We arrived in Banos after a 3 hour taxi ride from Quito and checked into the Samari Spa Resort. The resort buildings were set in a beautiful lush green space packed with flowers and surrounded by the mountains. This was the bungalow cabin that we stayed in.
Peacocks are beautiful until they wake you up every morning with their squawking.
The flowers and lush green vegetation were the first hint that you were on the edge of the Amazon rain forest.
The view from the resort entrance.
Baños is known as the "Gateway to the Amazon", since it's the last city located in the mountain region before reaching the jungle and the Amazon River basin. Baños is located at an elevation of 5,971 feet on the northern foothills of the Volcano Tungurahua. Yes, it's a tourist haven with resorts and tour companies lining the main boulevard but that's why it's called the 'adventure capital of Ecuador'. When you visit, get active and enjoy your stay.
Chimborazo National Reserve
We chose Imagine Ecuador Adventure Travel to help us explore the area. Since it was off season, we had a guide and driver all to ourselves. It was great!
First, we drove around and through the ash field and areas impacted by the lahars (destructive mud flow on the slopes of a volcano) and pyroclastic flows from the 2006 and 2010 Tungahara eruptions.
Pyroclastic flow is a fluidized mixture of hot rock fragments, hot gases, and entrapped air that moves at high speed in thick, gray-to-black, turbulent clouds that hug the ground. The temperature of the volcanic gases can reach about 1,100 to 1,300°F. The velocity of a flow often exceeds 60 to 100 miles per hour. This was the sign that greeted us as we began our drive.
The lahars carried debris up to 15 feet in diameter.
Entire sections of road were wiped out by these forces of nature.
Seedlings had already started to poke through the mud and ash.
At the end of the day, we stopped on a hillside to see the impact and power of the volcanic eruptions. Look at the size and destructive force of the mud flows. Entire sections of the slope covered in mud and ash, stripped of any vegetation. I wish we could have seen Tungahara but it was covered in clouds.
Next up was a visit to Chimborazo National Park. According to our guide, this view of Chimborazo with all four summits visible is extremely rare. Most time one or more of the peaks are covered in cloud. The entire summit area is covered by glaciers that are rapidly shrinking.
With a peak elevation of 20,548 ft, Chimborazo is the highest mountain in Ecuador. Chimborazo may not the highest mountain by elevation above sea level, but its location along the equatorial bulge makes its summit the farthest point on the surface from the Earth's center.
After entering the park we drove to the Hermanos Carriel refuge which is located at an elevation of 15,748 feet. From there we hiked 30 to 40 minutes until we get to the Edward Whimper cabin located at 16,404 feet; 5,000 meters; 3.10 miles above sea level.
Our view at the start of our hike to 5000 meters. Somewhere up there is the cabin.
Ahhh, we could see our destination. How could it be only 200 meters away?
Despite the short distance to cover, our guide had us stop several times to 'catch our breath' during which time he gave a great lecture on the effects of altitude sickness.
Herds of wild vicuna, a relative of the llama, graze on the low ground cover.
Success! We don't look bad for walking to an elevation 3.1 miles above sea level.
After heading back to the Carriel refuge, our guide and driver prepared us and our mountain bikes for the descent through the Chimborazo National Reserve. And what a ride it was! This picture taken at the start was probably the only time we rode together. (Steve in the red helmet and Dave in the white helmet).
The first 9 km was on a dirt road with switchbacks winding through the National Reserve.
It was cool to see Dave as a tiny point in front of me disappearing in the dust.
Meanwhile, all I could think about was falling off the bike and spending hours at an Ecuadorian dentist having my broken teeth pulled.
The dirt road ended and we left the National Reserve.
For the next 29 km we rode on an asphalted road with occasional traffic.
The ride ended at the village of Riobamba. Our guide and driver packed the bikes in the back of the truck and we headed home.
Biking the Ruta De Las Cascadas
The Waterfall Route, or the Ruta de las Cascadas, is a popular bike route from Banos to Puyo. It's easy to rent a bike in Banos for as little as $5 per day. The 10 mile downhill route takes in almost a dozen waterfalls and almost as many ziplines, cable cars, and other canyon-side attractions. The first waterfall, Agoyan, is the highest waterfall in the Ecuador. We took a cable car ride to get a bird's eye view of the falls.
Random stop for a photo. Water was just pouring out of the cliff and over the rock face.
The most spectacular waterfall along the way was undoubtedly El Pailon del Diablo (Devil's Cauldron). A dramatic 260 ft waterfall tumbling between vertical walls into a deep gorge. As we got closer to the falls, it was obvious that we were going to get wet.
There is a path cut into the rocks to get an even closer and wetter view. You can see the platform in this picture. Of course we walked down to this platform.
It was hard to keep the camera dry.
What a fun time. Shortly after the waterfall, we packed the bikes into the back of a truck, paid a few dollars and got a ride back to Banos.
Since it was still early, we walked into Banos center and enjoyed the atmosphere. The main church in the center, the Church of the Queen of the Holy Water Rosary (Basilica Reina del Rosario de Agua Santa) is built out of volcanic rock.
You can’t walk through Baños without seeing someone standing in the doorway of his shop making melcocha, a sweet taffy made from sugar cane. Each shop installs a wooden peg on the inside of the door frame. The melcocha is wrapped around the peg , then stretched and beaten until it’s just the right texture. Once it’s done to perfection, they cut it in lengths and wrap it, ready for sale.
We ended our evening in Banos with a great sunset.
I really think Ecuador is an under-appreciated destination in South America. We finished up our time in Banos and then drove back to Quito for our flight home.