From thermal baths to a snowy volcano, EC

December 11, 2017, Trip: Ecuador
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December 11th, 2017

Destination: Baños.

This popular holiday/weekend spot is along the Route of the Waterfalls and is known for its thermal baths (actual name of town is Baños de Agua Santa – baths of holy water). As mentioned before, these are not our favourite spots to visit. The main thing we wanted to see/do was the “swing over the edge of the world”; an actual swing over a valley near a volcano.

We left Quito and a couple of hours later, drove on through the small touristy city of Baños and made our way 12km/7m up into the hills to a hostel we thought looked good on iOverlander. Hosteria Las Orquideas was fairly close to the original famous “swing” at Casa del Arbol (tree house) and it offered wifi and hot showers – both of which we’d more of less been without for several days.

Camped beneath Volcan Tungurahua

The views here are spectacular with mountains, an active volcano (no lava), llamas, farmer’s fields and lots of greenery in the sunshine. It’s not close to the city at all but we knew we had enough food/drink to last at least three days, so we were good.

We got settled and had lunch before catching up on internet stuff. It clouded over before dinner and we had a few several small showers but they did not seem to last all night.

We awoke to sunshine and managed to see the top of Volcano Tungurahua (5016M/16456’) before it got clouded in. There was a tiny patch of snow/glacier up top. After brekkie and chores we took the 2km walk up to Casa Del Arbol – it was all uphill on a cobblestone road. This is the famous “swing over the edge of the world”. There are actually two other sites with swings and even here, they have a second pair higher swings just down from the tree house pair. Upon arriving we saw a few others made it before us but it was not busy (we’d heard weekends can be crazy busy here so we planned this for a Monday).

For a whole US dollar you can swing on the four swings as often as you want. They also offer a short zipline and few other lame activities but we were focused on the swing. The original two swings are on either side of a tree house that you can also climb up to get views. The seats have a wooden bottom, a strap in back to hold you in and carabiner type strap that you do up in front for safety.

It was quite a fun little trip and we tried out both pairs of swings. We met a lovely couple from Spain, Juan Antony and Maria and we took turns take pictures of each other.

Next stop on the way back was the Mirador of the Volcano but it was mostly hidden from view this time of day. Further on down the same road that led back to the Hostel, was the Columpio (means swing in Spanish) where there are two larger swings and a small café. This is situated at different angle than Casa del Arbol and here you get views of mountains across from the city (not the volcano) and you overlook the city of Baños itself. The rides are much more expensive here; there’s a very tall double swing for $10pp or a bit shorter single one for $8pp. We sat and enjoyed the view over a tasty fresh juice.

Fran chickened out on these and Doug took the double one by himself. The Spanish couple arrived in time to see him do it and also opted not to ride. Doug enjoyed it but it was over pretty quick.

Then we walked back to the hostel for the afternoon. Again around 4:30 the clouds rolled in, the thunder began and we had several short showers. It rained a lot overnight and guess what?: the wall above the back window was wet again although not dripping.

We decided to spend another two nights here as we’re comfy and it’s quiet. We thought we’d take the local bus into town to check it out but it began raining after brekkie and it stayed moist until almost lunch time. When the clouds were higher, we could see that the rain we’d had here was actually snow atop the volcano – spectacular! The sun didn’t poke out until midafternoon so we hung around in the restaurant/common area near the fireplace for the day except for a walk when the sun did emerge. We enjoyed some hot soup and hot cocoa for lunch. It wasn’t that cold really, just damp.  Next morning we got this:

 

Fran spotted many pretty flowers on her walk:

We awoke to clear skies on Wednesday and spent the morning around camp before taking the 1pm bus into Baños itself. We took a walk around town, had some $1 churros then checked out two of the thermal bath places; one was pretty new and modern and charge $6 pp and the other was the original one (same name) and wanted $2 but was pretty run down and not enticing. We had brought out swimsuits but opted not to go at all. We found a grocery store and picked up some items before taking a taxi back to the hostel.

Cathedral on the square

a Baños tour bus

Cascada de la Virgen right next to inexpensive pools

Thursday morning we decided to enjoy breakfast at the hostel restaurant and there was a couple of Americans staying there; Michael and his daughter, Amanda were touring Ecuador a bit before she returns home to Minnesota; she just completed a three month stint in the Galapagos as part of her marine biology degree – got be all downhill from here!

