The thermal baths generated by Volcan Tungurahua are a big draw here, and they are rumored to cure everything from aching muscles to constipation.
But Baños is really a haven for outdoor lovers. You can hike, bike, bird watch, take in the baths, go bungee jumping, or even rapel down a waterfall. The weather is warm even though you are still pretty high in the mountains, and everything is lush and green. And when you are done with all this activity, you can indulge in the services of any of the dozen or more spas in town.
We decided to start our Baños adventure by cycling the Ruta de las Cascadas (Waterfall Route).
biking the waterfall route
This route is 17 km by bicycle with a view of about a dozen different waterfalls. The other bonus is that the route is almost all downhill, or at least that’s what the guy who rents bikes says.
We rented our bikes first thing in the morning for $5 each. The bikes do not come with helmets unless you ask, and even then it may not do you any good. We rode out without helmets for what I thought was going to be a leisurely ride down a serene mountain path to view waterfalls. You know, a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours.
I was wrong.
We set off down the highway along with trucks, cars, and a few other bicyclists. I’m not sure if we’ve mentioned this before, but Ecuadorian drivers have zero patience when they get behind the wheel. These otherwise gentle and patient people turn into racecar drivers the minute they switch on the ignition and tailgate and pass anyone in their way, honking as they go. We’ve seen busses passing each other in no-passing zones on winding mountain roads at night, and no one thinks this is weird but us.
I tell you all this to help you understand how unexcited I was at the prospect of riding for 17 km along this road to see a few waterfalls. I mean really, how amazing could they be?
Pretty freaking amazing, it turns out.
We only went a few kilometers on the highway and through one tunnel (very scary on a bike, let me tell you) before we broke off the road and onto a side path to see a waterfall. It was glorious. Giant birds were flying overhead, the sky was blue, and it was green everywhere.
We could see crops in various places high on the mountainside, and we wondered at how anyone could even access the area to farm. But what a treat it would be to have that view every day.
I was pretty impressed, but not nearly as much as I soon would be. You see, you have to go off the road and down to the waterfall to really appreciate it, and we did that in two different places.
Cascada de Agoyán is a double waterfall that feeds into Rio Pastaza. We stopped off at what looked like a roadside restaurant and discovered it overlooked the waterfalls. Not only that, but for $1.50 each we could take a gondola down to the waterfall.
It was pretty scary to take the gondola down, though it was over almost too quickly to let the fear register. Maybe it was because the gondola operator was about 19 and looked like she should have been doing her homework or something else – anything but running a gondola!
After we reached bottom, we had to cross a long hanging bridge to get to the waterfall and pay another $0.50 each to get into the park area. Man, was it worth it. To stand underneath twin waterfalls on a sunny day is a terrific experience to have – one that makes you feel grateful to be a very small part of this giant, amazing earth.
If you look very closely at the picture above you can see Warren’s orange t-shirt at the bottom of the falls. He was drenched from this, but with the direct sun at the equator he was dry before we left the park.
The big finale of the Ruta de las Cascadas is El Diablo, and we were excited to see it. You’d think we would have no trouble finding it, but as I said before, you have to go off the road to see these waterfalls. We must have ridden right past it. Whoops. Maybe we should have paid more attention to the lady telling us we could park out bikes for free in a dirt lot. We just thought she wanted us to buy lunch at her food stand.
In any event, we began riding uphill and eventually had to stop for a rest before figuring out where in the hell El Diablo could be. We decided to check out a restaurant in an area called Machay to regroup.
They had an outside deck, and we spent our lunchtime eating good food, drinking a couple of grande Pilsener Ecuadorian beers, and trying to decide if the giant birds flying overhead were eagle hawks or condors. We had all but given up on seeing anymore waterfalls until the old man at the restaurant asked if we’d like to see the one there.
Which one? We didn’t see any waterfall.
We decided to chance it and pay the $1 each to walk down. We are so glad we did!
After walking down approximately 400 steps to the bottom, we were rewarded with a gorgeous waterfall, natural baths made from the waterfall,
and a view of the river rushing past. We spent a couple of hours wandering the paths, playing in the water, and sunning ourselves on the rocks.
When we had finally tired ourselves out, we remembered we had to walk 400 steps back up AND find a way back to Baños. There was no way we had the energy to bike back uphill after 8 hours of activity (our serious bicyclist friends Mike, Paul, and Bradley are probably shaking their heads at our feeble attempt to be more like them).
getting back to Baños
Our friends Joe and Joyce recently vacationed in Baños and told us we could just flag down a passing truck and pay a few bucks for a ride back into town, and the old man at the restaurant confirmed this. He told us to push our bikes out to the edge of the parking area and wave at passing trucks until we got picked up.
We met up with another couple we had seen a few times during the day, Jennifer and Conrad, and we chatted about the day’s adventures. We decided to catch a truck back together, and we only had to wait about 15 minutes for one to stop.
We loaded 4 bikes and 4 people into the back of this small truck, and off we went. We laughed because Jennifer had insisted on a helmet when they rented their bikes, and we were pretty sure riding in the back of a pickup with the tailgate down, holding onto 4 bikes, and grabbing on for dear life as the driver swerved around busses and cars was not a very safe activity.
We made it back to Baños in one piece, though I will probably not do something that stupid again (note that I said “probably” – sometimes it just can’t be helped). Our short excursion lasted all day, and we were both in that delicious state of exhaustion you feel when you’ve worked really hard and seen the immediate results of your labor. Bliss.
Lessons from the Day
- Amazing discoveries can be as large as a double waterfall or as small as a meeting of butterflies. And sometimes you have to go off the beaten path to find them.
- Pushing outside your comfort zone rewards you with the immediate pleasure of finding something new and the ongoing pleasure of learning something new about yourself.
- If you keep yourself safe from all danger you will also keep yourself safe from all discovery.
Stay tuned for our next post about the erupting volcano (I can’t believe we’re still here!), the main language you’ll hear in town (no, it isn’t Spanish), and why this mountain town is considered the gateway to the jungle.