After several days in the Andes surrounded by volcanoes, it was time to head east toward the capital of adventure sports in Ecuador and be surrounded by pure nature: Baños de Agua Santa.
My continuous search for adrenaline has always made me choose destinations that have a direct link with a risky sport or extreme activities. And these activities are usually connected to nature and magical surroundings. That’s why I knew my days in Baños would be filled with fun and excitement.
Even though Baños de Agua Santa is a touristy city, it’s well worth a visit. Located by the banks of the Pastaza River and at the foot of the majestic Tungurahua Volcano, it offers a wide variety of activities, like rafting, canopy, canyoning, climbing, paragliding, hiking, biking… All this to make us forget for a while the meaning of the word boredom. There are hundreds of agencies that offer adventure tours, but I chose Geotours Adventure & Fun for their experience and professionalism.
My first adventure was canyoning. Ever since I was a kid I’ve been fascinated with waterfalls, and I’ve always dreamt of going abseiling. But I couldn’t imagine that I would go down four different cascades on the same day!
We went straight to the waterfalls on the Río Blanco, a small stream that branches off the lakes in Llanganates and flows into the canyon of the Pastaza River. After a helpful hands-on lesson followed by a walk to the river, we adjusted our harnesses and, one by one, started abseiling down the first waterfall. Feeling this huge amount of water on me was overwhelming. Adrenaline pumping – precisely what I wanted. It was inevitable to shout “UHUUUU!”
Right behind me was Samuel, a Swiss traveler who has been backpacking around South America for over six months. My companion for the next days until my next destination, he also loves adventure and nature – it’s no coincidence that we met here.
A few years ago I watched a video that went viral on social media in which a guy ziplines over several waterfalls (canopy) amidst lush nature. Since I was in a similar place, I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to try something like that. Thanks to Geotours once again, we went to Puntzan Canopy, an area close to Baños with six lines that, combined, cover more than 1.25 miles [2 km], passing over rivers, waterfalls and valleys. For a few seconds I felt completely free again.
There are hundreds of places to eat in the city of Baños. I’d recommend the restaurant Leprechaun to try some traditional Ecuadorian food at reasonable prices – or you can just go to the grocery store.
This very touristy city is also home to a wide variety of hotels and hostels. During my four days there, I stayed at the cozy and peaceful La Villa del Peñon Hotel & Spa, located on the outskirts of Baños and offering excellent service. Edgar, the owner and manager of the hotel, shared tips and listed everything that deserves a visit in the region.
You shouldn’t leave Baños without trying another classic activity: going on a columpio (swing in Spanish). The best option is taking the bus that, for US$ 1.50, leaves you at the famous Casa del Árbol, a gigantic tree swing located in the city’s higher portion, offering incredible views of the Tungurahua Volcano (when the sky is clear, obviously).
This attraction has become so popular that they built two other swings: Vuelo del Cóndor and Columpio Fantasías de Volar (with views of the city and the volcano). They are quite larger and, therefore, more extreme – but safe nonetheless.
My ephemeral days in Baños were ending, but I couldn’t leave without taking the impressive Ruta de Las Cascadas, the icing on the cake of my visit. It’s a spectacular route that starts in Baños and covers a large part of the road that leads to Puyo, stopping at each of the enormous waterfalls that cut through the valley, flowing into the Pastaza River. Many agencies organize this excursion, but tourists don’t have much time to enjoy each stop. Therefore, the best option is to take a taxi (as long as the driver has some experience with this type of itinerary).
The first waterfall you spot on the route is Agoyán, which is 197-foot [60 m] tall. But my favorite was the second one, Manto de la Novia, whose name (“bridal veil”) is a reference to its white color and the shape it had before it was divided. We parked the taxi and leisurely went down the trail to take a closer look at it. You can also take a rudimentary cable car to go to the other side of the valley, passing over the waterfall.
Next was Cascada del Inca, also accessible from above – you need to take another rustic cable car, on an amazing ride!
Lastly, I couldn’t leave out the most visited and one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Ecuador: Pailón del Diablo, approximately 262.5-foot [80 m] tall, with an aggressive vertical drop. As it’s easily accessed, it has become a popular tourist attraction, and you can see it from endless angles due to the several suspension bridges and stairs located behind the waterfall. This is where my tripod went into a free fall while I was distracted... obviously, it was impossible to get it back.
Just like my tripod, my time in Baños is finished. I need to keep moving towards the Amazon.