During my first visit to Ecuador, I was not able to make the trip to the place simply known as "Baños." Most people think of the word baños as usually one of the necessary words to know when visiting a Spanish speaking country but its also a necessary word to know when visiting Ecuador. Reason for that, because this place is a must visit.
The full name is Baños de Agua Santa, or "baths of holy water", and this beautiful town, located almost perfectly in the center of the country, is famous for extreme activities, and as the name implies, the God like natural baths.
After one of the more interesting string of events leaving Montanita, (if you havent read the "Ride From Hell" you must get the backstory!) we had missed the ideal bus leaving Guayaquil and had to settle for the later one. The bus duration ... anywhere between 6-8 hours.
Olli and I walking through Banos, Ecuador
As we arrived in the very early hours of the morning, we used my hand sketched map to wander the few blocks around the completely unconscious town to our hostel, Princesa Maria. We had communicated with the owner to let them know that the bus was leaving Guayaquil around 10 in the evening therefore we would be there early, and we were happy to ring the buzzer and be greeted by the night watchman!
Very clean,affordable, comfortable and well located family run guest house located a few hundred meters west up the hill from the church in the center of town. We all laid out our things, claimed our beds, and crashed out instantly.
After leaving a hot, sandy, lively beach town like Montanita, we welcomed the idea of some culture, some exploring and the crisp, cool climate that Banos offers. That first morning in Banos, we all rose fresh and ready to tackle the day, and after some deliberating over breakfast, we decided that for the couple days we would be in Banos, we would rent dune buggies one day and do a zip line the next. Having never done either, I was more than excited.
The center of Banos is scattered with small stores and tour operators offering anything from water rafting to a thing called "puenting." Puente meaning bridge in Spanish we came to learn its a bungee style descent but without the recoil, almost like a swing that shoots you under the bridge. Having seen the videos, we opted to stay with our original plans, and rented a couple dune buggies for the 3 of us.
Travellers Tip: When renting the buggies, make sure to take them for a small zip around the town on an open road, as a lot of them have governors on the engine which limit the speed considerably and we had to turn back because one of them had a top speed of a tumbleweed.
Happy boys with our buggies in Banos, Ecuador
As soon as you are a few hundred meters outside Banos, you feel like you have left it miles behind. Hunkered down in a vast amount of jagged cliffs,rolling hills, canyons and rivers, the beautiful countryside outside of the town is the reason we made the long trek to the center of this amazing country. On your right as you zip through tunnels burrowed into the sides of the mountains, is a constant drop down to a river below that is filled by the numerous waterfalls that give this route its name. If you are into travel photography, make sure you bring your best lens for this trip. There are a number or pull off points, cliff edges, zip lines and of course waterfalls that you can feast your camera upon.
If you have any worry about driving in a foreign country, on a highway, and especially in a lightly equipped buggy like these, you can leave those worries behind. Being a secluded place, the roads are quite vacant and there are ample opportunities to let people pass, or pass slow drivers staring at the scenery. We sometimes drove two abreast along the streets talking back and forth and just howling with laughter about how much fun we were having. As you can see, we even had time for some good action shots!
Great photo of me driving in Banos, Ecuador
As anyone can imagine, you will pass many waterfalls on this trip but none as approachable as El Pailon del Diablo, or The Devils Cauldron.
We noticed the sign as we were leaving Banos, and upon returning, we pulled off to the left, parked the buggies and descended down the stone stairs into the jungle. As you get lower, you start to feel the fresh mist coming off the waterfall as it collides with the water below. When you get closer, the mist grows stronger, and the fact the previous few days in central Ecuador had been solid rain, Diablo was really gushing. They have built a few terrific access and view points at this location and even a small path chipped out from under a massive rock to get a closer view of the beast. There is also a wooden suspension bridge that allows you to get a good wide view of the waterfall and its power.
Taylor enjoying the beauty of El Diablo
With a refreshing bit of water on the skin and the wind that the open frame of the buggy allows we cruised the short final bit back into Banos to return the vehicles. There are so many places in Banos that you can rent buggies and do the tours that they all relatively have the same prices. They are not pushy and you can try to work out a deal if you are renting a couple, and they will usually listen, however, don't get cheap and expect that the price they have listed is inflated. They are nice, humble people who gave us no problems when we returned the vehicle at the beginning of the day and did not try and get us to pay for damages that were already there at the end of the day. This was much appreciated as sometimes a haggle or an altercation over money can put a damper on an incredible, incredible day.
If you want to zip around the town, see the surrounding areas or, as I would suggest, do the Ruta de las Cascadas, getting a buggy is an unusual, fun and exposed way to see this beautiful part of the world. You are not confined by designated stops on a tour, or the tinted windows of a van or car, you feel the fresh air and can hop in and out whenever the landscape urges you to.