What to do in Baños, Ecuador

Oh Baños… how I love you so! In just three days I feel like I did so much in this tiny jungle town. Here are some of my top picks from the endless possibilities you can fill your days with in Baños!

Visit the Casa del Árbol

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A $15 taxi ride will take you from the town center, up the mountain and back. On the side of the mountain you’ll find a rickety tee house with two swings hanging off of either side. With just a loose rope around you, there’s basically nothing holding you onto the swing. But that’s the fun of it! Try to go early in the day to avoid the hoards of tourists and tour groups who have, too, discovered this gem.

Do Go Chasing Waterfalls

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TLC had it all wrong – Biking the Ruta de Cascadas is a must-do for any adventure-lover in Ecuador. You can rent a bike from any tour company in town for as little as $6 a day. Such a steal! Just don’t get hit by any cars on the road. The route is on the main road between Baños and Puyo, a.k.a. it’s pretty busy. Make sure you go all the way to the Pailon del Diablo, the most impressive waterfall on the route!

Take a Spa Day

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Need a break from all your adventuring? No problem at all. It’s not hard to find a cheap massage here, in a town known for its spa treatments! Check out and relax in the hot springs the town was named after, too!

Check out the Eco Zoologico San Martín

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Be prepared for lots of stairs, but also lots of Ecuadorian animals that you might not get to see otherwise! My favorites were the monkeys, of course. It wasn’t the biggest zoo, but it certainly had character. Buses run there from the town center every 20 or so minutes and they aren’t hard to find!

Go zip-lining!

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My dad told me he’d pay for me to go zip-lining on my trip. Lucky for him my zip-lining stint ended up a grand total of $5! Baños is full of cheap adventures, perfect for thrill seekers everywhere.

Go canyoning, canopying, rafting, bridge jumping, or whatever floats your adventure-seeking boat!

There are tour companies lining the streets of Baños, so it isn’t hard to find a good quote on one of these activities. Have some fun in the adventure capital of Ecuador!


As you can see, there is so much to do in this tiny town tucked between the Andes and the rainforest. Which activity would be on the top of your to-do list?!

A Jam-Packed Week in Quito

Our last week in Quito Emily and I had a long list of things to do, especially since we’d already missed out on so much from me being sick the first week and her being sick the next. (If you go rafting, don’t swallow any water. Just don’t.) Monday we explored the Centro Historico with David and Mido. We saw some incredible churches and Emily went inside the Iglesia de la Compania which is an all-gold church. You had to pay a few bucks to enter so I didn’t, because I’m super duper cheap now and I wasn’t all that interested.

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Honestly there wasn’t much for us to do in the Historical Center besides shop for trinkets similar to those we found at Otavalo. The buildings were super pretty though, and more like what I’d expected Quito to look like.

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Tourist shot at the Plaza San Francisco

Tourist shot at the Plaza San Francisco

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On our way back Emily had her change purse stolen out of her purse on the Ecovia bus. We’re lucky it was only change though, and that that’s all we had stolen during our time in Ecuador. I really felt safe the whole time there. Except for when we were looking for a used bookstore and some guys across the street were yelling “3 dollars!” at us. I thought they were selling food or something. But then a nice man who spoke very good English pulled up to us in his car and said, “Ladies, it’s not safe here. Those men are dealing drugs, you need to leave this corner.” So we left. Quickly. (When we found the bookstore though, I bought two books… in French. One was a book called Ecuador about a Frenchman who explored the country in the 1930s and the other was Embarrassments in French and How to Avoid them. I was excited about my finds!)

Tuesday Emily and I did the TeleferiQo, the gondola lift at the edge of Quito to the side of Pichincha Volcano. It took us from Quito’s regular altitude of 10,000 feet to the very high 12,943 feet. It was hard to breathe. I felt like I did when I first arrived in Ecuador. But the view was definitely worth it, and worth the pricey $8 ticket up there. There’s a trail from the lift to the top of the volcano that takes a few hours but we just weren’t up for it…

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"Traveling, life is richer"

“Traveling, life is richer”

Wednesday we went to a free salsa class our school put on. Later that night we practiced our moves at Ladies’ Night in the Mariscal. Everyone we talked to kept saying there’s free drinks for ladies on Ladies’ Night all over Gringolandia from 8 to 10 so Emily and I went earlier than the rest of our group to see what was going on. Well, we couldn’t find free drinks anywhere. We finally gave up and bought a 2-for-1 special that our waitress recommended and UGH!!! Worst drink I’ve ever had! (Although that’s not saying much… I’ve only ever had a few.) It literally tasted and looked like Pepto Bismol. So yeah. But finally at 9:30 our friends from the school showed up and brought us to the discoteca where the free drinks were, Bungalow. From 8-10 there they have girls enter in one door and guys from the other, and separate them until 10:00 when they can start to mingle. It was interesting.

