Volcano Tungurahua erupting at night
Danger is all relative and every place has its dangers. Colombia has the FARC and kidnappings as part of its ongoing civil conflict, Quito has its muggings and petty crime, and Banos has a more natural danger, its volcano. Located 7km from the crater of Tungurahua, which erupted two weeks ago and rained ash down on the city, Banos is in a less than ideal location when it comes to its safety. At the foot of the volcano and surrounded by deep river gorges and other mountains, the scenery is amazing, however, there are well marked designated evacuation routes just in case the volcano erupts again. It is a true tourist town with loads of foreign and Ecuadorean tourists and its name derives from the many baths in and around the town.
Waterfall near Banos with the cable car crossing the gorge
Because of the volcanic activity there are nightly trips run by the multitude of tour agencies up to the nearby mountains to watch the volcano. A lot of times these don´t live up to the promise of seeing an eruption as the volcano is often covered in clouds or fog or both.
On the first night I arrived I decided to go on one of said tours. They drove around the town in a big jeep known as a chiva waiting for and picking up as many people as they could before finally heading across the bridge out of town and up the mountain opposite the volcano. After we left town they let us ride on the roof of the chiva as we made our way up a hundred switchbacks on the dirt road up to the top of the mountain. When we got up there the volcano was covered in clouds. After waiting for a few minutes the clouds actually cleared and we could see the summit of the volcano.
View of the Devil´s Cauldron from the road
Shortly after this we were treated to a small volcanic eruption and the volcano shot out some lava off and on for about 5 minutes. It was amazing to actually see this and considering that you could see the entire town of Banos on the valley floor below it was disconcerting to think that someday the town will be destroyed in an eruption.
The next day I rented a mountain bike and road downhill from Banos on the road to Puyo, a town in the foothills nearer to the jungle. It was only $5 a day to rent the bike and it even included a helmet, spare tube, a pump, and a lock. The road runs alongside the river and there are various waterfalls on the side of the road and within short hiking distances.
A rainbow in the sunlight
There are also a few cable cars that run across the river gorge to the other side. The scenery was great and most of the time there wasn´t much traffic on the road so I didn´t have to choke on the noxious black fumes of the trucks and buses. The road passes through a couple tunnels, which are obviously unlit and leaking water, fortunately the bike trail goes around all of these tunnels except the first one which you are forced to ride through. Luckily the cars have their lights on so that you can see something, otherwise it was almost pitch black inside the tunnel and the air was absolutely vile from all the exhaust fumes and zero ventilation. It was an easy ride since it was all downhill save for a few small parts which were only slightly uphill. After arriving at the last waterfall and hiking down and back you can just catch a ride back to Banos in a truck for a dollar or two. Later that night I went to the baths in town which are located at the base of a waterfall which cascades down the mountain behind Banos. There were a few different baths at different temperatures and it was really nice to sit and soak in hot water, as that is usually a rare commodity in most places in South America. And it was good preparation for another day of travel.