Baños, Cuenca and the South of Ecuador

Back being a solo traveller having said good bye to Laura I head to Banôs. We said we would meet up further down the route.

Thanks to a couple of blogs I learned there are two options to get to Baños from Latacunga. Either a taxi to the main highway and flag down the Baños bus from Quito or take one of the many buses to Ambato. Then take a short taxi to the North bus terminal and get a bus from there to Baños.

I chose the latter and got lucky, as I got to Ambato and said Baños, I was put on a bus to Coca from the same station that went via Baños. The bus left in 5 minutes so I had to hot foot it to the terminal. Total journey was 7 hours costing less than $10

Arriving into Baños at 9pm, I decided to make the 15 minute walk on foot with my bags. What I didn’t account for was it all being up hill. I was booked into hostel ‘La Casa del Molino Blanco’, I think only because of the breakfast that was included. It certainly wasn’t for the atmosphere or Friendly staff.

I should have asked Holly, Dan , Lana and Ana where they had booked, as they too were all in Baños for a few days. Like so many of us doing the same route through South America.

Baños is a well visited town on the gringo travel circuit due to its adventure sports, hot thermal spring baths and the active volcano ‘Tungurahua‘. Oh and of course ‘La Casa del Árbol’ for that Instagram picture.

I booked a bike for $6 for the next day, to cycle the ‘Ruta de las Cascadas’ to check out seven waterfalls along the route, which I was told would be down hill all the way.

This indeed turned out to be mostly true, but some of the route is along the main highway. So if your are a nervous cyclist this might not be for you.

It was great to be on a bike, as appose to on my feet. Although the slight up hill really takes it out of you at 1850m above sea level. The first 5 waterfalls weren’t that spectacular, but the valley and the river was.

I stopped a few times too look at the many zip lines that were strung along the banks of the river. Looks so much fun, but it would have to wait for another day.

Cycling into Rio Verde I come across two guys that I recognised from my bus from Quilotoa to Latacunga. Maybe because they had their tops off it made them stand out. So of course I had to stop.

Sadly one of them had a flat tyre and their bike hire company hadn’t given them a repair kit or a spare tube. I thought about offering mine – but what if it happens to me.!!!

Rio Verde was less than 500m, they would surely find a shop there to help them.

I carry on and come to the fast flowing river ‘Rio Verde’ and stop to take a picture. Two guys then asked me to take a few pictures of them. Hang on a second… I get a sense that these too are more than just friends. Gay-dar alert.

It turns out over lunch in fact Victoriano and Sebastián are a couple, and they live in Buenos Aries and were kind enough to invite me to lunch at a lovely place called Miramelindo. We then spent the rest of the afternoon together at the waterfall.

The highlight of this tour is the impressive ‘Pilon de Diablo’ or ‘Devils Cauldron’ waterfall. Walking down the steps to the base of the waterfall, the intensity and sheer power of the water hits you. You see the water cascading over the rock face and feel the full force of Mother Nature, while getting soaked by the spray.

Also high above you can walk along the wooden suspension bridges and see the fierce flowing Rio Verde disappear into a small hole in the rock and descend into the spectacular waterfall.

After a night of drinking cocktails and shots with Victoriano and Sebastián, all I could manage the next day was the short $1 bus ride up the hill to ‘La Casa del Arbol’. Entry $1.50

Surprise Surprise I bump into Holly and Dan, all little underwhelmed by what we see, we make sure we get the important shot for Instagram and play on the swings like kids. It turns out we are on the same bus to Cuenca that evening.

Sadly Ecuador doesn’t celebrate Halloween like we do, so no excuse to dress up. Instead they celebrate ‘Day of the dead’ on the 1st November. Celebrating those that have passed, by gathering at the local cemetery, offering respect and flowers while listening to live classical music which could be heard across the whole of the town.

A nice and more positive way of remembering those that have passed.

Ten pm had arrived and it was time to get the bus to Cuenca. This would turn out to be possibly the worse 9 hrs of my life. So far..

No leg room, windows that didn’t close and that rattled with every bump – something you learn quickly in South America is that their roads suck – and a seat that barely reclined. I got no sleep what so ever.

To make it worse, the bus was overbooked so there were locals standing in the isle and they still let more on. No wonder gringos get robbed on busses in Ecuador. It’s a massive problem so always keep your bags on your lap or around feet.

Arriving into Cuenca at 4:30 am, I had to wait at the bus station for my hotel reception to open at 6:30. Yes a hotel and my own room, hurrah .. Mainly because Cuenca was fully booked due to the weekend of festivities. The red satin duvet told me this room is not meant for one.

Cuenca turned out to be my favourite city in Ecuador, with its beautiful colonial buildings and magnificent ‘Cathedral of Immaculate Conception’ or ‘New Cathedral’.

I was lucky to be in Cuenca for the weekend, as from 1st – 4th of November the city comes alive to celebrate the ‘Day of the Dead’ and also celebrates its independence from Spain on the 3rd November.

The city was full of Ecuadorians from all over the country, here to experience the fantastic music, food, art and antiques festival that was sprawled along the banks of the ‘River Tomebamba’ and taking up every square and green space available.

The food festival had food from all over South America with at least 200 different tents offering a delicious delight.

The other highlight of Cuenca was, it was the first city I had visited where I could run along the banks of the River Yanucay. It was perfect for running 5km and nice way to start the day. On weekdays in the morning you can find a local Japanese resident that does Tai Chi where many other residents join in.

Conscious that I had been traveling 8 weeks now and only managed two countries, I booked a bus to Vilcabamba.

After much recommendation I booked into the ‘Hostería Izhcayluma‘ where I would meet Dan and Holly again. Thankfully Hosteria Izhcayluma ran their own bus service from Cuenca to the hostel which was $15 and takes 5 hours, two less than the public bus.

Izhcayluma was magical and exactly what I needed, a place to relax and to do free yoga each morning and an extra session in the afternoon for $5. The dorm was lovely, sleeping 6 and only $9 a night. Three beds downstairs and three more on a mezzanine above. It had real log cabin feel to it and the stone shower was enormous and a real luxury compared to most hostels.

Definitely one of my favourite hostels of the trip so far.

Taking advantage of the yoga in the morning, it was a ten minute walk past the pool to the most beautiful Shala I have practiced my downward dog. A view of the valley and mountains that surrounded us and just the sound of nature to relax you.

After a few days of relaxation and trekking the time had come for me to make plans to leave Ecuador. After two fantastic weeks it was time make my way to Peru.

From Vilcabamba it was a 45 minute $1.50 bus to Loja, and then a eight hour $10 night bus to Piura in Peru. The bus company I used was Amazonias and it was pretty good for Ecuadorean standards.

Getting off at passport control and walking across into Peru, was really simple. The whole process took 45 minutes at 4am.

From Piura it was my final 5 hour bus to my first stop in Peru – Mancora .

I can’t tell you how excited I was to be spending a few days by the sea, have sand between my toes and hot sunny weather .

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