Ecuador travel blog by Mark Berman -
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I had heard a lot of great things about Banos before I visited for myself for 3 nights. I didn't realise at the time of my arrival how
amazing it would turn out to be and definitely not for the faint hearted. I arrived in Banos after an all night bus journey firstly
from Portoviejo to Ambato then on to Banos as the sun came up, arriving early in the morning.
Bus from Ambato
Driving through the misty cool mountain
weather in the early morning on a local bus in Ecuador can be slow. Our bus sat still for a long time before leaving Ambato at the
last stop waiting for more people, until after about 15 minutes the passengers started shouting for the driver to go, 'vamos' they
shouted! In the distance was a snow capped mountain as we set off across the green hills of central Ecuador on a road cut into heavy rock
and winding through the hills and along beside gorges as we decended down the valley and into Banos.
Find a Hostel
It had been a hard nights travel and
I had had little if any real sleep during the night. I found myself a good room at a good price that included a bathroom
and wifi for about $7USD per night. I spent most of that first day sleeping until the afternoon when I went out to look around and take
The first thing I noticed out on the streets were the dozens of school children in uniform walking to or from school or
home for lunch. The streets are very clean and it is a very nice place to walk around. There are many nice shops to buy things of all kinds
at as well as many good restaurants. The park Parque Palomino Flores has a lovely setting in amongst trees, pathways and colored flowers.
There is a monument to General Palomino Flores and a nice fountain also.
There are many things to do in Banos and many tour operators
offering various activities such as rafting, canyoning, bike hire, bridge jumping, climbing, jungle tours, motorcycle and buggy hire and
horses as well.
There are quite a few bars in town. The youth pour in during the weekends to party and can get a little loud on the streets
at night. There is an increased police presence during this time.
Shops and Church
The local shops sell some nice clothing, jewelry and souvenirs. At
night the church beside the plaza is lit up with yellow and blue lights and is very pretty. The doors are arched and made of wood and have
designs carved into them.
Hire a Mountain Bike and Ride!
For the next day I planned to hire a mountain bike and ride down the hill from Banos and see some of the
waterfalls and other sights in the area. It is downhill all the way for dozens of kms from Banos and I would bus back up with my bike in
the luggage compartment. I was now ready for a good nights sleep. In the morning after breakfast I hired a the bike including a helmet and
a padlock and began what ended up being a ride of about 16kms downhill from Banos on what is known as the Ruta de las Cascadas. In other
words, the route to the waterfalls. Soon after the ride began I passed the Aguas Termales. Santa Ana was 1km away and Agoyan 6.2kms. I saw a
sign for the Jardin Ornitologico San Vicente which is a place of gardens and birds and bridge Puente Colgante - 400m and 800m long to the left
respectively. There also was some interesting and colorful graffiti art on the walls in the first few minutes ride. Nearby I past Hosteria
El Trapiche, they have a spa, massages, a museum and a restaurant. I would stop frequently to take photos but other bikers were wizzing
down the hill, at times I did too and the feeling was great. I passed a Chinese style building, it was Samari Spa Resort with grand stone
type construction. Soon after I came to a fork in the road, the right fork leading up to Luna Runtun
, the adventure spa 6kms away.
They have several activities, accommodation, restaurant and panoramic views. I took the left fork and headed through a small place called
Las Colinas and was fast approaching the big dam called the Represa de Agoyan. It was here that I crossed the bridge over the river and
looked back at the dam while condors flew around overhead. Soon after I came to a lookout on the edge of the gorge where I saw my first
waterfall - Mirador-Cascada y Tuneles de Agoyan. After taking a stop here for a few minutes I continued through my first tunnel, Tunel Agoyan
which is 232m long. There may have been an alternative way around the tunnel. I don't think cyclists are supposed to go in these tunnels, but
I chanced it. The tunnel was only one lane wide. I waited until after a bus went through, then made my dash. After I made it through I saw a
sign for the Eco Parque Piscina (pools) 40kms downhill in Puyo
. It is possible to ride all the way there. Also there is a sign for Monte Selva
camping, adventure and nature. I came to the next waterfall that has an awesome trapeze called the Tarabita
open carriage that carries a group of people across the river and right up to the waterfall Manto de la Novia. This is 10kms downhill from Banos.
A few minutes later as I biked down the road from Banos to Puyo there is a sign that indicates a waterfall about 1.7km off the road called Pailon
del Diablo - Fantastica Cascada! There is a path to bike to Rio Verde less than 1km away to the right of the next tunnel. There you will find
a waterfall, fishing and a lagoon. The tunnel is about 300m long and is 2 lanes. I rode my bike to the right of the tunnel along the bike track
towards Rio Verde, the path is cobblestone with a brick fence. I came down to the main road called Calle Enrique Aldaz which was very quiet,
not many people around, just a few houses and shops. I cycled towards the bridge where a sign said Pailon del Diablo was now 1km away, Rio
Verde half a km and that the Cascada Machay was 2.1kms. A pair of cyclists rode past as I crossed the bridge and found myself in a little park
area with gardens, flowers and a head cast of Richard Spruce (1817-1893), a scientist and explorer of the Amazon and Andes.
To the left of the park is a lagoon where children paddled inflatable dinghies around. In the middle is a mermaid sitting on a rock. Many locals were
enjoying having fun in the water here, the river runs along the back of the lagoon. The area is beautiful and surrounded by green hills.