Thursday we went with David to Mitad del Mundo, the equator monument. The huge monument there isn’t actually where the real equator is though. They built it before GPS and technology stuff could find where the line exactly is. So we took a few pictures with the monument, shopped around at the many shops selling Otavalo-like souvenirs, and set off the find the real equator line.

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I saw online that there was another nearby museum on the real equator so we searched for that. It was only about 200m away on the main road and then onto a hidden dirt road. They should really make it easier to find. Well, this museum was 100x better than the “official” monument because there were experiments set up, guides actually showing you around, and shrunken heads. Gross, but I thought they were really cool to see. Our guide explained the whole process to us, how they take out the skull and put rocks in to keep some of the shape… They also had a sloth shrunken head there… I don’t know why.

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Cabezas reducidas

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David balancing an egg on the equator

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As a geography freak I was soooo thrilled to stand on the actual equator. The experiments our guide showed us were pretty cool, too. They had a tub full of water and when they drained it on the equator, the water fell straight down the drain. When they moved it to the north, the water funneled down one way and on the south it funneled the other way. Pretty neat.

That was my busy week of after-school activities in Quito. For our last long weekend in Ecuador Emily and I headed to Baños, my favorite town in the country. More on that next…

Otavalo

Saturday morning Emily and I headed 2 hours north of Quito to the small town of Otavalo, known mostly for its Saturday Market (the biggest in South America). The bus ride there was short and sweet, with some nice views, as seen below!

Once we got there we dove right into the market. It was huge and so easy to get lost in – but I didn’t mind. I love shopping.

I loved seeing the Otavalan people in their traditional clothing. They’re apparently the most properous indigenous group in South America though!

There was a LOT of llama stuff. I’m sad though because I haven’t even seen a llama here yet!

I got some pretty good deals using my previously non-existant haggling skills. I did research online ahead of time and saw that, especially if you’re a foreigner like me, they’ll up the price to twice as much as usual so you have to bargain. So my rule of thumb was to ask for half of what they quoted and work my way to a deal. Most of the stuff was pretty cheap, but I did ask about this one tiny, tiny elephant that was made out of opal (my birthstone) and it was $55. What?! The silver jewelry was about $15 a necklace, scarves could be bought for under $5, and little knick knacks could be haggled down to a dollar. I won’t post what I bought here because most of it is gifts for family and friends who read this, but I did get a buddha necklace (super random but really cute!) for $3 for myself, along with some Otavalan dolls ($2 each) and shakers made out of gourds for my future classroom ($3 each).

For lunch we went to a pizzeria and I got a Pizza Blanca for $3.50 (steal!!!). It was so good. It had onions and garlic and oh my I was in heaven. For dinner that night we went to another Italian place (I know, I need to broaden my dining choices) and I got the same exact kind of pizza. Delicious again. This restaurant happened to be playing the Patriots-Ravens football game. In the middle of the Andes. In a little indigenous town. American football. But the Pats won! Woo!!

Our hostel for the night, Hosteria Rose Cottage, was amazing. It was a 3km taxi ride from the town center but it was so worth it… It was on the top of a hill overlooking the mountains and valleys and pictures just don’t do its surroundings justice.

The owner was very nice (and very British), there were animals on the property (yayyy!), and breakfast was included. What more could you ask for? Oh, and there were hammocks everywhere.

Emily and I booked two single rooms and had a whole little cottage to ourselves! We checked in after lunch, headed back to the market for a little while and to eat dinner, and came back around 6. I brought back my pizza bones for the three dogs at the hostel. They were so cute and so sweet but so skinny! I had to fatten them up. We also gave them Emily’s leftover pasta. And I gave them pretty much every scrap piece of food I could find.

That’s my babygirl Chincha. She was the sweetest little thing. I really wanted to take her back with me (sorry Dad).

One of my other puppies giving me kisses. Mis perritos queridos.

“Santa’s Little Helper” enjoying the view.

Here’s me giving kisses to the hostel’s donkey…

…and Exibit A of the owner’s Britishness:

I found this gem in the reception office. Haha!

One of the coolest things at the hostel (to me, at least) was this map of where people who have stayed there are from.

I put my pushpin in little ole Western Maryland, which I thought was in the middle of nowhere until I came to Ecuador and saw some places that reallyare in the middle of nowhere.

Emily and I spent the evening playing cards by the fire in the hostel’s restaurant. She won.

