Banos, Ecuador is located about 4 hours south of Quito and altough it is tucked away in the Andean highlands it is considered to be one of the gateways to the Amazon jungle. Our trip to Banos was slightly unexpected.
We acutally had planned to stay in the Galápagos for another 4 days but after our New Zealand friends from the Liberty yacht informed us about Banos we decided it seemed like a place we needed to see!
We headed to the airport early in the morning with hopes of changing our flight last minute (flights only leave 4 times a week so if we missed it than we missed the trip to Banos). We were VERY lucky to get the last two seats on the plane only minutes before takeoff! After a bumpy ride we landed in Guayaquil (Ecuador´s largest city) where we immediatedly taxied to the bus terminal, which was an adventure in itself.
It was our first South American bus experience so it was a little overweloming and frustrating. And we know how Cameron likes overwhelming situations with people who don´t speak English! We managed to find our bus on the 3rd floor but unforunately all the buses directly to Banos were full; so instead we elected to travel to Ambato (the capital of the province that Banos is located).
The bus trip was exhausting and very, very long (8 hours). It was dark, the roads were windy, and the crazy bus driver didn´t understand the concept of breaking while descending beside 1,000 foot drop offs! We arrived in Ambato at 2am which was definitely not the best time to be arriving in a new city the night before Carnival was starting!
We had orginally thought we would catch a bus to Banos we when arrived but that idea was quickly shut down when we were dropped off into the dark, dusty streets. We found a trustworthy taxi driver (have those words ever been used in the same sentence before?) who found us a hotel for the night to catch some much need rest after what seemed like the travel day from hell.
The next morning, our goal was to get to Banos and the bus ride was an easy one hour. For anyone who`s traveled South America, you know the bus drivers are a unique breed! They cut other cars off, pass when they shouldn´t, drive like maniacs in the opposite lane, all on incredibly windy roads with no barriors. It was an experience that really doesn´t need to be repeated.
Banos was exactly what we expected and great little tourist town with tonnes to do. Every outdoor adventure you could imagine was in Banos. Whitewater rafting, horseback riding, hiking, mountain biking and of course what they are famous for, hot springs.
We found a great hostel and met up with a couple (Emma and Matt) whom we met in the Galápagos Islands. We decided to take a night tour up a mountainside to see the lava flow of the nearby Volcano, Tungurahua. We should have known not to take a rundown Chiva bus up a windy mountain at night.
We paid $5 each to basically have a near death experience and see no volcanic activity - in fact we couldn´t even see the volcano! We were all very happy to be back in the city after that.
The next day we said by to Emma and Matt as they headed south. We decided we should go mountain biking so we rented bikes and headed for a 20km downhill to see waterfalls and beautiful, mountain landscapes. The route did not disappoint as we found ourselves deep in the Andean valleys with spectacular views. We hitched a ride back to Banos in the back of a pickup truck only to see a devastating vehicle crash that left a cyclist dead because she was knocked over the side of a bridge... that was enough for us for one day!
We couldn´t have picked a busier time to be in the city as the whole of Ecuador was celebrating Carnaval. We saw parades, were sprayed with foam, and saw a little town turn into one big party. Unfortunately we didn`t make it to the hot spring baths because of the rediculus crowds; we decided we wouldn`t enjoy all the screaming kids and people squeezed into a bath.
We were happy we had made the visit to Banos, but after a few days it was time to jump onto another thrilling bus ride back to Quito in order to catch our flight to Buenos Aires. And this bus ride did not disappoint... seatbelts would have been nice!