Baños, Ecuador

Although we spent much of our time in Ecuador in Quito, we wanted to try and see something else. Fortunately, the town of Baños is about 4 hours away by bus, so we decided to leave at the crack of dawn one day and make the most of it.

Casa del Arbol: A trip to Baños isn’t complete without a trip to the big treehouse swing that goes out over the side of a mountain, resulting in some pretty awesome pictures. To get there, we had to catch a local bus from town (ask around about the buses that pass by Casa del Arbol) and endure the one hourish bumpy ride up the mountain. At the top, there are actually two giant swings (columpios gigantes). The one to the right is the best. We got off the bus quickly and jetted our way to the entrance, which I’m glad we did because the line gets pretty long for the swing! There is a man that will push you on one of the best swings and you go back and forth maybe 15-20 times, so have a friend ready with the phone camera and take as many pictures as you can because it’s hard to get one just right! I have to admit, I was pretty terrified since it’s just a rickety wooden swing with a little strap hooked in front of you. I may have screamed a bit, but I wasn’t the only one. 🙂 There’s also several other swings where you can push each other, though it’s hard to get going as high as the man who works there! There’s even a short zipline over the ground and a long snakelike balance beam you can walk, which also gives pretty badass photos. Afterward, while waiting for the bus, go down to the restaurant and get a hot cup of canelazo! This is like hot apple cider, but they add a special liquor to it which gives it a nice kick and this particular place used some liquor that changed the color of the liquid. Pretty neat.

Pailón del Diablo (Devil’s Cauldron): This waterfall is super powerful and was well worth it! You can bike maybe an hour outside of town to get there, but we were short on time so we hopped on a public bus which took about 15 minutes and was cheap. You can get dropped off above or below the waterfall. Apparently if you walk from above, it’s a bit easier, but you don’t get as close to the waterfall. We decided to enter from below, which had a nice easy hike and then you came out near the middle of the waterfall. If you’re willing to get wet, you can crawl through some tiny spaces in the rock wall and then run up some stairs cut out right next to the waterfall. We did this and got completely soaked, but it was fun.

Thermal Baths: Baños is named for all the natural thermal baths they have. There are several, but we visited the ones in town situated right next to the mountain called Termos de La Virgen. We went in the evening before returning on the bus and it was nice because the sun wasn’t blaring down on us. Lots of locals go at night too, so you can see a bit of real life and make friends. After paying the entrance fee, there are baskets to put your stuff in and leave with a drop off counter. Then there are several different baths to choose from. The most popular is a warm bath upstairs, but there’s also a chilly one up there too (these might be better if you go in the daytime). Downstairs, there’s a scalding hot one which I read is about 130 degrees Fahrenheit, next to a freezing cold one that is almost as cold as ice. This is where the hardcore locals hang out as they’ve learned to handle these temps. I sat there on the edge of the hot one for awhile, dipping my toes in, then my foot, and suddenly pulling it out as I exclaimed in pain and my skin broke out in goosebumps from the heat. Some locals sitting near me kept telling me just to get all the way in and not to move as much because it hurts worse. Honestly my skin is tingling just remembering how hot it was! But eventually I made my way all the way in up to my shoulders and lasted about 30 seconds (maybe?). Then I tried doing the ice cold one…same problem, but eventually succeeded! I know there’s a lot of research that says this sort of thing is good for your muscles and joints, but I’m not sure how often I could handle it. Anyways, great place to visit…can’t miss it!

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Mercado: Definitely stop by the market and grab a big, cheap lunch for a few dollars. We enjoyed a delicious meal sitting at a plastic table in the middle of the market with an Ecuadorian family whose little girl couldn’t stop staring at us as we spoke in English. 🙂

Aromi Cafe & Chocolate: This little cafe is perfect for a delicious breakfast or hot chocolate. Apparently you also can choose one of their different chocolate bars and they’ll make it into a hot chocolate for you!

Baños was a great little day trip, though if I were to do it again, I’d want to stay for a couple days as there’s much more to see and do there!

Quito, Ecuador

I had heard many things about Quito before visiting. Some people said it wasn’t worth my while, whereas others described it like a sunnier, smaller, and safer Bogota. I have to say that after spending a little over a week there, I’ll go with the latter opinion. I really enjoyed Quito! I did feel pretty safe there, found it easy to get around with the local transport and Ubers (although I did get into a spat with some regular taxi drivers), and really affordable even being in dollars.

We arrived in Quito on New Years Eve, so pretty much everything was shut down except for all the street vendors selling these particularly creepy dolls, street food vendors, and random clothing. We also saw many men cross dressing complete with a wig and heels. We found out later that it is a New Years Eve tradition to burn El Año Viejo, the old year, at midnight by burning the “esposos” (male spouses) at midnight and the men are dressing up as the esposas (wives). That explained the dolls and our hostel also burned one, which was great fun and kept us warm until the fumes and smoke kicked us out of the area.

Some things we did around Quito…

Explore Old Town, including Calle La Ronda: Old Town is filled with cobblestones (though some was becoming paved while we were there) and beautiful buildings. If you get one of the city maps, they have routes marked that take you past specific interests like the many churches. Calle La Ronda is a pedestrian-only street with plenty of shops and restaurants to check out. I went both during the day and at night and different things were open each time.

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Take the teleférico up to Volcán Pichincha: For only $8.50 leaving from Vulqano Park, a strange little amusement park on the side of the mountain, you can see all of Quito spread out before you, and it’s an amazing sight! However, go up early and only if it’s a clear day, otherwise you won’t be able to see anything. We got very lucky on the day we went, but as we descended the teléferico to return to Quito, we were surrounded by clouds and could not see a damn thing.