We left midmorning and made our way east to Pailón del Diablo – the Devil’s Cauldron waterfalls. You park your vehicle and hike about one km down a steep path to entrance where you pay $1.50 and you can walk out to see the falls, walk behind them and walk across a suspension bridge to get a better view of it. This was quite enjoyable and the falls were amazing – the hike behind them was quite wet and it was a crawl, not a walk.

Then we drove a little further along the Highway E30 to enjoy the scenery on this route before turning around and checking out another water fall off the side of the road

then a third one called the Bride’s Veil where you can take a bucket type cable car across the river to get a closer look but you don’t actually get off on the other side; you just return. It cost $2 and a was fun ride.

 

We now decided to check the other thermal baths on the other side of Baños which we read were pretty good and only $3. We found a hotel on iOverlander very close to the spa that offers overlanding parking for $5pp (same price as we are paying now) and decided to spend another night in this area.

Casa Giraldi let us park in their secure lot and allowed us use of the bathrooms by their pool which included hot showers and gave us the password for their internet. We walked back into town first to have a lunch out. We found a little pizza place near the main square and then walked back to Tigger.

We relaxed for a while and then headed over to the El Salado baths. Turns out we had to buy a swimming cap (apparently they all require this) but of course, there was a small shop outside the spa that sells them for a dollar. We then paid our $3 and entered the spa. There were six pools here; the pools that contain the “mineral” waters have a quite golden tint to the water and don’t look that inviting but we got past this and after changing entered what we were told was the “warm” one. There are four mineral pools and two cold water pools. There were maybe five other guests in the whole place that day. We spent about fifteen minutes in the first one which was really just bathtub warm and then braved what we were told was the “hot” one. It was more hot tub like and we went in here a few times, cooling off in between. Fran took one dip in the cold pool, Doug stepped in but didn’t dunk in. There was actually quite a breeze so you could cool off outside the water pretty quickly.

After rinsing off and getting dressed we returned to Tigger and spent a mostly quiet night (there was one annoying rooster that called out many times during the night). Come morning we did some exercise, showered, had brekkie and left Baños. We never figured on spending five nights here but we enjoyed our time.

We left town and headed back towards the PanAm through Ambato to stop for supplies in a larger city. Enroute Doug saw what looked like another overlander behind us in a silver Toyota with a pop up camper on the back. Pullouts are rare on Latin American highways but as we approached a small village, we found one and pulled over hoping they’d stop too. They did and we met John, a German who’d spent time in Victoria, Canada as well as lived in the US. His vehicle has Arizona plates and he was travelling with a young woman from Austria, Mikaela, whom he’d just met yesterday in Baños and since she was heading the same way as him and was backpacking, he offered her ride. We chatted for about ten minutes and then we both hit the road to go our separate ways. Perhaps we’ll meet again on the road one day….

We crawled through Ambato to the big grocery store, got gas outside the city and made our way to Laguna Quilotoa – a crater lake west of the PanAm.  Enroute we stopped outside the city of Salcedo which is known for its ice cream treats so we had to stop and try some.

We had been at the Laguna back in 2011 but it was so spectacular we decided to come back again and maybe hike the rim.  View along the way:

We enter the village of Quilotoa, paid our “entrance fee” of $3 and got parked in a public lot for free for the night. There are a few restaurants with wifi and restrooms that are open during daylight but no other services. We are up at 3800+ meters (12,500’+) and it’s comfortable until the sun goes down….

We went for a walk along the crater, less than a kilometre to see the lake from various spots; it’s lovely but it was much greener (we remember a more teal blue colour and have photos of same) so we’re wondering now if we shouldn’t have come so that our memory of this place was intact. Oh well, we’re here and we’ll spend the night. (the lightning was not great for these pics and they are not as emerald green as the lake looked to us that day)

Fog rolled in around five rolled back out and then returned all within a half hour.

It was a cold but not freezing night and not windy at all as we’d been led to believe it would be.

We were up early (Doug hardly slept due to altitude and Fran’s sleep was pretty broken after 3am) and seeing as it was sunny out we went to check out the lake. Unfortunately the sun was not high enough yet and the crater rim cast a lot of shadow. We went back to Tigger, had breakfast and went out again for better views.

