Right in the center of the Ecuadorian Andes we find the province of Tungurahua, known for its dramatic landscapes, the famous Llanganates and also for the Tungurahua volcano, that gives the province its name. On the slopes of these volcanoes, a small town with the name of Baños de Agua Santa is the most visited destination by international tourists during their tours throughout the Avenue of the volcanoes.
Baños is well known for its waterfall route and adventure sports that can be practiced in the surrounding areas. Tungurahua has, beyond waterfalls and adventure sports, a great community tourism offers, since the region is influenced by traditions and culture of different indigenous nations.
In this article, I am going to show you how to mix luxury and community tourism in the heart and center of Ecuador. This small itinerary can be included with any tailor-made tour that you want to organize through the Avenue of the Volcanoes in the Ecuadorian Andes.
Comunidad de Salasaca
A few kilometers to the east from the city of Ambato, on the road to Baños de Agua Santa, we can find another interesting destination, Salasaca, a small village at the foothills of the Tungurahua volcano.
You can get to Salasaca from Quito on a two-and-a-half-hour journey by private vehicle. You can also reach this town with a tailor-made tour after visiting either the Cotopaxi National Park or the Chimborazo Natural Reserve, both majestic volcanoes worth visiting for a couple of days during your journey throughout mainland Ecuador.
If you finally decide to book a tour to the community of Salasaca, you will experience a cultural exchange with an Andean indigenous family. You can learn the sowing and harvesting system based on the indigenous worldview; also you will have the opportunity to participate in traditional rituals of ancestral medicine, and observe and participate in the process of making traditional clothing: ponchos, anacos, vaetas (fachalina) and girdles.
Later, you will be able to taste the delicious local gastronomy and participate in the ancestral festivities while putting your artistic skills into practice by making handicrafts typical of the place.
*You can take home a souvenir hand made by yourself (with the help of the community members).
Finally, you will be able to rest in an inn with ancestral architecture, far from urban noise, under a unique climate, while enjoying the exotic flora and fauna surrounding Salasaca. After this tour, your transportation can take you to Baños de Agua Santa, where you will spend the night at one of the most luxurious properties of the area: Samari Hotel.
Samari Hotel & Spa
This beautiful property used to be a Jesuit monastery with more than 300 years of history. During the renovation, this place maintained the old colonial structure of the building, made of carved stone and combined with wood and wrought iron.
It has 4 hectares of beautiful gardens to explore on your own. When walking through its gardens, you can find different pieces of art made by some of the best artists in Ecuador, which give the property a rustic look surrounded by nature. This renowned 18th century building features an interior art gallery with religious pieces dating back more than 300 years. You can wander through this art gallery before heading to the hotel spa.
At the spa, you can choose between different massage and aromatherapy treatments designed for your well-being. You can also book a circuit through its hot and cold water pools and its sauna. An indoor pool is the main feature of the hotel spa.
Its privileged location, right in the town of Baños de Agua Santa, allows you to walk to see some of the restaurants available.
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Baños de Agua Santa
After waking up at Samari Hotel, you can enjoy a great buffet breakfast to then take one of the available tours or experiences offered in Baños the Agua Santa.
The Ecuadorian Cloud Forest is a magical ecosystem with biodiversity comparable only to the Amazon Jungle and has a very interesting geography, including ravines, waterfalls, secluded lakes, rivers, and hundreds of microclimates populated by a great variety of animal species. To put this in perspective, in the cloud forest of Ecuador it is possible to find more bird species than in all of North America combined.
The Ecuador cloud forest also presents great conditions to practice many adventure sports, like rappelling down waterfalls (i.e. canyoning), rafting, canopying, mountain biking, trekking and many more activities.
I highly recommend the waterfall route if traveling on your own. If you are traveling with a tailor-made tour handcrafted by a tour operator, you will have a private guide to take you to some of the main attractions. You can take the opportunity to visit one of the most biodiverse ecosystems on our planet: the Andean cloud forest.
A good tailor-made itinerary will take you down towards the jungle to see the many waterfalls that go into the Pastaza River gorge, which is an impressive 300 meters deep. You will stop at the most famous waterfalls before reaching our destination in the Parroquia Rio Verde, and you will cross the gorge with a cable car, for spectacular and panoramic views of the gorge and a closer look at Manto de la Novia a very high waterfall on the other side of the gorge. Once in Rio Verde, you will walk for around 15 minutes on a path that crosses the cloud forest and ends in one of the most amazing wonders of nature: el ³Pailon del Diablo´(the devil’s cauldron). The Pailon is a huge waterfall that falls into a big cauldron of rocks, which has been formed by the force of the falling water. For the more adventurous, there is a small tunnel carved on the rock that lets you reach the back of the waterfall, but this is a wet adventure because of the spraying water.
After lunch, your guide can take you to the end of the world swing for a panoramic view of the Tungurahua Volcano, where you can take fantastic pictures. During your way to this spot, you will be able to stop in different viewpoints to look Baños from above.
After a full day of activities in Baños de Agua Santa, your guide will drive to your next destination in mainland Ecuador.
Carlos Beate is the Commercial Manager at Andando Tours. Andando Tours offers exclusive traveling experiences, specializing in sailing around the Galapagos Islands and overland along the magnificent Avenue of Volcanoes on the Ecuadorian Andes.