After the capital city it was time to head to the great outdoors in the little town of Baños in the Andes Mountains. We caught the local trolley bus from Old town to the bus station for $0.25 each rather than a taxi for $15 and would recommend it. From the there we caught the bus to Baños which took around 3 hours after all of the stopping to pick up and drop off random people. After the underhanded compliments in the Lonely Planet: Ecuador I wasn’t sure what to expect out of the town. They said the mountain scenery was spectacular but that the town was basically a concrete block tourist trap. I personally found it quite charming if a little touristy, but with the tourism comes easy cheap tours, accommodations, and a healthy variety of food to choose from.
We stayed at Hostal:Nomada and I would highly recommend it. It ended up costing $24 a night after taxes and included a flat screen tv, private bath, access to a kitchen, and free tea, coffee, and water. The hosts were friendly but only spoke spanish. We met people from all over Europe but I’m not sure that we ran into another American there(It’s interesting listening to French, Italian, and German people all speaking Spanish). I will also say that there seemed to be an abundance of Italians having a good time on both Tuesday and Saturday night and that the walls seem paper thin making it rather annoying to sleep(We’re old folks these days, at least I am).
First up on the tourist hit list was Casa del Arbol, a place where a number of award winning pictures have been taken, one of which Victoria saw on a Facebook group and had been dying to see ever since. It’s about 40 minutes outside of Baños and there are numerous ways to get there: bike, hike, bus, tour, or taxi. The first two are only for masocists, it’s about 15 miles…all up hill. You can catch a taxi there and back for around $20 or catch the local bus for a $1 each way. That was an easy decsion, we took the bus. If you really want to hike or bike I would suggest what we did, take the bus up and then hike or bike back. After the 40 minute ride up through the stunning mountain scenery you arrive at Casa del Arbol and after a short walk and wait your turn to get your once in a lifetime pictures. It was only $1 to get in and in addition to the swings they had the tree house(of course) , some ziplines, and a few other photo oppourtunites. We saw some people with bikes when we got up there and thought it would be a good idea to rent them. Unfortunately they only rent them in Baños and you have to bring them up with you. We settled with walking down which took about two and a half hours and was a great way to get away from everyone, we only saw a couple other people the entire way other than the few cars and buses headed to Casa del Arbol. After walking for a ways on the road you can hit a trail at Bellavista that runs straight into town. It was a great hike with stunning views of the town and valley. We both felt pretty tired afterwards and I couldn’t imagine if we had tried to hike or bike up it.
The next day it was time for some whitewater rafting which we hadn’t done since our maiden journey out to Washington. The Pastaza river is divided into two sections, the upper and the lower, and the guides decided the day of where you are going based on rainfall the night before. The upper has rapids up to 4+ when the conditions are right(they were:) and the lower has class 3 rapids. The company provided everything including lunch and wetsuits. Unfortunately the wetsuits are only overalls and it was raining and of course being up in the mountains the water is quite cold and with class 4 rapids, you get soaked(plus…..we’re southerners). We ended up wearing our rain coats and we’re warm enough while our boat mates looked a bit chill. It was a short(1 hour) but exhilarating ride and for $30 was an absolute steal. It also included all the pictures and videos from the saftey kayaker which was a nice change from the States where they gouge you for them. Be sure to check with your hotel/hostel, some people got deals where it was only $25. Another tip for those not familiar with rafting, try to get in the smallest boat, with the fewest people, and ride in the front for the best ride 😉 Also be sure to check out the rest of the videos and pictures from the rafting at the bottom of the article.
The next day even though we were sore we decided to rent bikes and ride the Ruta de la Cascadas(The waterfall route) which is basically just the road to Puyos, a town in the Amazon basin. It’s mostly downhill and then you can catch the local bus or truck back. Most people stop in Rio Verde but it is possible to ride all the way to Puyos. The route is aptly named, it seems like everytime you look up there is another huge amazing waterfall. The is also plenty of opptunites to hike, zipline, bridge jump, or ride cable cars across the gorge on the way. We passed on everything but a bit of hiking at Palion del Diablo (Devil’s Cauldron) and some hiking and swimming below a waterfall at Machay. That was about 15 miles and took most of the day with a nice lunch break towards the end. I got some delicious heart clogging fried pork called Fritada that I’d highly recommend trying and Victoria had some refreshing fresh lime and strawberry juice. I’d recommend doing it on a weekday as there was a lot of traffic on Saturday.
We had grand plans of going to one of the local hotsprings afterwards but again were too tired and just wanted to relax. Unfortunately the next day Victoria woke up with some stomach issues(It couldn’t have been the food as we both ate the same things and I felt fine) so we sat around and watched TV. The next day she felt better but was still weak from not being able to eat anything, so we stayed another night. Then finally she was feeling better so we hoped a bus to the Amazonian town of Tena.