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Another Volcano and Inca Ruins in Ecuador

Still in Central Ecuador. A trip to the infamous tourist trap of Baños, down to the Amazonian town of Puyo. Just to climb again to Riobamba and at 5000m to the mountain huts of Chimborazo. Finally southwards to the village of Alausi and the Inca ruins of Ingapirca.

Salcedo 2 Ingapirca

Baños, 18th August

We’re on our way from Salcedo to Baños. You know Baños – Ecuador’s famous-infamous tourist hotspot. Many fb groups praise it as the not-to-be-missed must-have-seen-place, the ultimate backpacky’s heaven, or whatever you can imagine.

On the way a stop in Ambato. To order with Toyota the spares we need to get Prado a little more waterproof. After some search, we even find the Toyota dealer selling spare parts. Only, they are not available at all in Ecuador. But that’s no problem. We can just order them, wait patiently for at least 3 months – and then we’ll receive them. Thus, all clear. Just remains the question to my dear friend working with Toyota in Quito: why the hell could you not tell us this small detail?

We decide to head for another more practical solution.

After this enthusiastic encounter with the Toyota dealer, we’re on the road towards the Amazon.  Quickly, the road descends to green valleys. And soon later we arrive in Baños.

The 1st stroll thru Baños definitely confirms whatever you’ve heard about this place. It seems 99% of the houses occupy either a cheap hostel, a travel agency, an eatery, a watering hole, a souvenir shop, a club, or a car rental. Having stated this we observe as well, that 99% of the guys sneaking thru the streets are either local tourists, backpackies, or relics of the hippy hype some 50 years ago.  And it seems they all search either for a cheap hostel, a travel agency, an eatery, a watering hole, a souvenir shop, a club, or a car rental. Never seen any offer matching that well the demand. Probably that’s the secret to why everybody is so happy here.

Whatever there are a few eateries’n’watering holes that are not too bad.

And all these excursions and sights in the area? Mainly this type of woman-made adventures for adrenalin-addicted junkies. And extremely little authentic stuff related to Ecuador.

We need 2-3 days in Baños to arrange everything a bit, to do some maintenance on our equipment, and drink some beer. Also to get Prado a bit more waterproof without spare parts. We simply close the damaged rubber parts at the rear window with some extra strong tape. Well, we can’t open the window anymore. But who needs to do so in the rear?

Puyo, 19th August

Then we consider it’s definitely time to move on. Simply, because after a few days here the locals consider you a potential investor for a lousy hostel, the relics of the hippie hype as providers for whatever they may need, and the backpackies as substitutes for their grandmas. Thus, all claims we definitely don’t intend to meet at all.

Especially as everybody has such an infinite passion for the Ruta de las Cascadas. This valley extending eastwards from Baños to Puyo in the Amazonas.

Thus, we’re on the way to discovering this wonder of nature.

Of course, the Ruta de las Cascadas is part of Baños’ adventure concept, It’s even the only reason to exist for most of the town’s travel agencies and sleeperies. Consequently, to convert a simple valley with some waterfalls into a thrilling adventure park, they invested in quite a number of infrastructure: Zip-lines, canopies, hanging bridges, archaic cable cars, swings – you name it, you’ll find it. Of course, not everything turned out to be successful. The many ruins testify to certain mishappenings.

The first important adventure expects poor tourists at  Cascada de Agoyan. Not an ugly waterfall, only all this stuff they installed for adrenalin-addicted visitors is not working at all. Maybe there are not enough solvent visitors flocking in; maybe they just follow some incomprehensible rules to fight the last remaining Coronies. Who knows. Anyway, a few people are standing around, having a look at the waterfall from far.  And save their money for some beers in the evening.

Soon later we arrive at the Cascada Manto de la Novia. We’re extremely lucky. Just a few minutes before a bus arrived with the hell a lot of tourists on their once-in-a-life-adventure tour. Thus, the cable car works. You pay 2 bucks each – and they carry you to the waterfall and back. Of course, the whole adventure just takes 5′ per ride. No problem. Who could spend more time on just 1 attraction?

Nevertheless, it’s quite funny. The cable car is driven by a really antique truck engine. The car – just an open iron construction. 

Finally, is it worth driving this cable car? Probably not. Not really thrilling. But, where else in the world can you drive a cable car just for 2 bucks? Even a cable car that in any other country every technical inspection would shut down immediately and condemn the owners to lifelong prison for their irresponsibility.

We drive the valley further down towards the only real sight: Cascada el Pailón del Diablo.

It’s not a place where you can experience all these artificial adventures by shifting many $ from your pocket to another. It’s just a magical waterfall. And you have to sneak down to it. About 1/2h. Of course, not on a small’n’slippery path full of poisonous snakes. No, it’s more a kind of a sneaking-highway.

On to Puyo. Just 1/2h. 

Puyo: an absolutely nondescript town. Definitely, nothing to remember for your grandchildren. We just find a sleepery where we can listen to the rain starting in the afternoon, …

Riobamba, 21st August

… and that is still continuing the next morning. Indeed, it’s a cloudy’n’rainy day.

By now we definitely think the government of Ecuador should engage Monika as a weatherwoman: If she’s in the Amazonas, it rains constantly. Once she’s somewhere else the jungle blooms again in the bright sunshine. Quite predictable, isn’t it? 

Well, weather is so bad, that we decide to drive back to the highlands. Anyway, we haven’t planned to make any of these adventure tours into the deep jungle of the Amazonas. They all seem to be so commercialized that we probably better avoid them.

