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As South America’s premier adventure sports destination, Baños offers a multitude of adrenaline-pumping activities. Yet none are as popular as the picturesque Ruta de Cascadas, a stunning highway featuring striking cataracts at every turn. Remember when ’90s R&B group TLC told us, “Don’t go chasing waterfalls?” We’re willing to bet they’d never been to Ecuador.
Baños is famous for its abundance of water, particularly the mineral-rich thermal baths from which the town got its name. Though the other great aquatic attraction is equally worthwhile, a collection of cascading waterfalls that crash down from the mountains above.
Stretching some 37 miles (60km) from downtown Baños, the route passes through lush semi-tropical terrain with several spectacular waterfalls along the way. To the left are impossibly high treelined cliffs while the gushing Pastaza River roars along to the right.
The vegetation becomes thicker and the air stickier and more humid as travelers venture into lower altitude that marks the beginning of the great Amazon rainforest. Of the numerous waterfalls en route, the Agoyán, Pailon del Diablo, and Rocio are the most magnificent sights to behold.
As if rich scenery and surging water weren’t enough, a number of extreme attractions have been built to tempt adventurous tourists. For something more subdued, a rickety old cable car ferries passengers to the base of the Cascada Agoyán for a closer view. Those seeking more thrills might opt for zip-lining or bungee jumping further down the road, typical activities that make Baños the undisputed king of extreme sports.
Travelers can explore the route by bike, in a tour bus, or in a dune buggy.
Cyclists typically finish up at Cascada El Pailon del Diablo about 10 miles (16km) from Baños where trucks wait to ferry travelers and their bikes back to town. The road is good and the trip is mostly downhill therefore relatively easy. Just keep an eye out for loco drivers and be aware that you must always use the detours instead of the narrow tunnels. Bike hire goes for US$10 per day.
The tour bus, known as Chiva, covers a longer route all the way to Puyo and includes stops at all the main sites for a bargain US$5. Ample time is given to travelers who wish to engage in adventure sports en route.
Finally, dune buggies are obviously the most exhilarating way to travel the route. No international drivers licence is required and hire costs around US$15 per hour.