Travelling the world is a weird experience. For a start, you turn up to places knowing absolutely nothing about them.
On the bus to Baños Ecuador it suddenly struck me that this town had the same name that I had seen outside of public toilets in the past. Was I going to some sort of lavatory based Ecuadorian theme park? Thankfully, I later discovered that the name comes from the abundant hot springs around the place.
My first impression of this town was that it was small and probably a bit boring. That was before I discovered the pleasure of seeping in hot water under a waterfall, watching toffee get stretched across the road and seeing possibly the world’s worst stuffed animal collection. All in all, it turned out to be one of the best places to visit in Ecuador.
Keep the Volcano at a Safe Distance
First things first though; what on Earth was all that smoke I could see that looked like it was billowing out of – gulp – a volcano. Indeed. Baños is overlooked by a volcano called Tungurahua and sometimes it, well, it erupts, basically. This was the first time I had seen this sort of thing happen anywhere and I urged a local taxi driver to take me there. He looked at me like I was a lunatic and walked away, leaving me to admire the volcano from a safe distance.
I wasn’t all that bothered about the hot springs. After all, hot water isn’t exactly a novelty in my life. Ah, but sitting in a hot pool under a waterfall as the sun sets turned out to be a very special experience. The ideal way to enjoy it is to spend some time in the hot water then jump into the cold plunge pool. It is an amazing feeling and it became clear why so many people from around the country take their Ecuador holidays in Baños.
After a relaxing hot bath there are few things I enjoy more than a visit to see some stuffed animals. One of the guys I was travelling with had heard of a bizarre museum in town with a weird collection of taxidermical disasters. We went in half expecting it to be a hoax but we then bumped into some of the most gruesome stuffed animals ever to exist. If my memory serves it was a local priest who stuffed them and it is fair to say that if there ever is a taxidermy competition for priests he is unlikely to win it.
Toffee and Guinea Pigs
After that, it was time for some toffee. This is a traditional product made in Baños and no Ecuador holidays are complete without it, or so the vendor told me. In an apparent attempt to maximise its tooth pulling potential it is put on a hook and stretched further than you would think possible before being put back on the hook and pulled again. It is a strangely riveting spectacle and my attention was so completely focussed on the toffee that it took time to see the – Good Lord- grilled guinea pig sitting behind me in a restaurant window.
Guinea pig is called cuy here when it is cooked and Baños is a top place to try it. I was told that it is necessary to book one in advance. This gave me the perfect opportunity to shrug my shoulders and say that I would definitely book my cute little guinea pig in advance the next time I was in town.
Baños Ecuador has a lot more to offer than it first appears. I also took a wander up the top of the local hill, following the Stations of the Cross up an arduous climb. It was worth it for the brilliant view I got at the top. This is a small town but it has a special place in my heart for a number of reasons now. Hey, I might even go back and try one of those guinea pigs one day. It should definitely be on your list of places to visit in Ecuador.