Baños de Agua Santa is an Andean town which is situated right by the active Tungurahua volcano (which was covered in cloud the whole time we were there). It is famous for its mineral-rich hot springs, dramatic waterfalls and its adventure activities which brings many tourists (predominately local) to the town. It reminded me of Queenstown in New Zealand.
For the afternoon, 4 of us decided to brave the ziplining, but this was no ordinary ziplining! First up, we ziplined across the canyon, then we had to walk across a ‘bridge’ along the side of the canyon above the roaring river. I put ‘bridge’ in inverted commas as it was less of a bridge and more of metal stepping stones (just big enough for your feet). It was not too bad until someone else got on behind you and it started bouncing around. Next, and the most difficult (for me anyway) was the ‘rock climb’ – again in inverted commas as the rock face did have metal steps in it to help, but the shear climb certainly got by heart racing, especially as we were in charge of ensuring out safety harsh was properly connected at each section. Finally we ziplined back across the canyon. All in all a lot of fun.
Full of adrenaline from the days activities, we spent the night dancing away in one of the many bars in the town.
I had a late start the next day before taking a leisurely stroll around town. A few of us had booked a horse ride for the afternoon but everyone else dropped out at the last minute – I thought that would mean I could not go but as it turns out the owner of the company fancied going out for a ride so agreed to take me. It actually made for a very enjoyable afternoon as we walked/trotted/cantered up in to the mountains chatting about all sorts of things.
Jose, my guide, is a local man who has lived and worked in many other countries and had some amazing stories to tell of treks in the Andes, driving an overland truck through Africa (with a Kiwi co-driver) and working in Interlaken in Switzerland. To top it off he clearly loved his animals and his horses were very well cared for (always a worry when riding in other countries).
As we rode up towards the volcano he stopped at a natural spring to fill up a water bottle – amazingly the water tasted carbonated.
Back from the ride, it was time to soak in the thermal hot pools, probably perfect activity to ensure I am not to sore after the ride (given that I have not ridden for a couple of years I expected to be in pain)!
Our last morning in Baños we visited two of the main sites of the town – the first was Pailon del Diablo (or the Devil’s Cauldron). A large waterfall with a churning bowl of water at the bottom. You could get fairly close to the rushing water if you were prepared to get soaking wet – in fact you got pretty wet not getting close either!
Our next stop was at the “Swing at the end of the world” – obviously not really at the end of the world, but off the end of a cliff, that, if the weather is clear is right in front of the volcano! It was made famous by a National Geographic photo in 2014 of someone on the swing with the volcano erupting behind! It was certainly rather scary swinging off the edge of the hill side but of course it had to be done!
At 4pm we set off on our 7 hour bus journey to Cuenca – our last stop in Ecuador. The bus was not too bad but I struggled to slept and was grateful for all my snacks and netflixs!
Cuenca (full name Santa Ana de los Rios de Cuenca) is a city in the southern part of the Ecuadorian Andes and is know for its handicrafts, in particular Panama Hats. Incidently, did you know that Panama Hats actually come from Ecuador? Many Ecuadorian workers joined others from all over the world to help build the Panama canal and with them they took their hats to keep the sun off their heads. Other workers also liked the hats and so they bought in more hats for other workers to wear. When the Panama Canal was officially opened by US President Theodore Roosevelt he saw how popular they were and assumed that the hats were Panamanian – the rest, as they say, is history.
We spent the morning seeing the sights, including a Panama hat factory/shop and a view point over the city before stopping for lunch at a busy local road side restaurant, whose speciality was pork and cuy (guinea pig to you and me!). I opted for the pork but tried the cuy and it was not bad – a cross between chicken and pork in my opinion.
We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing before heading out for dinner and a few drinks in an effort to stay awake until our 2.30am departure.
I must admit, this additional time in mainland Ecuador was a bit of an after thought in my trip planning as Ecuador is really part of the standard tourist route as other South America countries, but as with Panama, it turned out to one I am really glad I did and I look forward to coming back to explore the country further.
So it was not really goodbye, just see you next year!