to catch the night bus to Lago Agrio… another exciting bus trip through the winding roads and crazy drivers of Ecuador. This one we, we were glad to find out, had allocated seats; so a little less chance of random people’s bums sticking into your face at 3am.
Next stop… The Amazon!
Go see all the photos from Baños