Baños, Ecuador

In my tourist guide book for South America there are highlights listed for each country. And while I try to visit some of them, it’s not always possible to get to see them all. There six places listed for Ecuador, including a town known for a busy tourism industry and for its thermal pools and the currently erupting volcano, Tungurahua….and so we head to the small town of Baños.
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It’s only an hour or two from Ambato and Julio and his wonderful parents suggest places to eat and to stay after we leave them this morning. They have shared with us that each region of Ecuador is known to have its own special type of liqueur and its own special type of candy. Baños is known for a hard type of taffy….and as we ride through town when we arrive, I see several stores with fresh candy being made.
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The road has descended through a few villages, one of which must be the jeans and denim capital of this country, on the way in from Ambato and we drop into a nearly tropical cleft between mountain ridges. The ridge to our right is mostly made up of the giant volcano, Tungurahua. If you find the right viewing point you can sit and watch red lava running down the peak from the crater high above Baños at night. We plan to camp on an opposite ridge while we are here, but unfortunately it rains every day and the clouds never clear for us to see it.

As the name implies (Baños means Baths) the town is known for its thermal pools where you can swim and enjoy the healing waters that are heated by the volcano. As we walk through town on our way to one of the public pools, I can see a large waterfall descending to the pools themselves.
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These are the pools of the Virgen of Agua Santa and although we don’t go for a swim the first day we stop to see it, we do come back on a weekday morning when the crowd is gone. The falls run down the side of a mountain on the edge of town and some of the water is collected into the pools and heated by the geothermal energy from the volcano.
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Some of the water is diverted to provide refreshingly ice cold showers after you get out of the pools. There are several pools, ranging in heat from cold, to very hot. The water is a cloudy yellow color and when we climb in we can’t see more than a few inches down into it. To be honest, it’s not very appealing, but at least it doesn’t smell bad like some thermal pools do.
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Baños is filled with tourists and all the things they bring – restaurants, cute hostels, shops, etc. There’s a beautiful church on the main square. And lots of shopping to be found, including tons of stalls selling sweets.
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I love all the street art in Ecuador….it’s so good!
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One day the rain clears up and we decide to take a ride up to the Casa del Arbol – Tree House – above the city. A cab winds us around the mountain to the side and then zigs and zags its way to the top where we I get to swing on the edge of the mountain. It’s incredibly beautiful.
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Instead of taking a cab back down we opt to walk the trail down the ridge of the mountain back into Baños. The trail is damp from all the rain and very slick, worse than I had been prepared for after I find out how vertical it is. It’s basically for a 45 degree drop into town for about 2 miles.
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I expect to go sliding down the mountain any second, but still I stop to take photos of the orchids and other flowers that grow all along the path….alongside ferns, bamboo, vines and other beautiful plants.
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We wind our way down to the giant statue of the Virgin Mary, or Virgen as she is known here, who watches over the city below.
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And the rest of the trail is stairs down to town, so much easier than the ridgeline trail. As we leave we look back and see the clouds around the top of Tungurahua have cleared and the volcano has just sent up a big puff of black ash and smoke from its crater.
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Now….off to grab a beer and maybe see a movie at Casa Hood, a great place owned by an American who moved here over 20 years ago. Baños is lovely…I can see why he stayed.

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