Just believe me: this is one of the best, cheapest and exhausting things to do in adrenaline capital Banos (and probably in entire Ecuador). Grab a bike in this Andes village, do the famous waterfall route (Ruta de los Cascadas) and keep going downhill until you get to Mera or Puyo and get a taste of the Amazon landscapes.
First things first: get yourself a bike. A PROPER bike that is. There are many tour agencies offering them for a daily rental fee of a couple of dollars. Test the brakes, the gears, the tires, make sure the seat height is adjusted to your wishes.
And don’t hesitate to refuse a bike if it doesn’t meet your requirements. You’re going to be on this baby for several hours and don’t want to get into technical problems. The trip is strenuous enough already.
Ready for the ride?
Alright, take water with you, sunglasses, and a rainjacket. This is Banos, remember, so it’s just like Holland: you can expect all types of weather at any moment.
You start at 1’820 metres and the good news is that it’s a long downhill ride. The bad news is that it is long and you will still face several climbs anyway.
Leave Banos into an eastern direction on the main road. The Rio Pastaza will be your companion for most of the day. Once you have passed the hydroelectric plant, the first distraction of the day awaits you. The Agoayan waterfall is on the other side of the canyon. But for around two dollars you can fly across the canyon towards and over the waterfall in an iron cage hanging under a steel cable. Whether you join the fun or not: your decision. You can expand this day as much as you like.
Well, that’s at least the name of the entertainment park you will bump into when you just survived the ride in the tunnel. Don’t worry about the other tunnels along the road: signposts show you the cycling way around them, it’s great fun.
Whether you also enjoy the Mega Adventure Park Rio Blanco is a matter of taste. The bungee jumps, ziplines and canyon walks look scary. But hey, what could possibly go wrong?
Apart from enjoying the views, you can now enjoy a decent ride for a couple of kilometres. Until you cross a bridge in the small settlement of Rio Verde, water flowing into the Rio Pastaza from the left.
On the right you will find the parking lot of the Pailon del Diablo, and all of a sudden you are back in tourist land again. Though this is also a place popular amongst Ecuadorians: try to avoid the weekends therefore, I of course fucked up.
There are food stalls and souvenir shops all around, before the descent starts. It will take you 10-15 minutes to get there. There is a mirador (lookout) halfway for which they will charge you, but the views down the path are much better.
You pay a small entry at the bottom of the waterfall. And then it’s water galore, a thin film of splattered H2O trying to invade all parts of your equipment and body. You can go as high as you want, though a very difficult stretch is under a narrow rock.
Once back down, continue across the hanging bridge for the obligatory selfies. The views from here of the devil’s waterfall are truly gorgeous. And then… back up!
This Pailon del Diablo is the main attraction of the Ruta de los Cascadas, and strangely enough also already the point where lots of bikers stop and return to Banos. Which is monumentally stupid, as from here on you’re almost on your own. And it gets interesting really quick.
Because five to ten minutes of biking further down is a small restaurant and a trail that leads down to… the Machay waterfalls. For some strange reason this one is less famous than its neighbour, but this one was to me even more impressive.
The walk down is steep, with several flights of stairs. Close to the base of the waterfall is a small hanging bridge and a viewing platform. There are also short trails to the Rio Pastaza, the loud beast that’s really nearby.
Whether you call it a day here or not is of course your personal choice. You can eat something in the restaurant to recharge if you want to move ahead. Or be stubborn (yes, me) and continue a bit more. Through the beautiful hamlet of San Francisco (with some food stalls as well), until you get to Rio Negro. There are many good food options here, and views of the Pastaza river if lucky.
The hard part
Rio Negro basically marks the end of the waterfall route. But the Amazon is still not in sight. So you can keep ploughing on! The next stretch is around 15 kilometres. Which doesn’t sound like much, but there are several slow climbs in this part.
Views of the Rio Pastaza get spectacular here though. And all of a sudden the landscape opens up, the village of Mera comes into view and the wide and low Amazon jungle landscape stretches out in front of you as far as you can see. The climate also noticeably changes as does the vegetation. You’re down here to 950 metres and this is rainforest terrain!
Once you reach Mera (at the 45km mark) you might continue another ten kilometres to Puyo, which is bigger. You can even sleep there if you want, to explore the city and the Amazon.
Most people will return to Banos though before daylight switches off. Just wave down any of the long-distance buses. The adyudante (driver’s assistant) will help you with putting the bike in the luggage department for an extra 1$ charge. The drive back is 45-60 minutes… and you can tell all the other hostal guests about your little Amazon adventure!