Before arriving in Baños we’d heard the town described as the adventure capital of Ecuador – a place where you can raft, abseil, bungee jump or zipline to your heart’s content. We decided that we wanted to give white water rafting a go, and carefully chose Geo Tours as our guides for the big day.
The next morning, we were shown to a walk-in wardrobe where we were ‘sized up’ (which involved someone looking us up and down before rummaging through the rails) and given our own shoes, wetsuits, life-jackets and helmets. Unfortunately they were still rather soggy from the day before – and devastatingly flattering.
After a short ride to the start of the rapids on Rio Pastaza (rated 3 and 3+ rapids), we had a safety talk and a quick practice on land before tentatively entering the water.
It was a little bit terrifying to hear the guide talk about ‘what to do if you find yourself swept downstream’ or ‘if the raft overturns’, but one of the reasons we’d picked Geo Tours is that we knew there was a safety canoe that would follow us – just in case!
All of my worries were swept away when we hit our first rapids – the guide barked out instructions and we all rowed as hard as we could into the waves while the water crashed all around us – tipping the buoyant raft this way and that. There was no time to be scared, only to concentrate on the rhythm of the strokes, move with the sway of the boat and hold on for dear life!
As a team we did a sterling job and we had quickly overtaken several other rafts (some of which had lost some of its passengers!). We managed not to lose anyone accidentally, but on one particularly quiet stretch of river the guide was happy for some of us to jump in and let us practice our rescue technique.
It was all over a bit too quickly for our liking because we were having such a good time, and we were even a little disappointed that the higher rated rivers (which can go up to level 5 rapids) were closed because of high and dangerous water levels.
Even though the rafting had given us a taste for danger, neither of us felt the need to bungee off of the Baños Bridge although we did see a few people giving it a go. Our next adventure was somewhat calmer – a very scenic cycle ride along the Routa de las Cascadas.
Along the way we saw waterfalls of all shapes and sizes sparkling in the sunlight as they thundered down the emerald mountains. At a few of the cascades you could park your bike and take ‘canopy rides’ – which were like rickety old cable cars that were strung over the canyons, taking you for a closer look at the falls. I had wanted to give some ziplines a go – which allow you to zoom over the canyons superman-style – but none of them were open during our visit early in the morning!
The final and most famous waterfall we saw that morning was the Pailon del Diablo (Devil’s Falls). It was truly beautiful in the sunlight, with rainbows shooting right up out of the cascading water.
This was also the falls we could get the closest to – by climbing up a very claustrophobic path cut right into the rock that allowed us to stand directly behind the flow of water. It was amazing to stand there and feel the force of gallons of water rushing past – but we got totally soaked in the process!
It wasn’t all adventure and excitement during our stay in Baños; it was also a good place to stop for a week and take some Spanish lessons to try and improve our communication while in South America.
We went to Myra’s Spanish School and were both taught by Myra herself every day. Myra was an excellent teacher and gave us all the grammar basics she could during our short stay. Although we’re a long way from fluent, with time and practice we might actually be able to have real conversations with people!
After our daily lessons, we enjoyed having the odd chocolate empanada and taking a stroll around Baños. Although the town itself isn’t very pretty, it’s always full of interesting things to see and experience; from sweets being made in the street to a huge wedding party in the cathedral.
Baños is surrounded by incredible volcanic mountains just waiting to be explored. To get a better view of the countryside around the town – and the nearby volcano – we got a bus up to the famous La Casa del Arbol (The Tree House), which has a giant swing that launches you right out over a ledge – and it’s a long way down!
The view was amazing, but we didn’t get to see the volcano (which apparently you can see glowing in the night) because of cloud cover. Instead, we decided to experience the volcano another way – by enjoying a nice hot bath heated by the molten lava below!
The town’s volcanic baths are what Baños is named after. We chose to go to the closest location – Piscinas de la Virgen – where there are three pools to try. One is very hot, with water that bubbles up at 42 degrees Celsius (118F) from the volcanic chamber under the town; one is very cold – with fresh water syphoned from a nearby waterfall; and one that is a relaxing 26 degrees (79F) – made from a combination of the other two.
The larger, warm pool was like sitting in a lovely warm bath (along with about 30 other people!). After lazing in the warm pool for long enough, we decided to jump into the cold pool before getting straight into the hot pool. The effect is meant to be therapeutic for muscles, but I found it almost painful – it was like having a pins-and-needles sensation all over as the blood rushed back to the surface of my skin.
We loved our time in Baños and were a little sorry to leave after our week there. Although the town itself isn’t as pretty as some of the others in Ecuador, the real beauty of the place is in its mountains and its waterfalls – and the way it gives you the chance to push yourself to try new and exciting things. It’s a small town, but it certainly packs a punch.