South America – Banos, Ecuador

What does one do after a dream trip come true? One goes to Banos!

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A must stop in Ecuador, Banos is adventure central. I got in around 9pm, after my indirect bus dropped me off in Ambato on some random street corner … that was … weird. Luckily, two white girls in the same predicament decided to hail a taxi, so I quickly jumped in with them and split the cab.

Because they kept us seriously busy in the Galapagos, I was exhausted, so chose to relax on my first day. I even splurged the $11/night for a private room, because sharing is caring … but only until you’ve spent 8 days on a tiny boat … Day 2 onward I adventured, and adventured hard though.

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Mountain Biking from the Andes to the Jungle

For $7USD you can rent a bike from a local agency and ride 25km down a beautiful 1000m trek, from the Andean mountains into the jungle. At first, I really didn’t think I would like it (being that I am not the most fond of bicycles in general), but my new friend Verity from London (seriously, this is becoming a trend, everyone is from London?) convinced me to do it with her. Once we started I was so happy to be doing it. The scenery is breathtaking; we biked through tunnels, on the side of the highway, on gravel paths beside cliffs, and even under waterfalls. Add to the mix Clumsy Sonia, being chased by rabid dogs and sweating profusely while hiking the jungle, and you get adventure!

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We made our way to the Pailon del Diablo waterfall, parked our bikes for free and hiked to a huge waterfall. They even have a small cave you can crawl through to get yourself behind the waterfall. There’s a hella lot of water that comes down, (J. you would love it)! Triumphant and exhilarated, we returned up the massive hill soaking wet and then enjoyed (devoured) batidos and empanadas.

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Thermal Baths

The next day my new travel buddies and I woke at 6am and waddled our way in the dim morning light to the baths. We had heard that if you go before 7am, it’s much less crowded and a more pleasurable experience.

When we arrive, there are three pools* (one hot, one cold, one lukewarm). We start in the lukewarm pool, and realize we do not meet the apparent minimum age requirement of 55. It was sort of comical, watching these 50+ seniors with bathing caps swim around in murky, brown lukewarm water. At one point, a man started to do something akin to the butterfly stroke, while another lady swam past us kicking with her head in the water. Strange ….

We tested ourselves in the hot bath (45 degrees was it? I was still half asleep). We only stayed for a minute, which was a good thing because I almost fainted on the way out. We then bravely plunged into the cold bath (I’m awake at this point), before showering and exiting. Overall, I’d say it was quite the experience, but definitely not the relaxing or therapeutic vision I had coming in to a town called Banos (meaning baths…).

*Note: not pictured because it’s weird to take photos while bathing with seniors … 

Canyoning

We recharged with a quick breakfast after the baths, before going canyoning. Probably the most exciting and difficult activity I’ve ever done, I repelled down 4 giant and challenging waterfalls, and got to slide down 2 more; all for $25. This will be in my top 10 life experiences for sure.

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Casa del Arbol

After repelling we made our way to the edge of the world and swung from a giant tree house. Pretty cool swinging experience, though I do wish there had been less people so I could swing for longer.

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Finally, we finished our efficiently adventurous day by enjoying beers and batidos alongside the first World Cup game.

So in summary … If you come to Banos, be prepared for adventure. I recommend spending at least 4 (or 5!) days here: one to figure out what you want to do and 3 to do it all. Other things to do, if you like:

  • Massages for $25
  • Eat Thai food at Cafe Hood
  • Enjoy great beer at the Stray Dog pub
  • Zip lining (looked great!)
  • Paragliding
  • Hiking & sweating, then showering
  • Chilling out (Banos is very safe and cute. Just a cool place to reset)

I’m now in Montanita, a  beach/party town in the northern-ish coast of Ecuador. I was able to meet some friends from the Galapagos cruise here, so a semi-reunion if you will.

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Next stop, Bolivia! Egad!

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