After taking in the sites in Quito, I took an afternoon bus through the mountains and past several volcanoes to Baños in the central highlands. The atmosphere is definitely touristy, as Baños is a popular vacation spot for both foreigners and Ecuadorians. It's named after the baths (baños) which are fed by the waterfall which can be seen from almost anywhere in the city.
The bus to Baños broke to down about half way there, so we had to stop in Ambato for a couple hours for repairs. As a result, we got into Baños in the late evening. My first night in Baños, I stayed at a hole-in-the-wall hostel that was still open after my bus got in. I woke up the next morning with ants crawling around my bed, so needless to say, a change was in order. The next two nights I stayed at a place called La Petite Auberge. When I got there, all they had available was a loft room with four beds, two bathrooms, a fireplace, and perfect view of the waterfall which was only a few blocks away. Amazingly, this only cost me around $24 per night.
The weather was rainy much of the time I was in Baños, so I spent a lot of time visiting the local shops and cafes. The stand-outs included Cafe Hood, where I had a great Arabic lamb dinner. Right next-door was Ali Gumba, owned by a friendly Danish woman, where I had a great egg breakfast. While in Baños, I also tried a popular Ecuadorian dish, Churrascos, which consists of eggs over fried meat and rice. One thing I learned on this trip is that Ecuadorians love eggs! Baños is a small city in comparison to Quito, but there were a number of sites in the city to visit, such as the basillica.
On my third day in Baños, the morning weather was relatively clear and sunny, so I decided to rent a bike and head down the popular decent from Baños to El Paílón del Diablo waterfall. This was the highlight of my trip to Ecuador, and was something I will remember for my entire life. The entire decent is lined with waterfalls, several of which splash across the trail, as well as an awe inspiring view of the Rio Verde the entire way. The sights were absolutely amazing.
The ride included a few hair-raising moments. There are several tunnels on the main highway, but only one that bikes must pass through (the rest of the tunnels have a bypass trail for bikes). The tunnel I had to pass through had only one lane, was 0.9km long, and was not lighted, except for the headlights of the motor traffic. I ended up stopping and backing up against the muddy tunnel wall every time I heard a bus or truck coming, as it didn't look like there was enough room for them to pass me otherwise! Also, Ecuadorians apparently don't believe in shoulders; the sides of the roads are lined with these awkward slanted gutters which could easily cause a nasty wreck if one were to accidentally ride their bike into one. The lack of railing between the road and the edges of cliffs in many places made the frequent "Peligro" ("Danger") signs all the more warranted.
I haven't been to many waterfalls, but this was certainly the largest one I've actually visited. You have to park your bike and take a short hike from the road to get to it. For fifty cents, you can follow a trail that takes you right up next to the waterfall where you get drenched by the mist coming off of it.