When we had the ability to change our proposed itinerary around, I was happy to add Banos to our agenda. I had seen pictures of the swing at the edge of the world and was excited to be able to add this to our “to-do list”.
I did my first search for bus tickets from Quito to Banos on Rome2Rio and it didn’t show any options. Once we got to our hostel in Quito, there was a listing of bus options to other cities. It was there we learned that there are buses to Banos which leave the bus terminal every hour. We were super excited that there were frequent, inexpensive buses to get us there.
When we arrived at the Quito bus terminal, we started looking for companies who have buses to Banos. This is easy as most bus companies have listings of what cities their buses go to. I said “Banos” out loud while talking to Andy and people standing by started freaking out! The women working the ticket booths started going crazy, hitting the windows of their stalls and yelling “BANOS” while motioning for us to come to their booth. We thought it was hilarious but took our time in going to each ticket booth to see what the pricing and timing was.
We purchased 2 tickets on Amazonas, as the bus was due to leave in 5 minutes and we were ready to go. While this made us rush a little bit to get to the right gate, we decided it was better than sitting around to wait for the next bus. As we boarded the bus we noticed it was a very basic bus, but for our relatively short 3.5 hour ride, it was sufficient. It was a “South American direct” bus as we have nicknamed it. This means that they tell you it is direct but will stop whenever there is someone standing at the side of the road and will circle around small towns trolling for fares. For $4.50 per person, we couldn’t really complain though.
La Casa del Arbol
The thing that I was looking forward to most in Banos was La Casa del Arbol or the swing at the edge of the world. Andy and I are huge fans of taking pictures on our travels and this was the perfect place to take pictures!
Before we went to the swing, we did a quick search online. We read that there are 2 different swings, the one on the right having the better view. We also read that the lines can be quite long, meaning you have to wait quite a while before you have 30 or so seconds on the swing. This didn’t thrill us but we figured that we could just keep waiting in line if we wanted/needed more time on the swing.
The tree swing is at the top of a huge hill which means that to get up there you would have to hike 3 hours (no thanks), take a taxi or take the public bus. Since we are all about saving money, we took the public bus for $1 each. The bus only runs every hour or two, depending on the time of the day, but we were flexible in our schedule so it didn’t really matter. It took us a little bit of investigation on our end to find out where the bus picks up, but after asking a few people, we found it on a random street corner. We got on the bus, chatted with a British girl named Claire seated near us and enjoyed the scenery while we rode the bus up the mountain for about 20 minutes.
Once we arrived at the tree swing, we paid our $1 per person entry fee and entered the park. There were modern bathrooms and a restaurant up there which we did not use, but were nice additions. We turned our attention to the swings and were both elated that the lines were quite short. At most, we had to wait 3-4 minutes before our turn on the swing. Because of this, we both went on each of the swings several times in order to get the perfect shot.
There are a few things that you don’t see in the pictures online:
- There are wooden ramps that you use to get yourself going on the swing, these have to be cropped out of photos or it loses some of the magic
- The swing is not really a tree swing at all, there is a metal structure that is built into the tree to make it appear like a real tree swing
- There is a caribiner which hooks around your waist to keep you on the seat at all times
- There is no way to get good momentum on the swing – every consecutive swing you go lower and lower, something that is good for keeping the lines shorter
- The drop while not small, is not nearly as high as it appears from the pictures
We were happy that we had a pretty clear day which allowed for some great photos. Had we gone the day after we did, the sky was even more clear which would have given us views of the volcano in the background. While we toyed with the idea of going back, we figured we had our shots and didn’t need to return.
After we were done with our time at the tree swing, we decided to hike down the mountain. The hike would take around 1 hour, the same amount of time that it would take to wait for the bus.
The trail started out fine then turned into a sloppy mudslick. Both Andy and I were happy that we had decided to wear our hiking shoes that day as they are much easier to clean. We continued to walk through the mud and about 20 minutes until finally the mud turned to dirt. I was thrilled as I am not overly surefooted and much prefer more solid surfaces.
About 40 minutes into our hike we reached the Virgen de Agua Santa statue. Even though it looked kind of cheesy, we took a few pictures before we began the easist part of our hike – walking down the stairs to town.
While I don’t think I would make an effort to go to Mirador de la Virgen, as there are better views of the town from other points, it was nice to be able to see it during our hike.
Church of the Virgin of Holy Water
Banos has an active volcano near the town which could destroy everything. The story goes that there is a virgen who was seen at the waterfalls and protects the town from danger. Those that want to thank the virgin for her blessings, often make pilgrimages to Banos where they pray at the church.
The church itself is actually built with volcanic rocks, something I found interesting as the volcano has the power to destroy the church. Instead of the traditional stations of the cross paintings which you see in just about every church, this church features paintings of the miracles performed by the virgin. I thought that this was pretty cool since it is so different from what you expect to see.
I had read that the museum at the church was interesting so we paid $1 to go into it. It was by far the most random museum that I have ever been to. There was everything from religious items, an entire room filled with really terrible taxidermied animals and rooms with clothing from the virgen which always included a matching outfit made to fit a child.
We have googled and googled without finding out why the virgin always has a baby with her, whose baby she has and how often they change out virgins. If anyone has answers to these questions, please let us know.
Bike Ride to the Waterfalls
When we read that we could rent bikes for $5 we were pretty excited. This meant that we would be able to go around to the waterfalls, many of which had ziplines or other adventure sports, at our leisure. Everything that we read said the ride was mostly downhill and you could easily catch a truck back for $2 when you were done.
We went to the bike shop and picked out our bikes. The bikes were all well loved but had disc brakes on them, the most expensive, most effective brakes you can buy. This made both of us feel better, especially knowing that we would be downhill for the majority of our ride.
