Biking in Baños

On Monday, we said our final good-bye to Quito and travelled 4 hours south by bus to Baños.  This small town, nestled in a valley within the Andes in Central Ecuador, is known as the “Gateway to the Amazon” as it is located on the Pastaza River in the Amazon River basin.  The town sits at the base of the largest volcano in Ecuador called Tungurahua, also known as “The Black Giant”. The 5,023 meter-high volcano provides a lush and unique backdrop full of dramatic waterfalls, deep river gorges, and dense vegetation that attracts nature and adventure lovers alike.

This volcano is active;  after a long period of quiescence, the volcano entered an eruptive phase starting in 1999, that is ongoing as of 2011, with major eruptions on 16 August 2006, 6 February 2008, 28 May 2010, 4 December 2010 and 26 April 2011.  This is no trivial matter – even the free tourist map includes the town’s evacuation route in the event of an eruption. The picture to the left captured the magnificent eruption of 1999. This sleeping giant did not awaken during our brief visit to Baños.

In spite of the close proximity to an active volcano that can blow its top at any moment, tourists and locals flock to this region for the plethora of adventure activities available, such as white water rafting, canyoneering (propelling oneself down the side of waterfalls), mountaineering, puenting (more about that later), cycling, horseback riding, and bungee jumping. The small town hosts over 60 tour agencies catering to both adventure and thrill seekers.

After settling into our hostel, La Princesa Maria (our cheapest accommodation to date at $7 per person per night), the son of the hostel owner graciously offered to give us a tour around town. Within a half an hour we had our bearings and knew where to find the the best restaurants, the tourist office, as well as the grocery store.  We are now regularly making our own food at hostels in an attempt to eat more nutritiously, although it actually costs more this way.  In spite of the cost of the hostel, it was actually very comfortable.

Next on the agenda was to check out some tour agencies to decide how to spend the next day. There were tons of activities and organized tours to choose from. After considering many options, we decided we would rent mountain bikes for the day ($7 each – we splurged an extra two bucks on good equipment, including proper helmets, instead of paying $5 for crappy bikes and no helmets).

On Tuesday, undeterred by the gloomy, cool weather, we left Baños at around 10:00 am via “La Ruta de las Cascadas”, route of the waterfalls.  We were heading towards the town of Puyo, 60km away, just on the edge of the jungle. This route boasts dozens of waterfalls within the first 22km, the highlight being Del Diablo, so named because the rock face looks like the devil.  The majority of this newly paved road is downhill with intermittent uphill sections that provided just enough of a challenge. As we headed out of town, we were in awe of the stunning scenery all around us.

Within a half hour, it started to rain. We pulled over at the next waterfalls just as the rain turned into a downpour.  It just so happened that a “Tarabita” ride as well as zip lining were offered at this location. With memories of the “Tarabita” in Mindo still fresh in my mind, there was no way I was going to do it again, especially if I didn’t have to get to the other side.  But lots of other people were willing to give it a try.  We stayed dry under a sheltered area and watched the zip liners and the “Tarabita”.

As for zip lining, well, I've done that before and had fun doing it, but this took zip lining to a whole new level as you can see from the video below. As we waited out the rain under cover, we watched the zip liners plunge fearlessly towards the deep gorge; even a 60-year old grandmother joined in the fun!

Just when we were beginning to wonder if our cycling day was bust, the rain came to a stop and the sun even peaked out a bit.  This was our cue to get on our bikes and get moving.  As we continued to the next waterfalls, we navigated the roads carefully.  We shared the road with regular traffic – cars, trucks, buses, transports – which was a little nerve racking at times.  Ecuadorian drivers seem to be in a rush and are always trying to pass the guy in front.  And they show a blatant disregard for the number of lanes on a road – for instance, it is not uncommon to see 3 or even 4 cars all passing each other in opposite directions on a two-lane road.  You need nerves of steel, especially on a bike. And you need to focus, as there was a steep, concrete ditch on the edge of the road.  One misstep would land you in some pretty serious trouble.

