Ecuador is one of those countries that goes unnoticed and, when you least expect it, it surprises you. Surrounded by two South American giants in terms of tourism (Colombia in the north and Peru in the south), it takes advance of its secondary position for exceeding traveller’s expectations.
You have colonial treasures such as Cuenca and Quito, volcanoes such as Cotopaxí, street markets, beaches in Costa Esmeralda… and adventure sports practised on the hillsides of the most emblematic mountains of South America, the Andes, and on its rivers.
The meccas for adventure sports in Ecuador are Baños and Tena.
A brief introduction to Baños and Tena
These two Ecuadorian cities are just 170 kilometres away from each other.
Baños —its full name is Baños de Agua Santa— is just a small town with about 13,000 inhabitants. 13,000 brave people who live on the flanks of an active volcano. The Tungurahua volcano is 1820 meters above the sea level (masl) and it erupted in 1999, 2000 and 2006. During the first eruption, the entire population had to be evacuated.
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However, the beauty that surrounds this gate to the beautiful Ecuadorian jungle makes up for the danger to locals and foreigners.
You can also see that same beauty in Tena. When the Spaniards founded the city (1560) in a place where fast flowing rivers, the Amazon jungle and the slope of the Andes meet, they built one of the world capitals for adventure sports without knowing it.
From Quito, you have a 192 km trip along a beautiful road surrounded by dense vegetation to Baños de Aguasanta and 140 km more to Tena. There are several local bus companies covering that route.
Adventure Sports in Baños and Tena
You can practice several extreme sports modalities and disciplines in Baños and Tena. I’m going to talk about them in order of importance and according to my own preferences.
Rafting y kayaking
I have loved rafting since the very first time I tried it in the river Noguera Pallaresa, in Lleida.
There are many wild rivers for sliding —or rather for flopping around— while adrenaline rushes through you leaving you so excited you could scream.
In Tena’s area you have the following options:
- Jondachi and Hollín rivers: I chose this one during my trip to Ecuador. We left Tena in a 4×4 car and we travelled for 45 minutes to the place where we got into the water. We descended the river during a whole day, including a spectacular stop for lunch in a natural beach that emerged as a little island in the middle of the river. There rapids are level III, IV and IV+. The day I descended it, the flow was abundant due to the rains of previous days and the rapids were more difficult. So difficult that we overturned and lost the raft. This lead us to another adventure, lost in the jungle, but this is another story. Certainly, it is highly recommended.
- Misahuallí River: if you want to live adventure to the maximum, maybe this is the best choice. This river has the most spectacular rapid of the area (level IV and VI+ throughout the ride). Narrow canyons, waterfalls up to 9 meters high, and the rapid Tierra de Gigantes, the longest one in Ecuador. You can only descend it from October to March.
- Alto Napo River: it is the best one to get started in rafting or if you want just a nice descent across the jungle while you hear its sounds and observe its beauty. 25 kilometres of waterways divided in tranches whose difficulty is never over level III.
In Baños’ area, the rivers Pastaza and Negro (the first one starts almost right on the east side of the city) offer rapids between level III and V.
As for the kayaking, Baños is the best option. In the Parish Río Negro is the river Topo, known as one of the most technical rivers in South America and it goes through an environment of great beauty and biodiversity.
Helmet, neoprene, slippers on and you are ready to go down canyons and ravines abseiling, jumping down stone slides Goonies-style, swimming and in other undesirable ways (if you don’t like adrenaline and risk). It doesn’t matter how you do it; you mum won’t like it.
But it is quite fun. Moreover, this area is very beautiful for doing it. There are few canyons in the world as beautiful as the ones that you will find here. Chamana, Río Blanco and Casahurco are perfect places for this activity.
With such a beautiful jungle right outside both cities, trekking is one of the most highly demanded activities by tourists.
Besides the high number of plant and animals species that you can find in your trip, a walk through the Amazon jungle that surrounds Tena and Baños will make you get to know better the men that have been living in those lands for centuries. Here live Quechua, Quijos and Chibcha people, keeping a harmony with nature that we European people have lost. Request permission to watch their shamanistic dances, rituals and traditions. Blowpipe-shooting championship and cooking of the chicha de maiz or chicha de yuca are just some curious things that you can see there.
They tie you up to a wire strung over the Amazon and you fly over the treetops through the thick, humid fog. You can do it in a normal position or fly like Superman. I have tried both and I must admit that the second one is much more exciting, but you can end up twirling around out of control.
There are several companies in Tena and Baños that can take you to different zip lines.
I admit it: I never had the nerve to try bungee jumping during any of the many trips I have made to places from where I could have jumped.
Leaping into the void voluntarily was never my thing. However, if you want to try it, near Baños you will find the Río Blanco and San Francisco bridges.
Well, shall we go on an Ecuadorian adventure then?
Where can I exchange my currency in Ecuador?
Global Exchange has been present in this country since October 2013. At this moment, they have branches at the Mariscal Sucre Airport, in Quito, and in the José Joaquín de Olmedo International Airport, in Guayaquil, with a total of 4 branches. For further information about the services they offer, check their website.
If you are going to travel to Ecuador and you prefer changing your USA Dollar beforehand, visit Global Exchange. With more than 220 branches at 20 countries, they are your best ally when it comes to managing foreign exchange transactions.
And if you are already there and you plan on changing money upon your arrival (or your coming back home), we will make it easier with a 15% on the margin applied to your change at any of the Ecuadorian branches. To benefit from the discount, show this coupon at the branch and start your trip off on the right foot.