Ecuador Adventura: Baños on a budget

Clean, green, mean Baños. Set between the Andes and the Amazon and famed for its hot springs and gringo vibe, we weren’t expecting much from this little town. But after our 1st day we knew this was a natural playground waiting to be explored!

Baños has cemented its position on Ecuadors gringo trail, and the town centre certainly reflects its touristic status. The streets are spilling over with hostels, beauticians, cafes, bars and restaurants and of course, tour agencies. With so many amazing outdoor adventure options on offer it’s tricky to know which company to go with or which activities you can do without a guide. In our usual “wing it” style, we just rocked up, read a few blogs and went for it… What did we end up doing? White water rafting, zip lining, biking, cable car ride over a canyon, multiple swings at the end of the world, beautiful hikes and all the nature and waterfalls you can handle! We stayed 4 nights and including EVERYTHING only spent $250aus for both of us. Heres what we squeezed into our action packed Baños adventure.

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Graffiti in Baños centre

Day 1: The bus from Latacunga cost $1.20usd and took us 1 hour up the road to Ambato, from there we took a $2usd taxi across the other side of town where the buses to Baños cost $1.30usd and took another 1.55 hours. By the time we arrived and walked to our hostel  (review of Backpackers Balcones) it was already 3pm so we went to explore the centre. In doing so we found the best crepes and spiced coffees in Baños while relaxing in hammock swings at the lovely little Art Cafe ($12usd coffees and crepes).

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Waterfalls, waterfalls and MORE waterfalls!

Day 2: We hired bikes for $5usd each for the day from our hostel owner Manuel and went looking for the “Devils Cauldron”. As we have now learnt there is a “Devils Something” in every corner of South America. Some natural wonder named Diablo de blah blah, each natural wonder possessing a different degree of largeness or ferocity. Steve has just started to refer to them all as simply the “Devils Woowoo”. To get there from Baños it’s all down hill so not physically taxing, but the way follows a main road with trucks and buses flying past, so still hair raising none the less. Along the way you will find several family run “canopy” places to stop and watch people flying through the air on zip line cables suspended above the valley forest. Each one has its own zip line as well as a cable car across the valley. We stopped at one called “Adan and Eva” which is the 1st one you’ll come across. We “Supermanned” across on the zip line towards a beautiful waterfall then had a very fun swing out over the other side of the canyon. Then we lined up and caught a cable car back. Im constantly negotiating with my fear of heights, but I found all of these activities really fun and for all of it we only paid $10usd each.

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If you look really hard you can see the little red cable car crossing near the waterfall

The rest of the bike ride was busy but scenic. There are parts of the road that go through tunnels which would be too treacherous for cyclists, so there is a  purpose made bike path / single lane road on the outside which has more fresh air and wonderful views making me feel a lot more relaxed. One of the last canopy places (the biggest one) offered a bungy bridge swing which looked so dodgy I was not keen. So we just watched a couple of the youngens take the plunge and enjoy the whiplash. We arrived in rio verde and had a delicious lunch of river trout and soup ($2.50ea) then walked down past the millions of swimming locals to check out the Devil’s Woowoo.

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The Devil’s Cauldron is very impressive and can be viewed from all angles

Word of advice: don’t go on the weekend! The place was so packed the paths were crowded with people pushing their way through. Some of the paths cross perilous swing bridges or are carved into claustrophobic cavern type alleys in the side of the cliff, with 30 or so people squeezing themselves through at a time. The lines to get to the top were a bit silly with nobody actually pausing to let the traffic pass before inserting themselves into the 1st available gap. Luckily we’d been a bit spoilt for waterfalls at Iguazu and felt we’d seen this one from enough angles without slithering through the throng. So back up the couple of hundred steps to the top to find a truck on the main road to take us and our pushies back to Baños ($2usd each). All in all a fantastic day out, completely independent and great value.

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White water rafting

Day 3: I’d read a couple of blogs and reviews when we arrived raving about white water rafting with Geo Tours. Having never been rafting before I was keen as a bean. Our group set off at 9am all kitted up with stylin’ wetsuits, shoes and helmets. We arrived at the Pastaza river around 11am and after a 30 minute safety briefing we were off. Steve and I nominated ourselves to go at the front in the captains’ seats, we were tackling the upper section of the river which was the most exhilarating and technical section. There had also been quite a lot of rain which meant plenty of juicy stage 4 rapids to cut our teeth on. Our guide William was an absolute legend and even though when the rapids were smashing me in the face causing my paddling to be a bit special, he maintained a great sense of humour. He was especially excited because he didn’t get to ride the upper section too often and the rapids were big, he also said we were a great team so I guess that helped us all have a really adrenaline fun-filled experience. Highly recommended and the photos you end up with are fantastic!

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A lovely spot for a swing

Day 4: Today I was pretty happy to have a chilled day, but we hadn’t been to the famous “swing at the end of the world” and Steve was keen to walk up there. .. yes to the end of the world. After realising we were on the wrong path we found the right path (up behind the cemetery) and were on the right track by 10.15am. The 1st part of the trail takes you up about 500 steps to the monument of the virgin or “Monumento a la Virgin” this is where you find a copycat swing that soars out over the town. A beautiful view but was  bit of a scam at $1usd per ride. Now the path turns into a narrow dirt track and takes a relentless climb for about 800 metres. This is where I really realised my cardiovascular fitness had melted away over the last 3 months and while yoga had given me strength the cakes and sunbathing had done nothing for my hill climbing. About halfway up, the track splits, you need to take the path that carries on uphill. The path to the right follows the hill round for about 200 metres then past some rabid dogs who are tied up near the path, then stops. So you have to go back past the dogs and continue up the hill. The swing at the end of the world was made famous when Natural Geograph featured a photo of a couple of adrenaline junkies who’d come up for a swing during the Tungurahua Volcano eruption, before being evacuated due to the ash and gas. We finally made it up to the swing at “Casa de Arbol” around 12.30 after 2 hours of uphill hiking and enjoyed a tasty juice and an empanada before waiting in line for the swing. It’s a strange thing waiting in a line of grown ups for an old man to push you on a swing while your boyfriend takes photos..

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The “Swing at the End of The World” at Casa de Arbol in Baños

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