Following our trip to Riobamba we grabbed another early bus and headed to Baños de Agua Santa (Baños for short), an awesome town surrounded by mountains, volcanoes, and waterfalls, with lots to do as far as adventure sports go. All four of us were absolutely wiped from mountain biking so we checked into our hostel and planned to just relax for the day. Our hostel was located in the center of town with a great rooftop (including a bar) and even had a resident hostel bulldog named Google.
We stopped for lunch and coffee at a local place called Honey’s (we would stop here a few times during our stay in Baños) and spent the rest of the afternoon hanging out on the hostel rooftop and enjoying the views. Still feeling exhausted from mountain biking, we decided to head across town to the thermal pools that the city is named after to try and help with our soreness. The pools were in a small public pool type of setting but fed with natural water warmed from the volcano. We donned our mandatory swimming caps that we bought from a shop on the way and plopped into one of the warmer pools to relax as the sun set. We also practiced our synchronized swimming.
Day two started with a trip to Mercado Central, where dozens of local shop owners were vying for our patronage. We selected a small stall and had plates of a local dish called llapingachos, which include fried potato pancakes of sorts, salad, rice, eggs, and fried sausage. From here we started towards the edge of town where we planned to do a short hike across the river for some good views of the city.
Unfortunately for us, our short walk turned into a long hike. We started on the correct path and crossed the river, walking along the base of the mountains for a while. Somewhere around halfway, though, we missed or made a wrong turn and ended up climbing up the side of a mountain to a viewpoint marked on Google maps, when we should have been descending back towards town. It’s still unclear if we ever actually made it to the viewpoint. Luckily the long detour did take us across the path of two cute baby cows, so it wasn’t a total bust. At the tail end of the hike we reached and crossed a cool suspension bridge spanning the canyon that brought us back into Baños.
Now thoroughly wiped out, again, we went back to the market for another local lunch and added some fresh juice for good measure. We went back to the hostel to shower and the afternoon was spent relaxing on our awesome rooftop with Google. Per the advice of our hostel manager we got pizza from a local shop which was run by a man who lived in Italy for 15 years; the pizza lived up to our expectations.
In the morning we had bolons for breakfast from the market (fried balls of mashed green plantains and chunks of pork), which were awesome, before getting picked up for the day’s activity: canyoning. Canyoning, at least in Baños, is repelling down active waterfalls complete with harness, helmet, and wet suit. We took a small van about a half an hour outside of the city to reach a string of waterfalls and reached our destination just as the rain really started to come down. If we had to have a rain day though, we all agreed it might as well be on the day we’re navigating waterfalls.
Though this sort of thrill seeking activity is not what I (Mike) usually go for, it was great. Our first waterfall was of a good difficulty level for us to get our bearings. We slid and stepped backwards down the waterfall as the rushing water did everything it could to throw us off balance. The next few increased in difficulty but we all managed to get the hang of it and navigate our way down the waterfall before jumping backwards into the pool at the bottom of each tier. Emily and I both took some solid knocks over the course of the day, with Emily a large hip bruise as a badge of honor for the next week or so.
Before wrapping up our excursion our guide took us to the edge of an entirely different category of waterfall, this time pushing 70-75 ft above the pool below. Not knowing what to expect, Chris (our lead off hitter for all of our activities) got rigged up by the guide before stepping over the edge and, at the direction of the guide, removing his hands completely from the rope. Soon after, Chris was free falling for a good 20 feet before the guide caught him and lowered him down the rest of the way. Quite the rush, especially when you don’t know what’s coming.
With our canyoning adventure complete for the day we stopped back at the restaurant on the ground floor of our hostel for lunch. Every day the restaurant was full of local diners so we figured it must be good and were not disappointed. We all had the typical lunch special that day which came with soup (including popcorn to put into the soup, a local twist that we plan to continue at home), juice, and a plate of meat with mushrooms and rice. It was delicious.
In the afternoon the weather began to clear so we decided to take a cab up to the top of the mountain just at the edge of town to try the “swing at the edge of the world”. Casa de Arbol (the tree house) is a small theme park sort of place with a small zip line and a few different swings that extend off the edge of the cliff/mountain. It genuinely felt like you were going to fly off the side of the mountain. While we enjoyed the swings and other attractions here, they were child’s play compared to our next stop: the largest swing in Ecuador.
After a short cab ride we arrived at the largest swing in Ecuador, El Vuelo Del Condor (the flight of the condor). There are two swings but the heavy hitter is 60 meters long and sends you off the edge of the steep mountainside, more than 100 meters above the ground below. After a complimentary shot for the nerves (described by the guide as moonshine tequila) you ascended a few flights of stairs and were then strapped into a chair of sorts. Seconds later, while the guy who strapped you in is distracting you, the small platform in which you are standing is dropped out from beneath you and away you go.
Needless to say this was one of the coolest things we’ve done, and the best way to wrap up a day full of adrenaline. Feeling amped up from the swings and mystery shot, we took a cab back into town where we realized that Baños was going into full Covid lockdown for the weekend. After discussing our options with people in our hostel, we decided to head to the Amazon (jungle) the next day rather than stay in Baños and booked a weekend tour through our hostel event planner (more on that in the next post!). The remainder of the night was spent enjoying a few drinks on the rooftop until, due to loud noise and lights on after curfew, the police came and shut us down. No real harm but a bit tense as we all scrambled to our rooms as the police were looking around, whoops!
In the morning, our final day in Baños, we visited our favorite coffee shop (Honey’s) before stopping at the market to grab some empanadas recommended by the hostel bartender. From there we made our way to a local shop to rent bikes for the day with plans to bike Ruta de las Cascadas (road of the waterfalls). Fortunately the trip is mostly downhill, and most people catch a truck back up the hill into town. We started on our way stopping at different waterfalls and view points along the way. About an hour into our journey it started to rain, and it did not stop all day.
In an attempt to wait out the storm we stopped at a restaurant for a few beers, however it just seemed to rain even harder. We kept trudging through and made it to Cascada El Pailon del Diablo, a huge and powerful waterfall that normally attracted large crowds. On this downpour of a day, though, we were the only visitors. The path down into the valley was relatively easy until you approached the falls themselves, when you then had to crawl through some tunnels carved out of the mountain to get up to the viewing platform. Everything was slippery and we were completely soaked by this point, but the waterfalls themselves were intense because of all the rain and it was worth the trip.
Soaked and pretty tired, we climbed back up to where our bikes were parked and found a pickup truck to take us and our bikes back into town. Once back in town we dropped off our bikes and then went back to the hostel to dry off as best we could before our ride to the jungle arrived. At this point we started carrying around a garbage bag full of wet clothes, that wouldn’t be dry for days. Our van rolled up around 6 pm and we hopped in to begin our journey to the jungle!