We’re on the way to Riobamba. It takes quite some time. It’s a weekend, so definitely some traffic on the Ruta de las Cascadas. And due to heavy rain, we have the honor to wait for about 1h in a tunnel until the guys cleared up the road again.

Late afternoon we arrive in Riobamba. Just on time for a stroll thru the CBD. Well, Riobamba is 1 of the few cities in Ecuador worth sneaking around a little bit. They have a very animated city center with a huge offer. A shopper’s paradise. And a lot of colonial buildings make you forget all this terrible 3rd world architecture they normally like so much.

And most important – they have some cool watering holes. A rare occurrence in Ecuador.

Next morning. Despite the rather cloudy weather, we decide to visit the next volcano: Chimborazo. With an elevation of nearly 6300m, it’s the highest mountain in Ecuador. Well, we do not really intend to climb it. No, we think a visit to the volcano’s Rifugio Whimper at 5000m will be enough.

We drive to the park entrance on a perfect road. Quite an interesting journey. Especially, when we discover that outside in the streets not only do people wear face masks to avoid these Coronies sneaking thru plain nature, but also cows. Dear government of China, we think you could definitely learn from Ecuador’s measures to fight the pandemic. Whatever.

Further up, a lot of Vicuñas aside the road. A kind of smaller brother of the Lama.

At about 4400m there’s the national park entrance. Time to register. As usual, you have to know your grandma’s passport number and your name. 

Then to Rifugio Carrel. There’s the car park at 4850m. By now on a slightly bumpy gravel road. 

And for many cyclists the ultimate challenge to impress their future mother-in-law.

Finally, we arrive. Prado quite proud to have done so well. Even without any smoke – in any color.

There are quite a lot of people up here. Well, it’s a Sunday. Just in case you need an idea for your next weekend excursion with grandma’n’uncle Leonardo.

Now we have to leave Prado and sneak to Rifugio Whimper. About 45′ away at 5060m.  A well-marked trail leads up the hut. Many locals are on the way as well. For their unruly kids, an opportunity to organize snowball fights, build snowwomen, or simply take numerous selfies nobody wants to see.

Maybe a word about weather: a little bit foggy. Slight snowfall. Visibility around 25m. No comments to add.

At the hut, still, a few meters more to sneak uphills. Just 1/2 km, or so. But who cares above 5000m altitude if there’s a famous lagoon to see.

Well, you won’t get lost at the lagoon. But it seems to be an important place of pilgrimage for everybody. To celebrate this take-a-pic-of-each-other-ceremony. Wowwww.

You can even sneak a little further to a signboard the brave park rangers placed to make clear that you should even not think about going a single step further up. Of course, real alpinists may climb another 1200m up to the summit of Chimborazo.

However odd people like us are on their way back to the parking lot. Even without having seen the summit from below.

A last glimpse of the lagoon – and that’s it.

Soon later we’re driving down. Back to Riobamba.

Difficult to believe, suddenly the weather clears up.

Late afternoon we’re back. To celebrate that we’ve finally seen Chimborazo. 

Anyway, Chimborazo is definitely the last volcano we’ll visit in Ecuador. It’s simply the last 1 on our trip southwards.

Alausi, 22nd August

Bye Riobamba, we’re on the way to Alausi. A trip of about 2h thru the highland of Central Ecuador. 

Until the Coronies took over Alausi was a tourist hotspot. Not because of its outstanding architecture or its numerous opportunities for fine dining. No, for its train running a few km to the Nariz del Diablo, and back. It was the remaining part of the rail from Guayaquil to Cuenca. Formerly an important connection for passengers’n’goods, then degraded to some 15km of tourist rail at the most interesting part of the journey. And today – officially still closed to protect poor passengers from Coronies sneaking around in the wagons. Somehow remains the impression, that the train journey remains suspended due to a lack of tourists.

Thus, just remains the opportunity to marvel at the latest hype on indigene fashion. The coolest design, and the most glitter on the skirt.

Ingapirca, 23rd August

Ready for a change. After all these mountains, lagoons, and markets we desperately need some history. What else than an Inca ruin could it be? Of course, it has to be the most famous in Ecuador: Ingapirca.

It’s just 38km from Alausi, as the crow flies. 108km as Prado drives. Thus, reminds us a lot of Colombian road adventures.

Ingapirca – a really small village. Just a few houses. But famous for its archeological site.

We find a beautiful sleepery: Posada Ingapirga.  A 200-year-old carefully renovated hacienda on a farm just next to the site. True, a moderate splurge – but worth every cent.

In the afternoon we have some time to discover the surroundings of the Inca ruins.  The site itself has closed on Mondays’n’Tuesdays. They just forgot to tell anybody. Well, it’s Tuesday afternoon, so no problem. Nevertheless, quite some rather frustrated tourists at the entrance.

The next morning we can finally visit the archeological site of Ingapirca. True, you have to join a free tour to visit the place. As the ranger has already told 10 000 times what she has to tell, the explanations are pretty short and bearable.

Unfortunately, we could not climb the most important part – the Temple of the Sun – as it’s closed for maintenance. What a pity. 

Esteemed reader, for now, that’s it. We’re about to leave Central Ecuador to discover the southern part. 

No worry, we’ll give you the details you need to know – and of course, a lot of useless information – in our next post. In the meantime increase your jealousy and wait impatiently for it.

Cheeeers

Monika’n’Monika

Central Ecuador - Highland Adventures
Driving the Jungle Route to Perú