Monday, February 17, 2014

Back To The Mountains of Ecuador: Baños and The Surrounding Area

After spending the better part of our 90-day visa on the coast, we headed for the hills to spend our last 2 weeks in the mountains. We welcomed the cooler air and fantastic scenery. One of the dilemmas with heading to the mountains from the coast of Ecuador is that there are not many good places to stay at a reasonable altitude in order to acclimate. Within 50 miles, you climb from near sea-level to 10,000 feet. This is a recipe for headaches, gastrointestinal issues, and a restless night's sleep. 

Our first stop was Sangay National Park where we peaked at nearly 12,000 feet. We had to drive ourselves back down the other side of the continental divide to find a suitable altitude for our first night's sleep. Sangay National Park was beautiful, but a bit frustrating. It has a massive, paved, winding road right through the middle of it, but no pull-offs, hiking trails, or tourist services at all.  There are towering peaks, deep gorges, lakes, and waterfalls right on the edge of the road. It was gorgeous, but the clouds were pretty thick, so our pictures don't do it justice.

Sangay National Park - deep gorges and towering peaks covered by clouds

In our effort to find a hiking trail, we ended up walking up a trail that led us to some religious offerings. We aren't really sure what the story is -- whether it is related to Christianity, the local indigenous religion, or most likely, a mixture of both. This lucky god received a chicken (pluck it yourself, god), rum, a bunch of fruit, and some greenery. Unlike the other offerings, this one even had it's silk cloth pegged to the ground.

The gods do not go hungry in Sangay National Park

We gave up on Sangay NP after staying for 2 nights because of the wind, clouds, sleeting rain, and lack of accessibility. We had to make a decision about our next stop. Baños was a logical destination, but we weren't sure if we would like Baños. We had read that it was a tourist zoo - zip lines over river canyons, crowded hot-spring baths, etc. We made the decision to go, and we are so happy that we did. We absolutely loved the area surrounding Baños - towering green peaks, a deep river gorge, waterfalls galore, and a giant barren volcano overlooking it all. We ended up staying in the area for a week.

The nighttime scene at the main hot springs in town. People were packed in there like sardines.
At least they were all wearing shower caps.

Our first night in Baños we parked out of town at a popular overlander stop (Pequeño Paraiso). The location was far from town and the parking situation was very tight. For that reason, we recommend that other travelers email ahead of time to see if they have room. For the rest of the week we found free parking in some amazing locations throughout the area that were much better. 

The night view of Baños from one of our fantastic camping spots.

When we arrived, it had been raining really hard in Baños for the previous 4 days and the forecast suggested there would be no reprieve. The owner of Pequeño Paraiso recommended that we leave Baños immediately to go somewhere with less rain and mud. We were really confused about the advice, as it seemed silly for us to drive all the way to Baños to literally turn around without even seeing a waterfall!

The river gorge right in the town of Baños

We stuck around, and the rain let up after only one day. Que suerte (how lucky)! We visited all of the big and more popular waterfalls as well as the infamous Casa de Arbol (treehouse) with a swing overlooking the volcano and the valley below. Not bad for a place we were hesitant to visit! Pictures below:

How would you like to be the dudes who had to construct this stairway?

Scott was quite weary of the integrity of this swing, but that's not why he's wearing a helmet
(we rode our bikes to La Casa de Arbol)

1 comment:

Erica said...

That swing looks really scary! Cool pictures and great post. Can't wait to visit there.