The next morning (this morning) we ate breakfast at 8 and set out on a hike to find the waterfall, Cascada Taxopamba, that was only an hour’s walk from the hostel. It was quite the hike, but definitely worth it. I’d never been that close to a waterfall that big!

I’m so tiny!!!

So that was my Otavalo trip. Now I’m starting my last week in Quito (wahhh) and planning next weekend’s trip to Banos. I don’t want to leave Ecuador!

Into the jungle…

Last week our teacher asked Emily and I if we wanted to ir a la selva para ver los monos and of course we said YES!! So we went to the Megamaxi to wait for him so we could travel to Tena together on New Years afternoon and we waited… and waited… and finally gave up. That night we figured out it was a big miscommunication on timing. He had left at 10 that morning. Woops. So the next morning we set off to Tena on our own with two of our classmates, David from Germany and Mido from Egypt. We left our house at 4:30am, walked a good mile or two to our first bus stop, took that bus to the big bus terminal in Quito, Quitumbe, and hopped on the 8:00 bus to Tena. But not without trouble, of course! Emily and I were supposed to meet Mido outside his house to walk with him but we couldn’t find him so we left without him. Around 6 we got a text saying he’s coming, so we helped him as best we could with directions. The thing is, Mido speaks almost no Spanish. So it was literally a miracle that he got to Quitumbe for the 8:00 bus. He said “all of Quito” helped him, haha!

What’s nice about Ecuador is that buses here cost about $1 per hour. This one was $6 for a 5 hour ride.

And what a ride it was… I was in awe of the landscape and afraid for my life at the same time, the whole 5 hours. We swerved through crazy mountains and passed some small waterfalls. But we also drove on roads that were definitely not done construction. Apparently we came at a good time though, because in the rainy season you can’t even get to Tena because of mudslides.

So we made it to Tena safe and sound and a little bus-sick. We ate at the first restaurant we could find, a little Peruvian place next to the bus station. I’m a super picky eater (I’m trying to change that I promise!!) so I asked for just rice, solo arroz, but they brought me a plate full of rice, refried beans and a salad. But hey, for $3, not bad.

Next we found our hostel, Hostal Limoncocha, which I looooved. We had a private room with 4 beds for 2 nights for $8 a night, and you could get breakfast each morning for $2.50. There were hammocks on the balconies overlooking Tena and the hostel itself wasn’t far from everything, but it was removed enough to be quiet at night.

That afternoon we had no idea what to do so we asked the hostel owner for suggestions. We ended up taking a 30 minute bus (60 cents) to Misahualli, which was a very good decision. It’s a tiny port town on a river and there’s a little carnival for kids right before you enter the beach. And guess what!!! The first thing I saw on the beach was a monkey! I saw a group of people looking at a tree and then they all jumped back because the monkey hopped out of the tree and ran to one close to me. I was so happy.

As we were walking along the small beach area a lady asked us if we wanted to do a little boat ride for una horita for only $3. We said sure and hopped aboard the lancha. It took us down the river a little and back the other way to a village-like area.

I say village-like area because it was supposed to be like an indigenous village but was really obviously commercialized. You could buy souvenirs, visit a shaman, pay to go inside and see an indigenous dance with indigenous music, buy natural medicines, and hold snakes or caimans for a dollar. Of course I saw the snake and paid the dollar right away. BUT…

Once I was holding the snake I knew I shouldn’t have done it. I was supported this snake’s captivity for tourism and that just wasn’t right. The poor thing can’t live its life like it should in the wild. So my mistake… I won’t do it again.

Anyway, we got bored quickly with the village and set off on our own adventure. We found a trail and followed it to other little villages until our hour was up and we had to get back to our boat. It was a nice little stroll…

So then we headed back to the port and looked for something else to do.

We crossed a bridge and kept walking to where there were really no more tourists. There were signs about a lagoon and monkeys so we looked for that… a few hundred meters later we were alone at this lagoon with an empty canoe in front of us. Being the crazy kids we are, we were about to just hop in and explore, but an older gentleman showed up and guided us in the canoe. We did a figure-eight around these two islands in the middle of the lagoon. It was completely silent except for the exotic birds chirping and branches creaking from… MONKEYS!!! There were so many on the one island. To see them jump from tree to tree and just chill out in the wid was so incredibly awesome. Our guide would sometimes call for them “monkey, monkey, monkey, venga, venga!” The ride was so peaceful and I was so happy to be in the Ecuadorian amazon, surrounded by monkeys and tranquility. I was sad when we came ashore an hour later. The gentleman asked for $3 each, which was yet another incredible bargain.

