Make your own free website on Tripod.com
Ecuador is truly a biodiverse country and I continue to be amazed at the beauty that can be found within its borders.

If I had to pick the most beautiful road in all of Ecuador, I would without a doubt choose the road traveling through the Pastaza river valley between Baņos and Puyo.

We start our journey in Baņos, a popular tourist town with many different places to eat and stay. While the town of Baņos is well known for it's hot baths and hand-pulled taffy, the most popular attraction is probably the Volcano Tungurahua. At 5,016 meters (16,452 ft) Tungurahua looms high above the city and is still shooting out incandescent rocks and clouds of ash from time to time.

The main catholic church in Baņos has some paintings worth seeing which refer to previous eruptions and various miracles attributed to virgin enshrined there.

One of the more popular ways for tourists to travel down the road from Baņos to Puyo is on a bicycle. Various companies in Baņos rent bikes and also provide return transportation.

Building the road must have been quite an amazing feat as it travels through tunnels, has various cutout and overhanging sections and provides some spectacular views looking down at the Pastaza river.

The first major sight along the road after leaving Baņos is the hydroelectric dam at Agoyan and the Agoyan falls below. The falls are not very impressive anymore unless the gates happen to be open at the dam.

Then one travels through the tunnels to several sections of the old one-lane wide road with a few wide spots here and there to allow oncoming traffic to pass you.

The important thing is to watch your step along the road and make sure you can see ground. DO NOT step into clumps of grass without looking! Grass grows out from the hillside and there are sections where there is no actual shoulder beyond the road.

The amazing thing about the road from Baņos to Puyo is the number of waterfalls that you will see. When we take guests along the road, we often suggest they count them for fun and most will find 50-70 waterfalls along the way. This also takes their minds off of the road a bit and they stop squeezing the door handles.

If you have the time, I highly recommend you hike down to the waterfall at the Rio Verde called Pailon del Diablo, or Devil's Punchbowl. The hike really isn't as far as it seems from the road and is well worth the effort.

While you can actually see a bit of the falls from the road a bit further down, the best views of the falls are from the suspension bridge below as well as a second lookout constructed right next to the falls.

If you are wondering why it is called the Devil's Punchbowl, well there are numerous rock figures in and around the falls which look sort of like a devil. If you can't spot them, several young boys will gladly offer to show them to you for a small fee.

A little farther down the road you will find Bridal Veil falls.

Actually you can hike down to this one as well, although I've never done that. I can't imagine the view from below being better than the one from the road...

There are many other things that you will probably see along the way. Various wild orchids line the roads along with papaya, banana, naranjillo and sugar cane plants just to name a few.

As you near Mera, there are some great view of the Pastaza river valley as it flattens and widens out.

If you are fortunate, you will sometimes be rewarded with some great early morning or late afternoon views of the snowcapped volcano Altar 5,319 meters or 17,446 ft.

Actually, the best views are in the early morning when the sun hits the snow. Whenever I am staying in Shell, I always wake up before sunrise to see if the mountains are out.

The other snowcap occasionally visible from Shell is the active volcano Sangay at 5230 meters or 17,154 ft.

Sangay is nearly a perfect cone shape and if it is out, one can usually see a puff of ash every so often. Of course Sangay has recently been upstaged by the much more impressive activity of the nearby Volcano Tungurahua.

While it can offer some great view of Sangay and Altar, The town of Shell is not terribly exciting.

My reason for staying in Shell is that HCJB operates a 35 bed hospital there. If you are in the area and in need of medical care or snakebite treatment, Hospital Vozandes del Oriente is the best place to go as it has English speaking doctors and anti-venom in stock.

Shell also has a large military base and airport where you can also charter private airplane flights for aerial views of the mountains and the jungle as well.

Just past Shell is the Sangay Tea plantation and a road which takes you back to the longest cable car bridge in Ecuador.

I'm not a big fan of heights and even less fond of the thought of being on a overcrowded platform high above the water. So I rather quickly declined an offer to cross over the bridge. My friend Jay took his four wheeler across this bridge. As I watched them struggle to get it up on the platform, I personally thought he was nuts... actually I still do.

(On a side note: There is a more enclosed cable car bridge you can ride over the Pastaza river that is located between Rio Verde and Baņos.)

If you make it all the way to Puyo, I highly recommend visiting The Balsa Wood Factory. You can see firsthand the process of taking balsa wood logs and making them into parrots, fish, butterflies, fruit and all sorts of things.

Incidently, balsa wood logs are extremely heavy until all of the water evaporates out.

Around Puyo there are a couple more things to see, there is an orchid farm somewhere I've not been too. And a foundation/zoo outside town (on the road to Tena) that has a few tapirs and other live jungle animals on display.

If you are fond of waterfalls and want to hike through the jungle a bit to see another good one, I highly recommend a trip to Hola Vida.

Actually the hike back to the falls is quite enjoyable and some people reward themselves with a cool bath underneath the falls. Actually cool is a bit of an understatement as the water seemed to be near freezing that day.

The road between Baņos and Puyo really does provide some spectacular views. Unfortunately, photographs just cannot do adequate justice to the incredible sights along the way.

While some people are terrified by the narrow road and lack of guardrails, it is without a doubt, one of my favorites in all of Ecuador.