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The neighborhoods of La Floresta and Guapulo: We did an awesome free walking tour in the evening through Guapulo, which is a nice neighborhood on one edge of Quito that used to be an entirely separate town. You look at the graffiti along the way, learn the history, and stop in the church. Then you take a quick bus up to a park in La Floresta with plenty of food stalls and walk around this neighborhood a bit, which is known as the artsy hipster neighborhood. You finish at the cafe/independent theatre Medio Ocho. We loved this tour and I’d recommend it to anyone! You contribute at the end whatever you’d like to your guide. https://www.quitostreettours.com/

 

Parque Itchimbia: We visited this park on New Year’s Day because everything else was closed and it was pretty rainy and cold, but it’s still a great place to walk around. You’re up above the city a bit, they have giant Quito letters to pose with, and apparently there’s a cute cafe near the entrance called Cafe Mosaico which has a great view, but it was closed on the day we went.

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Go up to El Panecillo: Overlooking the city is a statue of the Virgin. We didn’t do this because the view from Pichincha was even more incredible, but this is another good option to get a viewpoint from above. We were told this is not a safe area though, so take a taxi up as far as you can.

Artisan market near Plaza Foch (in La Mariscal): La Mariscal is the zone where people go out and there are also plenty of restaurants and hostels. (We almost stayed in this area, but instead picked Hostel Masaya in Old Town, which we absolutely loved. Unless you want to stay in a place with lots of other backpackers, I’d recommend Old Town for a more authentic feel.) This area is good for browsing and there’s an artisan market with tons of stalls where you can bargain prices against each other since you’ll see similar items in each or spend an hour looking at 250 blankets in each stall before deciding on one like I did. 🙂 But now I have a gorgeous, big wool blanket for only $16! If you get cold, warm up with a delicious hot chocolate at República del Cacao (and try every single one of their chocolates….that’s what tasters are for, right??).

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Mitad del Mundo: This is not actually in Quito, but is a must-do even though it’s supposedly not the actual middle of the Earth! Apparently the line changes and where the monument and attraction is located known as “Mitad del Mundo” is not entirely correct. There’s another location nearby that has a small museum you can visit, but we didn’t have a chance to go. One fun experiment that you can do at Mitad del Mundo is balance a raw egg on a nail. It took a bit of trying, but we finally did it! However, I’d still like to try it at my house because I’m not sure I believe or fully  understand all the physics about it… Anyways, we met up with another fellow teacher from Panamericano in Quito (her native city) and she drove us out to Mitad del Mundo. Then she knew the girl at the ticket window, so we got a discount on the entrance which was pretty awesome. This was definitely a tourist spot, which was kinda annoying to try and get pictures without a million people in them, but still a fun place to go to feel like you’ve done handstands on the “middle of the Earth”.

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Go dancing on Thursdays for salsa/bachata night at Salsoteca Lavoe: I was craving dance and went to two classes at a studio one day. Then I read up about Salsoteca Lavoe, hopped on the trolley bus by myself late one Thursday night, and went out. Thursdays are all salsa and bachata music and everyone there is really good! I had the time of my life dancing with some amazing partners and learning a lot. Pretty much the entire place is all dance floor as people do not go unless they’re wanting to dance all night. I barely could guzzle a couple waters and beer because you’re constantly on your feet. And something I loved there was that they assign you a swipe card when you walk in, so when you buy things, they just swipe your card. When you’re ready to leave, they scan it at the register by the door and you pay your bill all at once…so convenient!

Eat empanadas de viento and drink morocho and canelazo: I know there are tons of things to eat in Quito that people will recommend. The intestines were really popular at the little food stands in La Floresta, but I chose not to try them. Instead I ate an empanada de viento, a giant fried dough with a little bit of cheese inside. They sprinkle sugar on them and it reminded me of an elephant ear. Morocho is a warm corn-based drink with milk, cinnamon, and sugar. You can also add raisins to it. Canelazo is like spiked apple cider and so delicious! It warms you right up from the inside out.

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These were some of the highlights of Quito. One thing I should note is the transportation. Public transport is pretty good, even if old and slow at times. I took the trolley buses all over the city and had no problems whatsoever besides being packed in with people at times…and the best part is that it only cost 25 cents! Although it definitely took longer, it gives you more of a feel for local life in Quito. This was better for me because I got rather frustrated and angry with many taxi drivers who tried to take advantage of us being gringos. I may have yelled at one driver and told him not to take advantage of people who are bringing money and tourism to his country….and then yelled at another for trying to go out of his way on purpose to charge us more for the ride…he stopped the car and almost made us get out on the street at midnight, so I shut up. But seriously! One driver tried to charge us $10 for a trip from Old Town to the bus station when we had already been told it should be around $5, so the meter started late. When we reached our destination, he didn’t have change for us so he tried to round up the price…I said no and he tried to use the excuse that he started the meter late, which I explained was his own fault for wasting time trying to get us to pay an absurd price. Another driver asked us after getting in how much we’d be paying for our trip that night. I answered that we’d be using the meter and he said they don’t use the meters at night. Uhhhh HELLO, do you think I was born yesterday? Ugh. Anyways, all of this to say that you need to be careful with the taxi drivers and if you can handle public transport, it’s useful for saving money and a headache of fighting with drivers!

We only took one full day trip from Quito up to Baños, so I’ll write about that in the next post!