After our canoe ride it was getting dark, so we caught the 7:00 bus back to Tena.

The next morning I woke up a little late. Emily and Mido were eating breakfast downstairs so I went to find them. A guy had asked them if we wanted to go rafting with them. So rafting we went! I was pretty nervous. I’m honestly not that adventurous and one thing I told my group was not to tip over because I did not want to get wet. Well one of the first things our guide, Eduardo, had us do once in the raft was jump out. Greattttt. But the water wasn’t that bad and I got splashed the entire rest of the trip anyway. I had a lot of fun, except when we got caught in a washing machine effect thingy. That was no bueno. And then near the end, of course we tipped. But I really, really did have a blast!

We went out to an Italian restaurant for dinner that night. Yep, I ate Italian in the jungle. I really missed familiar foods.

The next day we all slept in late, exhausted from our rafting adventure. We strolled around town and explored a little until we were ready to head back to Quito.

We went at 2:00 to the bus station to get our tickets back to Quito… they were sold out until 7pm. Apparently everyone goes back home on Sunday. So we were stranded in Tena for the rest of the afternoon with nothing to do. Luckily we made friends rafting with our tour guides Eduardo and Avatar (that’s his nickname… I don’t know what his real name is…) and we went out for drinks with them by the river until it was time to catch the bus.

I didn’t buy anything in Tena but I did come back with some souvenirs. Note to self: always wear sunscreen. Always. I got a massive sunburn on my legs while rafting and it wasn’t even sunny out! But I guess at the equator clouds don’t protect you like they do up north. I also came back with some nice mosquito bites on my legs. Ick. My insect repellent washed off in the water I guess.

Despite this I had a great time though! I stepped outside of my comfort zone and went rafting, saw some monkeys, and really connected with nature. The amazon is such a beautifiul place.

Basically I loved Tena.

El Año Nuevo!

I’ve survived my first week in another country!!!

The first few days were rough… I’m not gonna lie. Mostly because I was still sick and on top of that, I had (still have) altitude sickness. I literally can’t walk up a flight of stairs without being completely out of breath.

But things are better now. Aside from a few ups and downs… Monday afternoon Emily and I got to the UIO airport and took a taxi to our host family’s house (which is super nice, btw). Our taxi driver was really nice but could not find the address we were looking for… After going up and down the street a few times she told us she didn’t think the address existed, so we tried calling the number that’s supposed to reach our host family and it was a bad number. Great. By this point I’m freaking out. I mean I already had the flu and I was carsick because these Ecuadorians drive CRAZY and I was not having it. Finally she drove a little further down the street and found it. Thank goodness.

Here’s the view from our host family’s house. It’s wayyy uphill from everything but it makes for a nice view.

Emily and I are taking Spanish classes at Academica Columbus, which is a quick two-minute walk from our host family’s house. I’m really enjoying classes so far. The classes are very individualized and we get a lot of one-on-one attention. In Quito I haven’t done much yet… I’ve gone to the MegaMaxi which is like their Walmart and I’ve taken buses around town but other than that, after classes I’ve been taking siestas. The flu has seriously wiped me out. I’m feeling a lot better now though so I’m excited to get to do more these coming weeks!

Wednesday was New Year’s Eve and we were invited out with some friends from school: David and Stephan from Germany and Mido from Egypt. We went to a cute little restaurant in the Mariscal District (Gringolandia as the locals call it) and then went out for drinks. I had hot chocolate but the others had lots of cerveza (beer). We had a lot of time to kill before midnight so we went to a small discoteca where they played some American music for us, haha!

In Ecuador it’s a New Year’s tradition to burn paper mache dolls of cartoon characters to “get rid of the past year.” It was a little weird to see flaming cartoon characters on every street corner. The whole city smelled like burning paper.

Most of the characters were small but some were huge, like this Captain America with Spiderman hands…

Some were terrifying like this guy…. I don’t even know what it is…

Another tradition is for the men to dress up as women, dance around on the streets and ask for money, stuffed bras and all. And they do get money! It was hilarious to watch. One of my teachers said he dressed up for it… I wish I could’ve seen that.

Everyone in the Mariscal bought these sparkler things from street vendors. They’d hold them up in the air and shake them and sparks would fly out the top… It looked like something from Harry Potter, so I liked it!

We took a taxi home shortly after midnight and I slept unti 11 the next day  because I didn’t have class. I’m not one for going out but I had a good time that night and I’m glad I got to experience New Year’s in a new country!

This weekend I went to Tena, a small (to me) town in the middle of the jungle. I seriously had a blast there, but I’ll write about that when I have time tomorrow 🙂