banos IMG_1421.JPG banos sweet shop waterfal IMG_1401.JPG puente colgante IMG_1432.JPG IMG_1444.JPG IMG_1437.JPG

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Rio Pastaza
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My-Quito.com : Baños


Baños de Agua Santa and the Pastaza Valley
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 hired Vitara 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 from here.

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.

tungurahua
 
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.

pastaza banos banos
 
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).
 
tungurahua erupts

Tours 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.

Pastaza -the route of Waterfalls (ruta de las cascadas)

pastaza waterfall rio verde paillion de diablo
 
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.
  • Miramelindo -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.
 
Shopping: sweets, arts and crafts, leather goods.
baños sweet shopBaños 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.

Hotels
posada del arteThere 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 class.
 
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 trip.
 
More Hotels in Baños.

Hostels
See our list of Hostel websites for Baños hostels -the city has a good number of good hostels for the budget traveller.

Restaurants and Bars
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 2006

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 de Papallacta.

More on the Oriente

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