Pailon del Diablo Falls
I had now arrived at the great waterfall Pailon del Diablo inside the Falls Garden - La Puerta de la Verdad (The Door to the Truth). Also
inside the garden is Cascada San Miguel (waterfall) and Encanonado del Duende. In the area around the entrance there are many places to park, lock up and
leave your bike or motorbike and begin the walk down the path toward the devils waterfall. The nature and scenery here is wonderful. In the distance
is an overbridge across the river and walls of rock face out all around. It didn't take too long and I had arrived at the waterfall Diablo. The
concrete and stone platforms here allow you to get up super close to the powerful gushing water. The stairs from the lowest platform then lead
up the the next level where things start to get quite a bit more awkward as you ascend up rock stairs with a very low rock cave like roof. At
a point it is necessary to crouch right down to get up and through, but it is worth it and brings you right beside the falling water and you can
reach out and touch it. Things started to get a little wet on this level and the stairs leading up to the next level were soaking wet with the
spray coming onto them. The stairs then lead up through another awkward cave like scenario before leading out into the daylight and back onto the
original path for the longer ascent back up to the bike. Along the way I saw a few little creatures like lizards and butterflies.
Bus Back Up to Banos
At the top
I had a cold drink and took a photo of the white and brown church and cycled back to the main road beside the entrance of the tunnel to catch
a bus back up to Banos where I returned my bike and equipment to the hire shop. Here are the distances from Banos to places on the bike trail:
Tunel 6.1kms, Rio Blanco 8kms, Tarabita 11.7kms, Rio Verde 14.5kms, Pailon del Diablo 15.5kms, Machay 16.9 kms, Rio Negro 26.9 kms, Mera 43.5kms
and Puyo 60kms.
The Volcano Erupts
That evening I had a quiet night, some food and did a little work on my computer and went to sleep. Tomorrow would be a big day
but I didn't know that yet! Sometime around 10am I awoke to the sound of heavy rumbling and received a knock on the door from the hotel owners
to say that the volcano was active. This is the day of the 28th May 2010. The volcano is Volcan Tungurahua about 5kms from Banos and it is higher
up the hill.
The man from the hotel said that everyone in Banos was gathering up at the bus terminal and that many people were evacuating, he
suggested I go up there. I wanted to go up to the main area and see what was happening. When I got up to the area there were people everywhere
cramming into vehicles - buses, vans, trucks, cars, bicycles and many in the back of utes. Everyone was very keen to leave including many
travelers but I was not of that mind.
I Stayed to See the Fireworks
I was going to stick around and see some fireworks that night. All this time the volcano continued to
rumble as people clambered to get inside buses bound for Riobamba
or anywhere else but Banos. People packed up their chickens and loaded them
into the back of utes and got out of town. This continued for hours until Banos had turned into a semi-ghostown, everyone had left except for
the hardcore I guess. That evening as the sun faded I walked around the now very quiet and deserted Banos. In the street they were barbecuing
guinea pigs which is common in Ecuador. That night after a nice meal at one of the few places open I went for a swim in the hot pools - Piscinas
de la Virgen. Luckily it wasn't crowded due to the volcano a few kms away sending out loud cracks and deep rumbles and also the fact that most
of the folk in town had left.
The Fireworks at 1:30am
That night I went to sleep with the sound of the windows shaking from the constant rumbling of Volcan Tungurahua.
At around 1:30am I got a knock on my door from the hotel owner to say we were getting out of the hotel. I thought he meant we had to evacuate
from Banos and so I started packing up my stuff into my backpack and getting ready to leave because it was now getting too dangerous to be
here. But no, he came back 10 minutes later and said not to pack my stuff because we were going up the road to see the fireworks from the
volcano erupting. The man, his wife and I walked a km up the road to get a good view of the volcano. We were all dressed in warm jackets and
woolen hats, he even had a sleeping bag in case we were not able to return to the hotel that night. During the walk up the hill we saw very few
people. Once we arrived up near a bridge there were others watching the action and some with cameras. The night was clear and the sight of the
volcano spitting out firery orange lava was spectacular and seeing the lava flow down the side at the top of the mountain also amazing to see.
I Returned to See the Volcano at 5am
After about 90 minutes, it was decided that we would head back down to the hostel. But I was planning to return back up as the sun rose at 5am
which was in a couple of hours time. At about 5am I returned up to the same spot as I had been a few hours before just before the sun came up
but this time I ventured onto a farm and walked quite a distance toward the volcano and sat on the edge of a ledge that had a river flowing
down below and houses on the hill opposite. I wanted to get some good photos of the smoke cloud as the sun came up and as the sun did come up
the cloud became a yellow and orange color with a clear blue sky as a backdrop. After a little over an hour I decided I needed some sleep and
walked down the hill and back to my hostel and slept until 2 or 3pm. When I awoke I decided it was now indeed time for me to leave Banos and head
onto the next place.
Bus North to Ibarra
I had decided I would travel north to Ibarra
. I caught a bus from Banos up to Quito
which passed through or nearby
along the way. In Quito I had to make my way across town on local buses from the south to the north terminal to get a bus
to Ibarra, this took a couple of hours. From Quito's northern bus terminal I bought a ticket for Ibarra which is around a 3hr trip. At some point
during this journey I fell asleep and ended up an hour and a half north / east of Ibarra off the main highway in a place called Montufar at 2am.