We decided one night up this high was enough and we hit the road heading to a hostel near Cotopaxi that Christine and Mark told us was nice and had great views of the volcano. Enroute we had lovely views of the valley, gorges and mountains including the twin peaks of Ilinzosa, the southern peak has snow and ice but not the northern one. As we approached the PanAm we began seeing Cotopaxi in all its glory but we have to say there is not as much snow and ice on it as back in 2011; sad.

We arrived at Rondador before lunch and got set up with power; they have wifi and hot showers as well. By the time we got set up the volcano was clouding in and so we had a bit to eat and then each went for a walk doing a Spanish lesson.

That night it was cool/cold but not nearly as cold as the previous night. We awoke Sunday to overcast skies but once the sun was higher in the sky, it got brighter and blue patches appeared. We decided to make our way into Cotopaxi National Park (we’d been there back in 2011 too) and get some volcano views. Doug went to tell Fernando at the hostel, we were going out for day but would be back and he checked his camera on the mountain and said it was a good move. Once we drove higher a few hundred metres, we began to see the volcano in all its glory and the weather held for us until we returned.

When we’d been here in 2011, we’d been driven to the end of the road parking lot at 4580m/15,026’ and then hiked up to the refugio where the snow line was at that time. Sadly, now the snow has melted and the snow line is much higher and the right side of the glacier is pretty thing or just snow in most places. The left side still has a fair amount of ice though.

We stopped a few times going up for photo ops and some “selfies”. The road was paved to past the entry point but was then gravel and lots of washboard after that and pretty bad right before the parking lot but Tigger managed okay. It’s a pretty darn spectacular site.

Since we’d hiked this before, Fran opted out of doing it again (didn’t want to spoil that memory like we’d done at Quilotoa) but Doug wanted to get to 5000m/16,404’ so he went on this own. He was up and back in less than 1.5 hours and was very happy with making it to 5019m \16,466’.

We drove part way down and stopped at the small marine laguna and saw a few birds. The clouds were settling in around Cotopaxi and the sky was now pretty overcast along the roadway.

last look at the volcano before we drove lower down and it was lost in the clouds…

We returned to the Rondador Hostel and had a quiet rest of the day.

We exercised, showered and unhooked on Monday morning as we decided we’d head back into Quito to the military park lot to spend a couple of nights so we had access to malls/shopping to do some last minute stuff.

Enroute we stopped to get Tigger “showered”

and to fill our propane tank and after reading iOverlander, were prepared for a long wait of at least 1.5 hours but we were done in 40 minutes; may have paid to show up just as they were breaking for lunch!

We arrived back at the Military Parkade in Quito and Sam & Don (from Toronto) whom we’d met at Colibri Hostel a few weeks back; they had just gotten back from 19 days in the Galapagos.

We asked them to join us to go out for dinner and after picking a pub style restaurant in La Mariscal district, lo and behold, didn’t we meet other overlanders: Jeff & Cassandra (he’s American, she’s Ecuadorian), whom we’d met in Ibarra, at our first campsite in this country. About 15 minutes late, a young German couple walked by whom Sam and Don had been on the Galapagos cruise with them! Small world.

Tuesday said goodbye to Sam and Don (for now….) as they were meeting his mother who was flying into Quito for ten days so they were going to be hoteling it for awhile. We walked to a few shopping malls trying to Christmas shop for small items but not a lot of luck. We had a cabbie take us to a more locals type of shopping area but didn’t have much luck there either.

The next morning we asked Cassandra about shopping spots to find stocking stuffer type things and she pointed us in a better direction.

Before going shopping Doug decided to tackle that darn back wall in the back of Tigger that keeps leaking over the window. He removed the window frames and blinds and then cut out the wall and removed the insulation. Now we should be able to see from where the water is coming (fingers crossed!).

We went shopping and had more success today. Fran also dropped off a big bag of laundry at the Lavenderia to pick up tomorrow before we leave to head back to Colibri hostel where we’ll spend the next days and then leave Tigger while we fly to Canada at a cost of $1 a day!

Our rig in the middle, Joe’s on the far right and another stored rig on the left at Colibri Hostel

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