Along the way were tunnels carved right into the mountainside.  After the first tunnel which we went through on our bikes, there were side roads that circumvented the tunnel, especially designed for bikes and smaller vehicles.  These side roads proved to offer some of the best views along the way.  We took our time, stopping often to take pictures.  Everywhere you turned was a perfect picture.

As we passed over a bridge, we stopped to watch a guy getting ready to go “puenting”, which literally translated means “bridging”.  Similar to bungee jumping, yet different in that after you have jump off the bridge and experience the free fall, there is no bounce like in bungee jumping.  You swing from side to side.  Jumpers are hooked up to a harness around their shoulders and legs. From there they are connected to a number of ropes and carabineers. The ropes are set up in a way that there are braking mechanisms that allow for the swing as opposed to the bounce.  Apparently, this extreme sport began as an exercise to help rock climbers overcome their fear of falling.  It is now a very popular sport amongst thrill seekers looking for an adrenaline rush.

We watched in anticipation, not quite sure where the guy was going to fall.  As he jumped off the bridge, my heart practically stopped as he did a free fall towards the rocky river below.  The local guys were cajoling Chris and I and a few other cyclists (who just happened to be Canadian) to give it a try. Not a chance!  But, I did learn a new Spanish word, loco, which means crazy.

When we reached the Del Diablo waterfall, we locked up our bikes and hiked down to the base of the waterfall through humid, moist jungle-like vegetation.  The thunderous waterfall was deafening, reminding me of Niagara Falls.  It was possible to crawl through a narrow path to stand behind the waterfalls – pretty cool, and wet too!  By now, it was mid-afternoon and the sun was out in full force. It was sweltering.

After hiking back to the top, we were pretty hot and tired.  How convenient to find a truck offering trips back to town, bikes and all, for $1.50 per person.  A total of nine cyclists took advantage of the offer.

Since we still had some time left, we toured around town on our bikes and found the location of the infamous natural hot springs and thermal baths for which the town is named.  After dropping off our bikes, we walked around town checking out the Basilica, the artisan market, and the main square.  Then we stopped to soak in the sunshine and do some people watching while enjoying an icy, cold beer on a patio.

After supper, we indulged in the therapeutic waters of the Piscinas de La Virgen where the pools are naturally heated and infused with high amounts of minerals by the volcano, reputed to offer many health benefits and healing powers.   Three pools were available: one that was steaming hot, one that was frigid cold and one that was just right.  We cycled (no pun intended) between the three pools for about an hour and left feeling simultaneously relaxed and refreshed.  Sleep was not far off for me that night.

Note:  I added a video clip to the last blog posting about our hike to Cotopaxi.  I think Chris did a great job capturing the essence of the hike on video.

Category: Ecuador, South America
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4 Responses
  1. jessie says:

    Hi,guys the trip is looking great so far , its allmost x. mas and thers no snow and your rite i would have so much fun swimming with the turtles 😀 all of my new friends want to go on your website i tide to go on it with one of my friends and it didend work:( love your favorit girl 😛

    • christina says:

      Hi Jessie, It’s nice to hear from you again. I’m glad you and your friends like our website. Sorry you couldn’t connect when you were with your friends, but don’t give up, there’s lots of reasons why you might not be able to connect, and then the next time you’ll connect without any problems. I can’t believe you don’t have snow yet – I think Ottawa got some snow just the other day. It’s pretty warm where we are. We’re still in the mountains, so during the day it gets hot when the sun is out. If it’s cloudy, then it’s a little on the cool side. At night time it gets quite cool, around 12C. On Saturday we will be heading to Peru where it will be really hot along the coast. I don’t miss winter at all! Stay in touch, love Auntie Christina

  2. jessies friend deseray says:

    hi im deseray im Jesies BFF funtrip 2 go on

    • christina says:

      Hi Deseray, it’s nice to meet you. Thanks for saying hi and reading about our trip. Maybe one day you and Jessie will be able to take a big trip too. If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you want to go? Maybe our trip will give you some good ideas! Take care, Jessie’s Auntie Christina