Baños – A Crazy Little Town in Ecuador

K in Motion Travel Blog. Outside of Banos, Ecuador

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.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Baños - A Crazy Little Town in Ecuador. Welcome to Banos, Ecuador
Welcome to Baños

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.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Baños - A Crazy Little Town in Ecuador. Night In Banos, Ecuador
Where to now?

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.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Baños - A Crazy Little Town in Ecuador. Empty Street at Night In Banos, Ecuador
Where is everyone?

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!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Baños - A Crazy Little Town in Ecuador. Quirky Hostel Signs in Banos, Ecuador K in Motion Travel Blog. Baños - A Crazy Little Town in Ecuador. Quirky Hostel Sign in Banos, Ecuador

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.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Baños - A Crazy Little Town in Ecuador. BBQ Guinea Pigs In Banos, Ecuador
Would you give it a try?

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.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Baños - A Crazy Little Town in Ecuador. Performance Area In Banos, Ecuador
Random performance space

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.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Baños - A Crazy Little Town in Ecuador.Tungurahua Volcano, Outside of Banos, 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.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Baños - A Crazy Little Town in Ecuador. Tungurahua Volcano, Outside of Banos, Ecuador

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!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Baños - A Crazy Little Town in Ecuador. Welcome sign near Tungurahua Volcano, Outside of Banos, Ecuador

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!

Unplanned Activities

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.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Baños - A Crazy Little Town in Ecuador. 2 Wandering Widows. Banos, Ecuador K in Motion Travel Blog. Carload Weeping Widows. Banos, Ecuador

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!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Baños - A Crazy Little Town in Ecuador. Evil Cleansing Bonfire. Banos, Ecuador K in Motion Travel Blog. Baños - A Crazy Little Town in Ecuador. Evil Cleansing Bonfire 2. Banos, Ecuador K in Motion Travel Blog. Evil Cleansing Bonfire Ashes. Banos, Ecuador

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!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Baños - A Crazy Little Town in Ecuador. Banos from the hiking Trail to Casa del Arbor, Ecuador
Baños from the hiking trail to Casa Del Árbol

Getting There

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.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Baños - A Crazy Little Town in Ecuador. Bar on the hiking Trail from Banos to Casa del Arbor, Ecuador
Bar on the hiking Trail from Baños to Casa Del Árbol

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

K in Motion Travel Blog. Baños - A Crazy Little Town in Ecuador. Casa del Arbol, Ecuador
Casa del Árbol

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.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Baños - A Crazy Little Town in Ecuador. Egde of the Mountain at Casa del Arbol, Ecuador
Edge of the Mountain at Casa del Árbol

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.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Baños - A Crazy Little Town in Ecuador. Swing to Heaven at Casa del Arbol, Ecuador
Swing to Heaven

🇪🇨 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 – 👍👍👍👍👍

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The adventure continues in the Northern Peruvian Frontier

A Journey to the Middle of the World

K in Motion Travel Blog. Mitad del Mundo, Quito, Ecuador

Beginning the Journey to the Middle of the World

After a wonderful week in Colombia, I hopped on a bus for the journey to the middle of the world in Ecuador. It was early morning when I left Cali, so I wasn’t quite paying attention to the time. I know I got to Tulcan on the Ecuadorian side of the Rumichaca border crossing, sometime in the afternoon. The border was crowded and the line snaked outside the immigration area for several metres. It looked like it would take an hour just to get to the building entrance.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Ecuador - Journey to the Middle of the World. Ecuadorian side of Rumichaca border
Ecuadorian side of the Rumichaca border

Suitcases, Cats and Waiting

Most people crossing here seemed to have suitcases. Many suitcases. There was a family of 4 that had 10 suitcases between them! I felt like I’d missed a memo while I waited in line with my carry on sized backpack. Despite the obvious delay, everyone was cool, calm and collected. I even noticed a cat, just hanging out in a bag.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Ecuador - Journey to the Middle of the World. Rumichaca border Bag Cat
Border Bag Cat

Once I finally got to a counter in the immigration building, things were moving a lot faster and it was pretty hassle-free. I didn’t even have to fill in an arrival card. The officer seemed kind of amused and sort of flattered that I’d tried to speak to him with my absolutely horrid Spanish. Upon exiting the building, I was treated to a lovely view of a river in the valley below.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Ecuador - Journey to the Middle of the World. Rumichaca Border River
River after immigration

On to Quito

I’d booked the bus all the way through to Quito, so I was able to get back on the coach after passing immigration. I was a bit worried that I had taken too long, but it turns out that there were still people from my bus that hadn’t made it through yet. I took the opportunity to change my remaining Pesos into US$. There are many people wandering around offering currency exchange services. As long as you know what the rates should be, you won’t get taken advantage of.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Ecuador - Journey to the Middle of the World. Hills on the road to Quito, Ecuador
Hills on the road to Quito

From the border, it was still another 250km or 4-5 hours to Quito. Thankfully, there was some lovely scenery to look at along the way. I arrived in Quito after dark. As I’d been travelling for the whole day to get there, I made a beeline for my accommodation in the old town. The old town looked absolutely lovely! The people at the hotel were extremely patient and helpful when answering my 30 million questions. I walked around the old town for a bit after I checked in, because I wasn’t quite ready for bed. What I saw was beautiful, quiet and peaceful. I couldn’t wait to explore the city in the daylight!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Ecuador - Journey to the Middle of the World. Old Town, Quito, Ecuador K in Motion Travel Blog. Old Town, Quito, Ecuador

