Banos is a very busy town, I would say brushing the tourist trap description. So let’s see, we have the medieval church in city centre, the crowd on the streets, tour companies/adventure tours about every 100 feet offering zip lines (called canopy around here), climbing, water rafting, kayaking, rock climbing, bike rentals for mountain biking, name it. You can ride a two level open top tour bus or rent a buggy and drive around, it’s all available. Reggae music is blasting here and there, it seems to be associated with backpackers somehow, of course the hot pools, where the town got its name from. Hostels on every corner of the street and the number of the tourists higher then I have seen for a long time. You can dig in some extremely affordable street food, the traditional bbq’d cuy (guinea pig) and pork is not missing from the menu. Not sure how much is offered for vegetarians and vegans in Ecuador as ready made food, but we are still in the early phase of discovering this country.
The architecture is not really colonial, beside the cathedral building in the center of the town, the rest is newly build square’ish, modern’ish, some finished, some partially finished. But after driving around quite a bit in Central America the lack of architectural planning is not surprising me anymore. I remember the first time I entered Mexico in Tijuana, I was shocked by the chaotic layout of buildings, but now I am used to the cityscapes. I might even say that upon returning to USA and Canada from Latin America for a while the urban landscape seemed somewhat too sterile. What is distinguishing Ecuador from Central America though is the absence of garbage beside the roads, although there is some, the country is substantially cleaner than let’s say Guatemala.
The artisan market and several artisan stores are offering from inflatable Superman to Panama hats and some clothing and accessories familiar from Mexico and Guatemala among many others. Unloaded from the same Chinese cargo ship? The town has a certain charm, especially that is surrounded by majestic mountains covered by cloud-forests and the waterfall road is pretty scenic down to Puyo. Several freaky tunnels to go through on the way, water is coming down from the ceiling and expect no less than to be passed by local cars if you drive too slow through the tunnels. For overlanders there are several options to stay in the area, it seems that the majority of hostels with enough space will not turn down some greenbacks from people sleeping in their vehicles. The going rate seems to be $5.00 pp with some showers included and possible wifi as well. In three days we camped at three different locations in Rio Negro, Rio Verde and Banos. There is a Rio Blanco as well in the valley if you wonder.