Banos de Agua Santa, Ecuador
Nestled on the foothills of the Tungurahua volcano lies the adventurous city of Banos de Agua Santa. Commonly known as just Banos (although there are other Banos in Ecuador which can cause trouble in google maps), the city attracts the audacious from all over the world. Visitors are drawn to its outdoor activities such as biking, rafting, and bridge jumping, but also the healing hot springs that give it its name which means "baths." Every traveler we met had either been or was planning to go to Banos.
After leaving Tena we entered Banos from the east. Highway 30 blasted its way through a succession of long dark tunnels that dripped so much water we were sure the mountain was coming down on top of us. The closer we got to the city the more and more traffic there was. We didn't realize that Ecuadorians from all over the country were headed to the same place to celebrate the Anniversary of the Battle of Pichincha. The road was littered with cars, bicycles, atvs and people lined up to be launched from giant swings over canyons. After endless traffic we arrived downtown to a giant party. People of all ages filled the streets and public spaces.
We tend to be spontaneous people and the idea of itineraries gives us anxiety but sometimes the lack of forethought can be to our dismay. There weren't many hotels or hostels left but El Jardín de Mariane Hostal had good reviews although slightly high in price. We found the hotel to seemingly be empty which was our first red flag and once in the room we discovered it to be infested with bed bugs. After arguing with the manager he pretended not to understand and wouldn't give us a refund when we left. Such is the risk of travel.
To our good fortune, Hostal Chimenea had a room for a quarter of the cost and ten times the cleanliness. This beautiful hostel slash day spa was $9, had a pool, roof terrace, waterfall view and was a stone's throw from the thermal baths. The room was clean, the shower was hot and the balcony was a plus. We were paranoid about our luggage so we sent all of our clothes out for laundry through the hostel and soaked our bags with permethrin.
Finally relaxed and feeling clean we explored the city. Bustling with life, Banos has a little something for everyone. International to local cuisine and even a few vegan spots. Sativa Studio Cafe, Plantas y Blanco, Honey Coffee & Tea, and Cafe Good were some of our favorites. Arts and crafts and adventure sports, taffy stands and nightclubs. We ate, drank and shopped. And of course we went to the hot spring. It's usually hard to find a hot spring we don't like but this one tested our resolve. Packed like a West Hollywood club, this late night hot soup was far from tranquil.
After a few days we'd had our fill of Banos and were excited to get back to nature. We headed north towards the Cotopaxi Volcano. Unsure of where to stay or go we decided to just see where we ended up. Blowing in the wind is our favorite way to travel.