The beginning of our bike ride was along a main road, similar to a 2-lane country highway. There was no real bike lane, but I figured that the road had to split off to a trail or at a minimum, have a bike lane. The further we road, the more I realized that was not going to happen. Cars, busses and trucks were in general pretty respectful of bikers, getting over as they passed. There were several times that there were trucks that passed us going well over the posted speed limit. The wind that we got from them passing us made us wobble on our bikes a little. The feeling was similar to the feeling that you have when you’re pulled over on the side of a highway in a car and a truck passes.
While I hated it, I kept pushing on, telling myself it couldn’t get any worse. It was at that point that it got worse. We came up to a single lane tunnel without any real lighting inside that we had to ride through. There was no shoulder on this tunnel which absolutely horrified me. I honestly wanted to go back to town at this point but we had been riding downhill the whole way so it would have taken us forever to bike uphill back to the shop. My only real option was to wait until there were no cars, then ride like hell through the tunnel.
Here I was on the scariest part of the ride, on a bike chain whose chain had just fallen off. I rode as fast as I possibly could through the tunnel, horrified when I heard the noise of a vehicle behind me. I was too scared to look back and see what was behind me. At this point, the road was wet which freaked me out even more since I didn’t know it it would be slippery or not. I kept peddling as fast as I could, not caring what sort of dirt got on me during the ride. Once I cleared the tunnel, I pulled over to the side of the road and composed myself.
The next part of the trail was even worse, if that was possible. Now we had a windy road with no shoulder and a huge drop off. Andy ran up the road to see how long this craziness lasted which was thankfully not too long. To make both of us feel more comfortable, we walked our bikes up the road until there was a shoulder again.
The balance of the tunnels on the route had side roads which lead us down quiet city roads. I was expecting this would be the speed of the entire ride and was very happy whenever I got to ride on these. We stopped and saw a few different waterfalls, but the best part of the day for me is when we caught the truck back to town. I was finally done with the bike and didn’t have to deal with it anymore!
In fact, I was so upset all day that we didn’t even take any pictures of our bikes or the horrible roads or bridges that we were riding on. We really have nothing to show for all the pain that we went through. I’m kicking myself for this now as I would have liked to show what we were dealing with.
I think the thing that killed me the most is that nobody had mentioned that the roads we would be riding on were large, busy roads the entire time. The biking itself was not overly hard, but the safety level was nowhere near what I felt comfortable with. Andy rides his bike in Chicago all the time and even he felt uneasy on this ride. I believe that most of his uneasiness is because he was worried something would happen to me, his biggest fear on our trip.
Pailon del Diablo
The top attraction in Banos was the waterfall Pailon del Diablo which translates to the Devil’s cauldron. We have seen quite a few waterfalls in our day and were curious if this would compare to the best waterfalls that we have seen in the Pacific Northwest.
We parked our bikes, paid the $1.50 entry fee, stopped to pet a friendly cat, then hiked up the well preserved trails to the waterfall. The waterfall itself was not the most visually interesting waterfall that we have seen, but you could tell it was extremely powerful.
We zipped up the waterproof lining on the camera bag and crawled, literally we had to crawl, to get to the point where we could go behind the falls. While it was cool to see behind the waterfall, it was also extremely wet. After a very short time behind the falls where we could feel the power of the water, we were ready to head back down.
I’m not quite sure why the suspension bridge is the 2nd stop since you’re coming from the falls where you get wet and don’t look your best. Either way it was a great place to take some pictures – the view of the falls was great and it was finally dry. We set up the tripod and were able to snap a few pictures before tour busses flooded the place with tourists.
Luna Runtun Hot Springs
Andy and I have had going to the hot springs on our “to-do” list for about 5 trips now. Somehow, it always falls by the wayside and we never make it there. I’m happy to report that we have finally made it to a hot springs together.
There are different options for hot springs in Banos, the cheap options which look like crowded swimming pools or an expensive option which is private and perched upon a hill overlooking the town. We decided to splurge and enjoy some luxury.
We took the same public bus that we took to get up to the tree swing, just getting off when we saw Luna Runtun, the hotel with a spa that we were going to. The general public is able to purchase pool passes for $20 each, something I am sure annoys the hotel guests who pay quite a bit of money to stay there.
Once we paid our entry fee and were given towels, a locker key and swim caps (something we were told we had to wear but didn’t). We headed to the locker room and changed into our suits. It was late afternoon and there were not too many people in the hot tubs so we had our choice. The best hot tub was out of service so we chose the next best one. We stayed here for the rest of the evening, knowing that when we got up, someone else would take it.
Since it was a posh hotel and we paid quite a bit of money to go to the pools, I expected them to be in pristine condition. I was slightly annoyed that the filter was not working correctly and we had to scoop out dead bugs from it. While I understand it would be hard to keep perfectly clean at all times, it was not just a few hours of bugs that were in there.
We planned to relax, watch the sun set and see the lights in the city once the sky turned dark. It was a lovely, relaxing day. To get back to town, we splurged $5 for a taxi which drove like a mad man down the dark, steep, winding hills.
Banos is one of our favorite cities thus far on our trip. It is a small, cute town that is inexpensive and has lots to see/do. For us, 2 days was the perfect amount of time. We were able to see everything that we wanted to see and do everything that we wanted to do.
There were quite a few different restaurants that served foreign food, something that is not overly common in South America. We were thrilled to have something that wasn’t the standard Ecuadoran fare which includes overly cooked meat and rice or anything fried. To have vegetables and seasonings in our lives we were in heaven! We savored every meal that we had, not knowing when we would get really good food again.
On a clear day, you can even see the volcano which is pretty cool. It’s an active volcano so you never know if it’ll erupt when you are there. If it does though, the virgin will protect the town from harm so you don’t really have to worry too much.