Lying directly beneath the shadow of looming active Volcano Tungurahua (5,016m) is the bustling town of Baños de Agua Santa. Baños is the gateway to the Ecuadorian Amazon and is renowned for its wealth of natural beauty, with over 60 waterfalls, thermal baths, lush jungle, towering mountains and volatile volcanoes.
On our first day, we took a local bus up the mountain to La Casa del Arbol (The Tree House), to take in spectacular views of the volcano, mountains and surrounding valley. La Casa del Arbol is famous for its giant swing perched over the edge of an escarpment, which affords even better views if you're game enough to try it!
Thrills and Spills
In recent years Baños has grown from a humble spa town into the hub of adventure sports tourism in Ecuador. Some of the adrenalin pumping activities on offer include white water rafting, canyoning (abseiling down waterfalls), zip-lining and bridge jumping. We captured these crazy cats in action ...
Keen for some adventure ourselves, we tried white water rafting on the Pastaza River in grade 3-4 rapids. It was heaps of fun and surprisingly neither of us managed to get thrown out of the boat! Check out our movie below...
That afternoon on our way back into town, we noticed a thick cloud of smoke and ash spewing out the top of Volcano Tungurahua. We were immediately concerned, thinking that we may have to evacuate the town, but locals reassured us that Baños is safely positioned in the opposite direction to the lava flow and the prevailing winds blow ash away from the town. Phew!
When we got back the owners of our B&B encouraged us to take a taxi up to the Las Antenas lookout for the best views of the volcano erupting. We made it there just in time for sunset and as it got dark we could see magma exploding into the air and glowing lava spilling over the sides of the crater.
As the distant sound of the threatening volcano rumbled, we were speechless as we watched in utter awe of seeing such a powerful force of nature in action!! It’s something we will never forget.
Riding the Waterfall Route
Other than adventure sports, one of the most popular activities in Baños is to hire a mountain bike and ride La Ruta de las Cascadas (The Waterfall Route). It is a leisurely ride mostly downhill from Baños, following the river through stunning mountain scenery past a series of waterfalls.
Here's some footage of the cable car ride over Bride's Veil waterfall ...
We rode 15km to the small village of Rio Verde, where we parked our bicycles and took a short hike (30 minutes) through lush forest toward the thundering Pailón del Diablo (Devil’s Cauldron).
They have built several viewing platforms that allow you to get up close and have also carved a tight tunnel through the mountain to a cave behind the waterfall, where you can feel its full force and awesome energy. It was an exhilarating experience, but be prepared to get soaked!
Where we stayed:
While in Baños we based ourselves at Magic Stone B&B a short walk from the centre of town but far enough away from the noise and maddening crowds. Our gracious hosts Ove and Aase are originally from Denmark but settled in Baños after travelling long term through South America themselves. The B&B has only 2 spacious rooms in a separate cottage from the main house, was comfortably furnished and tastefully decorated with ethnic finds from their own travels.
Breakfast is served in the dining room of the main house with great views over the town and waterfall. You can select what you would like to eat for breakfast from a decidedly European menu that includes perfectly poached eggs, home made Danish pastry, rye bread, the best crispy crepe’s ever … absolutely delicious and a welcome respite from the usual breakfast of rubbery eggs, dry bread and jam!
But throughout our stay, it was the thoughtful gestures of Ove and Aase that made a difference to our overall Baños experience. From helpful sightseeing recommendations and insider knowledge of the area, to organising a driver to take us to see the volcano erupting and dropping off a bowl of fresh popcorn to snack on after we returned from rafting.
We thoroughly enjoyed our time with Ove and Aase and they gave us an invaluable insight into a foreigner’s life in Ecuador. It’s not often that you meet such warm and generous hosts and the beauty of their spirit shone through to us.