Heading South to a Crazy Little Town in Ecuador
Having had an enormous amount of fun exploring the Ecuadorian capital of Quito, it was time to head south. I had originally planned on going straight to Guayaquil, but on a whim, decided to take a 1 day detour to a crazy little town in Ecuador called Baños. Why? Because someone told me there was a swing there. True story.
It was possibly also because Baños was only a $4 bus ride that was 4 hours away, compared to 8 hours for Guayaquil. I’d been travelling overland for quite a few weeks by that point and wasn’t looking forward to the prospect of spending the whole day on a bus. So I left Quito in the afternoon and got into the Terminal Terrestre Baños, a little bit north of the town, in the evening.
The official name of this small Andean town is named Baños de Agua Santa, or Baths of Sacred Water. That name was given because of the numerous hot springs in the area. Baños was very quiet at night. Although it wasn’t that late when I arrived, it seemed like everyone had already gone to sleep.
It was fairly easy to find my hostel because, like Quito, this town had a grid-like set-up. So Baños was turning out to be quite lovely, but it was only when I entered my accommodation, that I realised it was also a little bit quirky. I do love quirky!
Semi-Planned Adventures in a Crazy Little Town in Ecuador
The next day, I decided to walk around the town for a bit to see what was going on. It wasn’t long before I was in the town centre and looking at barbecued Guinea Pigs. Yes, Guinea Pigs. Apparently, they’re a local delicacy. So of course, I had to try one. It may have looked a bit freaky. I mean each one on the grill looked like it was about to attack, but it tasted like chicken.
While walking around, I spied many random performance spaces, as well as several companies that specialised in adventure tours. Everything from mountain biking and ATVing, to rafting and paragliding near the Tungurahua Volcano. I later found out that Baños was known as the adventure capital of Ecuador; as if I needed another reason to like the place.
I took the last spot on the paragliding tour for that day without thinking that the tour finished too late to get the bus out to Guayaquil. It seems my 1 day stopover in Baños was turning into a multiple day stopover. I was not bothered by that at all, as it was turning out to be a very interesting and crazy little town in Ecuador.
Tungurahua Volcano Paragliding
After about an hour of driving on some pretty windy mountain roads, we ended up at the site where we would start our paragliding adventure. What an amazing view! The clouds seemed to be framing the Tungurahua Volcano perfectly that day. Our guide was a bit worried about the wind strength and advised us that he wanted to wait about 45 minutes to see if it would die down a bit.
None of us had any problem with waiting, because the view was absolutely breathtaking! We watched the windsock in front of us intently and would get excited when it dropped a bit. Our guide was still playing it safe though. Just when we’d all lost hope of being able to get up in the air, he announced that the adventure was on!
I swear you’ve never seen people get changed into horrible jumpsuits more quickly than we did that day. In that afternoon, we definitely spent more time waiting or in transit than we did in the air, but that 20 minutes where we did get to ‘fly’ was freaking awesome!
Because it was New Year’s Eve, this crazy little town in Ecuador was in full party mode by the time I got back. There were traffic jams being caused by kids holding ropes across the roads to stop cars. The children would only put the ropes down to let cars pass after the occupants of the car had made a donation. Then I noticed there were men driving around town dressed as women. First there were only 2, but then they multiplied.
I asked a local what was going on and they advised me that these guys were the wandering widows or viudas. It’s a bit of a new year tradition in Ecuador for men to dress in drag. While in drag, they wander the streets, asking for money. These cash handouts go towards helping them start their new lives as ‘widows’. These guys had something slightly different in mind –
Out With the Old, in With the New
So remember those paper mache figurines mentioned here? They are known in Spanish as año viejo which means old year. They are made as a symbolic representation of everything bad and evil from the proceeding year. What do you do with all the bad stuff? You get rid of it, right? But how do you make sure it’s completely gone and will never come back? Stack and burn the effigies!
Then how do you ring in the new?
That’s how they do it in Baños!
Swing on The Edge of The World
This was the reason I’d initially made the detour to Baños, so now that the craziness had died down, it was time to do it! There are a few ways of getting to La Casa Del Árbol, or The Treehouse, which contains the ‘Swing on the Edge of the World’. Some people might choose their transit method depending on how bad their hangover is, I guess. A round trip in a taxi would cost about $15, or there’s a public bus that goes up for around 50￠. It only departs about 4 times a day though. You could also walk the 10km up the windy mountain road, but I chose to take a hiking trail that I found behind the town!
The trail was actually quite steep, as it goes almost directly up the side of the mountain. Although I didn’t see a single soul on the trail when I went up, it was obvious that the trail has become popular with visitors to the area. I came across a few makeshift tin sheds or wooden shacks labelled as bars on the way up. Only one was open, but I presume they’re all open during the busy season, to fulfill your refreshment needs.
There were also many farms and greenhouses on the way up and at one point, the trail became the dirt road that the residents use to access their properties. Not that any vehicles were using it at the time. It was very quiet and peaceful actually. I finally found my way to the car park for Casa del Árbol, where there were signposts to help me on my way. There is a large area at the top which has been cordoned off, to make sure that people pay their $1 entry fee. Inside that area are some small ziplines and play areas for kids, but my eye was on the prize!
La Casa Del Árbol/The Treehouse
After walking past the zipline and park areas, I laid my eyes on the Treehouse. While I wouldn’t say that the area was super crowded, there were certainly a few people there. That of course meant that there was a bit of a line. I reluctantly joined the end of the line because what else was I going to do after going all that way? Some people were freaking out about the fact that they were about to swing over the edge of the mountain. I offered my support to calm them down while I waited for my turn. It turns out the whole thing is quite serene. It probably feels more like floating than anything.
Swing to Heaven
What isn’t serene is what’s on the other side of the mountain. That’s probably where the thrillseekers would want to be. You see, some enterprising soul has decided to capitalise on the popularity of the treehouse by creating a ‘Swing to Heaven’ behind the treehouse. While it may not be everyone’s idea of heaven, for $4, it’s a pretty cheap thrill.
🇪🇨 Ecuador Summary 🇪🇨
In a few words – surprising and crazy
Language – Ecuadorian Spanish
Currency – United States Dollar (USD)
WiFi availability – 📶📶📶📶
All hostels/hotels seem to have pretty decent WiFi. In smaller towns, you could easily walk back to your accommodation if you can’t find WiFi elsewhere
Transport – 🚗🚗🚗🚗🚗
🚍 Intercity coaches run regularly and generally end up costing about $1 per hour of travelling
🚐 Buses run regularly in cities/towns and cost around US$0.50 per ride
Roads – 🛣🛣🛣🛣🛣
All roads were sealed and in good condition, although some mountain roads were quite narrow.
Scenery – 🌳⛰🏞🏖🌳
Ecuador is very green, with mountains, waterfalls, rivers and forests inland, then beaches in coastal areas
Prices – 💰💰
Ecuador is a budget travellers paradise! Accommodation is fairly cheap and a meal from a street vendor will rarely put you out more than $4
Border efficiency – 🛃🛃🛃🛃
Aside from a little bit of a wait on the way in, immigration officers seemed to be on-the-ball and processed visitors fairly quickly
Overall – 👍👍👍👍👍
The adventure continues in the Northern Peruvian Frontier