The Journey to the Middle of the World Starts in Quito

Quito has 2 claims to fame, it is the closest capital city to the equator and it is the second highest capital city in the world. Besides that, it is a city with an amazing amount of character. The old town is awesomely well preserved, owing in part to the fact that it was one of the first World Cultural Heritage Sites to be declared by UNESCO in the 70s. It truly feels like you’ve stepped into another time!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Ecuador - Journey to the Middle of the World. Old Town, Quito, Ecuador K in Motion Travel Blog. Old Town, Quito, Ecuador

It is a fairly low rise, sprawled out mountain city with a hill in the centre. El Panecillo, as the hill is known locally, is home to a 7000 piece aluminium statue called Virgen de el Panecillo. This monument looks like an angel watching over the city and can be seen from almost anywhere in the old town. It is even lit up at night!

Quiet Quito

While Quito may be a decent size city, it feels more like a big country town. Everyone there is so laid back, friendly and helpful. The grid-like construction of the city makes it very easy to find your way around. As much as you may want to, it’s almost impossible to get lost there. Another element of Quito’s charm is its copious amount of green spaces. Among the several parks in the city is Parque La Carolina. A huge inner-city park between two roads that forms a partial border between the new town and the old town.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Ecudaor - Journey to the Middle of the World. Lit Up Fountain, Parque La Carolina, Quito, Ecuador
Parque La Carolina Fountains

Aside from being where all the cool kids get their exercise on during the weekends, it’s also somewhat of a cultural area, with regular art exhibitions and performances happening. It was a great place to sit and reflect, but probably my favourite thing about this city is that there is chicken everywhere! It’s also quite cheap!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Ecuador - Journey to the Middle of the World. Cheap Chicken in Old Town, Quito, Ecuador K in Motion Travel Blog. Ecuador - Journey to the Middle of the World. Open Grill in New Town, Quito, Ecuador

Walking around the city, in both the new and old town, you will find that hole-in-the-wall stores like this one, as well as open grills under canvas shelters are quite common. They also seem to trade until quite late, so you could never go hungry in Quito.

Middle of the World

As I mentioned earlier, Quito is the closest capital city to the Equator. ‘Ecuador’ is actually the Spanish word for ‘equator’. As you could imagine, calling the spot where the equator runs through the country ‘Ecuador’ could get confusing. The locals prefer to call it Mitad del Mundo, or middle of the world.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Ecudaor - Journey to the Middle of the World. Mitad del Mundo, Quito, Ecuador
Mountains in the Middle of the World

The Journey to the middle of the world is easy. Quito has an extensive network of buses that can get you there within an hour. The first part of the journey involves catching a bus from one of the raised bus platforms along one of the city’s main roads. That bus terminates at the Ofelia depot, where you can catch another bus to the road in front of Mitad del Mundo. Your bus driver can indicate where to alight if you ask nicely, but if you’re keeping an eye out, it’s pretty obvious where the site is.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Ecuador - Journey to the Middle of the World. Mitad del Mundo, Quito, Ecuador
Very cheesy welcome banner

Tourism in the Middle of the World

Knowing that it’s a bit of a tourist attraction, the city’s government has of course capitalised on that. They’ve built a kind of middle of the world theme park around where Latitude 0º0’0″ was originally calculated. Unfortunately, that means that you need to pay to enter. The fee is US$2 if you just want to get inside, or $5 if you want to see the museum dedicated to indigenous history and culture located inside the monument.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Ecuador - Journey to the Middle of the World. Monumento Mitad del Mundo, Quito, Ecuador
Monumento Mitad del Mundo

Would you believe I made the journey to the middle of the world to find out that it is not the actual equator? The method used to locate the spot predated GPS. The advent of GPS has shown the actual equator to be around 200m away. So of course there’s a ‘real’ Mitad del Mundo a few minutes away down a dirt road. It costs $4, but isn’t nearly as pretty. Rumour has it that one is not the true equator either. Near enough was good enough for me. Plus, considering that my GPS often shows me 100s of metres from my current location, can it really be trusted?

K in Motion Travel Blog. Ecuador - Journey to the Middle of the World. Equator Line, Mitad del Mundo, Quito, Ecuador
North or South?

Mitad del Mundo

The Mitad del Mundo area that you pay to enter for is manicured and aesthetically beautiful. There were almost no other people around when I was there, so I was able to have a look around with no annoyances. There are some souvenir and craft shops in the area, as well as some Llamas, just hanging out.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Ecuador - Journey to the Middle of the World. Llamas at Mitad del Mundo, Quito, Ecuador

Back in Quito, people had set up their own roadside markets where they sold some curious
looking paper mache figurines. Some were downright freaky, while others were stylised as superheroes.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Ecuador - Journey to the Middle of the World. Freaky Paper Mache Figurines, Quito, Ecuador K in Motion Travel Blog. Ecuador - Journey to the Middle of the World. Superhero Paper Mache Figurines, Quito, Ecuador

Do you know what they’re for? Find out in my next post, where I continue my journey to Banos- A Crazy Little Town in Ecuador.

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K in Motion Travel Blog. Ecuador - A Journey to the Middle of the World
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