- Baños de Agua Santa and the
- In 2006 we returned to the beautiful
spa town of Baños (on James' suggestion having passed
through on his Gap
year travels). Setting out not quite early enough in our
one October Saturday morning, we soon got stuck in traffic around
Conocoto and Sangolqui. Things brightened up when we hit the
Panamerican highway, and were able to stop at Café
de la Vaca for breakfast -it is located in sight of the Pasochoa
Botanical National Park and you can also take horseback rides
- Travelling on through Latacunga
and Ambato, we stopped briefly at the very strange Hosteria Rumipamba de
las Rosas on the Panamerica at Latacunga. Far too expensive
and with an extraordinarily dark decor, the hotel is known for
the strange range of objects on display -we remember them having
a Tsanza twenty years ago (Jivaro shrunken head), but didn't
see it this time. I think there are better places to stay.
- The road from Ambato to Baños
becomes increasingly beautiful as it passes the Patate Valley.
Soon the Volcano Tungurahua appeared in the distance, with very
clear signs of activity. The extent of the recent eruptions became
even more apparent as the road into town had been covered by
the lava flows over a 500 metre section -very rough and dusty.
- The town itself is colourful,
clean and neat, with a good number of hotels, restaurants and
shops. It is surrounded on three sides by heavily vegetated cliffs,
and the fourth side looks out over the Rio Pastaza, set in a
deep canyon. A new bridge over the river allows evacuation in
the event of significant eruption by the Tungurahua.
The summit of
the volcano sits about 3km from the town (although you cannot
see it from within the town). The volcano erupted in 1999, when
the town was briefly evacuated, and again in July 2006. At night
there can very impressive pyrotechnic displays -you can take
a tour by Chiva to the 'Mirador' overlooking the town where sometimes
you can see these displays, although when we went up it was cloudy.
However, everyone had fun drinking round the bonfire.
- The daytime photo below was
taken during Oct 2006 -we went as far as we could on the gravel
track -stunningly quiet and still, apart from the billowing smoke
pouring from the volcano. Naturally, climbing to the summit of
the volcano is no longer a realistic prospect. For the latest
status reports, go to the website of the Instituto Geofisico (Spanish language only).
and Activities -rafting, trekking, climbing, spas
- Baños is a jumping off
point for a variety of activities -jungle tours, bird watching,
white water rafting, canyoning, trekking, pony trekking, climbing,
mountain biking, quad biking and tours by Chiva (party bus) -you
can make arrangements from any number of agencies in the town.
- For general tourist information
visit the tourist office on Ambato y Rocafuerte.
- Of course Baños is known
for its spa facilities -there are many to choose from. We visited
El Refugio which offersa
mixture of shamanism and health spa -we had a mad afternoon here
'regaining our lost childhood'. Whatever the somewhat dubious
philosophy, we came out feeling good and it only cost $5.
-the route of Waterfalls
(ruta de las cascadas)
- Travelling along the Rio Pastaza
towards Puyo reveals a landscape of verdant undergrowth with
numerous waterfalls. The river lies far below the road and crossings
are made via rickety suspension bridges at low level, or by means
of Tarabitas (open cable cars) at high level.
- There are lots of opportunities
for rafting, canyoning and some stunning walks -Robert Kunstaetter's book features a very
good walk along this route.
- At Rio Verde, around 15km or
so from Baños, you can find a beautiful walk in the landscaped
area around El Pailón del Diablo' - 'The Devil's Cauldron.'
There is a nominal entry fee which helps with the maintenance
of walkways. On the other side of the river is 'El Otro Lado'
cloud forest reserve.
- El Otro Lado
(The Other Side) - Community-based tourism, adventure tours and
volunteering in a beautiful reserve in Ecuador's biodiverse cloudforest
-the lodge and restaurant lie across a suspension bridge on the
other side of the river.
-hotel and restaurant at Rio Verde.
- Pastaza.net -information about the Pastaza valley
and activities (Spanish only).
- Pequeño Paradiso -cabanas and restaurant nestled in the cloudforest
near the Pailón del Diablo at Rio Verde.
sweets, arts and crafts, leather goods.
- Baños is famous for its sweets
made from cane sugar, locally known as Melcocha -you can see
the sweetmakers drawing the sticky mass on wooden pegs to get
to the right consistency.
- There are many other shops selling
leather goods, ponchos etc if you are in search of souvenirs.
Alternatively we bought some very good walking boots for Susana
-locally made by Gamo's in Ambato, they cost just $37. The only
thing is they tend not to stock in the larger sizes.
- There are a huge number of hotels in
and around the town, ranging from very basic hostels up to the
luxurious and expensive Luna Runtun.
- We stayed in Posada
del Arte (pictured), a colourful small hotel run by American
Jim Redd and his wife Marshia. Jim is a cycling enthusiast and
also keeps the hotel well stocked with some interesting art for
sale. Every room is different and the home cooking was first
- Parking our car in the yard
next door we came across two bikes bearing British number plates
-they turned out to belong to Simon and Lisa Thomas, who were
two and a half years into a round the world bike trip -their
website at www.2ridetheworld.com
-the really impressive thing was that after a 12 hour ride from
Peru they took time out to say hello and tell us about their
- More Hotels
- See our list of Hostel websites
for Baños hostels -the
city has a good number of good hostels for the budget traveller.
There are a lot of cheap
eating places -no need to list them here -there is a listing
on the Baños
Department of Tourism website. If you want something more
upmarket then try one of the hotels.
The Oriente Loop -Banos to Papallacta
On our way back we decided to
take the Oriente road to Puyo, Tena, Baeza and stay in Papallacta.
The road to Puyo along the Pataza is great -we reached Shell
in little over half an hour -when Susana worked there in her
rural medicine posting, it used to take up to two hours on dirt
tracks. Sadly from Puyo the road remains as a rutted pebble track
-uncomfortable, dusty and slow to travel on. At Santa Clara things
got worse when we discovered the bridge was down. Having watched
the jeep in front ford the river, we plucked up the courage to
follow, and thankfully did not end up having to explain to the
hire company that we had left the Vitara in a river! On the other
side the road magically changed into a new, and hardly used four
lane highway. Just shows the power of politics -we had just entered
the state where ex president Gutierrez had once been governor.
This road took us quickly to
Tena, where once again the road reverted to a dusty gravel track
as we started to climb gently toward Baeza. The final leg of
our journey, from Baeza to Papallacta gave us a few worries as
we climbed up into the Andes at dusk on mountain roads of varying
states of repair. Visibility was falling rapidly as we climbed
into the cloud layer, as was the petrol guage, and we were thinking
that we might have to pull over for the night -not a great idea
on unlit mountain roads. Happily we finally passed the worst
and entered a new landscape reminiscent of Switzerland at El
Tambo. We should perhaps have stopped for the night at The Magic
Roundabout cloud forest retreat near here, but chose to continue,
having found a filling station.
Unfortunately, a short while
later the road joins the route to Lago Agrio, and we went from
roads devoid of traffic to following a stream of trucks and tankers.
Judging by the number of rickety bridges we crossed, the landscape
is probably spectacular but by now we were in darkness, and were
relieved to finally arrive at the Thermas
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