The bus ride from Latacunga to Banos was spent trying, and failing, to pretend the kid behind us wasn’t spewing loudly into a plastic bag (this happens a lot in Ecuador). Instead we tried to concentrate on the stunning scenery and approaching few days of thermal baths, biking and massages we’d planned for ourselves.
Our first trip out of town was to Casa del Arbol, which we’re sure you’ll recognise. Not ones to say no we lined up and waited for our turn on the worlds scariest swing. Taking a seat, closing the safety strap which would only stop a fat person from slipping out, we both walked to the top of the ramp to get the ultimate launch.
Unlike what we’d hoped for (the ground dropping away to a sheer cliff hundreds of meters high) you swing out over a rather steep hillside. Still it’s a pretty fun swing for adults. A bus from town plus entry costs USD$ and takes about an hour. You can hike the couple of hours back to town if you’re feeling energetic…we weren’t.
Banos is named after it’s plethora of thermal baths, and why not, there’s so many of them. Should you visit them? Certainly. Which ones should you visit? Let us advise you that what you’re willing to pay and the baths you visit should be dictated by your threshold for bodily cleanliness, as around here this seems to be quite a bit less than you might be used to.
Wanting to cover a couple of the baths we decided to hit up Piscinas de la Virgen, which is in town within walking distance of Hostel Santa Cruz (double room with private bathroom for £13, kitchen and hammocks). Buying our tickets it was bathers on, goods stashed in the free secure lockup and into the baths…which was so brown you couldn’t see the bottom. Assuming it was a mineral build up as the colour matched the walls of the bath, we plunged in anyway and tried to ignore the fact that you can clearly see ‘stuff’ floating around.
With a beautiful waterfall in the background this place had potential, and the waters are said to aid many physical conditions including liver problems (count us in!). However even our limits were tested when one middle aged woman spat phlegm in the water before removing her mandatory bathing cap to clean her extremely hairy underarms. Not so bad, you may think, I could handle that. Enter two fat women. Plopping themselves right in front of us, they proceeded to have a lovely hug before proceeding to squeeze each other’s back pimples into the water.
That’s it, we’re done!!
All that swinging and bathing had given us hunger pains so we headed down to Leoni Pizzeria for the best pizza in Banos, cooked proper Italian style. All the pizza then made us thirsty, so we wandered over to Stray Dog Cervezeria on the main plaza to wash it down. If your drawing skills are up to scratch sketch these guys a puppy portrait and if you’re lucky they’ll give you a free pint of the locally brewed beer. Not feeling very artistic we enjoyed a couple of pints with some new found friends Lydia and Luis instead.
Having had our fill of Ecuadorian craft beer we grabbed a bottle of red wine and made our way back to the hostel where the staff were getting a fire going to keep the evening chill at bay. With nothing else to hand to fan the flames, it was into the fire with a copy of the good old Holy Bible.
The next day we picked up a couple of rental bikes for USD$6 each and hit the road on the 60km (mostly) downhill Routa de las Cascadas (Waterfall Route) to Puyo. The road winds along a river canyon and you’ll pass several opportunities for zip-lining.
But our target was the Pailon del Diablo, or Devils Cauldron. Keep your eyes peeled for the sign of you’ll miss it and ride a further 10 minutes downhill, meaning you’ll then have to ride that 10 minutes back uphill. Paying the USD$1.50 entry fee we hiked down the path before hiking back up some steps to a view point of the falls. While quite spectacular, the highlight here are the steps leading down to the lowest viewpoint, along with crawling your way through a narrow walkway to the top where you’ll get soaked.
When the rain arrived we decided to call it quits and joined a handful of fellow gringos and their bikes in the back of a pickup truck for a lift back to town. When we arrived the rain had stopped just in time for us to witness some local schools competing in a weird dance off/beauty contest parade. Covering everything from 70’s disco to traditional the costumes alone were enough to make us stay a while.
Not quite ready to write off Banos’ baths just yet, we donned our bathers once again and headed down to nearby Piscina Santa Clara, also a short walk from the hostel. First impressions were better than Virgen, however for the USD$4.50 entry (with cap) we expected a little more than the two warm baths we had to choose from. One was overcrowded and luke walm while the other was small, much warmer and also a little murkier. With the sun shining it wasn’t long before we’d reached our threshold of other peoples filth, showered it off and instead enjoyed a bit of a sunbath beside the cold water lap pool.
In need of a pick me up we decided it was massage time. Having spent the last few days weighing up the options (of which there are alot) we picked one which offered a 90 minute massage along with a few extras for USD$25 each. Once again you get what you pay for, as while the massage was okay we’ve definitely had better, and the screaming kids and half drunk adults having a Saturday night catch up in the doorway wasn’t ideal for our relaxation (keep background noise in mind when you make your choice).
Our last day in town we attempted bath number three. A little out of town, El Refugio had great reviews, though we were sorely disappointed we’d made the effort to go all that way only to discover the entrance fee was about 5 times what we were a) expecting and b) could afford (don’t be fooled by anything you read…they’ll charge you $15 just to walk into the place).
Scrapping any further attempts of washing away our physical ailments we instead headed to the Church of the Virgin of the Holy Water, known locally as the Basilica Reina del Rosario de Agua Santa, to attempt to wash away our sins instead. The story goes that the Virgin has performed numerous local miracles, a number of which are depicted in some interesting murals, including one slightly comical one of a guy falling out of a basket when the rope he was pulling himself across the river with broke.
Before long it was time to jump on a bus back to Quito for our morning flight to the Enchanted Isles, more commonly known as the Galapagos Islands!
You can check out more Ecuador pics including us going hands free at Casa del Arbol on our Flickr page.