We made the call in Pantanal, Brazil to make the drive south to Iguazu Falls instead of coming north from Buenos Aires. As you can see from the video below, we had an OK time.
Note: We stayed at Hostal Natura on the Brazilian side which is a little out of the city, but has great facilities for campers, a pool, and a swimmable lake. There is also an organic veggie farm near by with amazing produce. Highly recommend.
We visited the Brazilian side the first day from which you get a better sense of how expansive the falls are.
Outside the park entrance is a bird sanctuary which feels a little like a zoo. Don’t fear though, their mandate is to rehabilitate injured birds and provide shelter for those who are not able to reenter the wild.
The following day we headed to the Argentine side of the falls. It wasn’t until the eleventh hour and some encouraging sentiments from our guide that we decided to take the plunge in the form of a boat hauling ass towards the falls. The entire ride took 30 minutes or so which was enough time to take four passes at the falls.
Baños in Ecuador’s central highlands is named after the hydrothermal springs of mineral water located around the city. Why did we decide to head there? Nothing more than it sounded cool. There are plenty of waterfalls, hiking, paddling and canyoneering to be had not to mention the thermal baths and cheap massages.
We set up camp a little outside of Baños proper along ruta de las cascadas (the waterfall route) at Hostel Pequeño Paraiso. The hostel surroundings are lush and I admittedly geeked out a little on their industrial stove taking every opportunity to cook us up some tasty meals.
We had a poke around town on our first day. The town is situated beside the Pastaza River valley which means plenty of bridges and dramatic views down and along the river.
The main square
Walking bridge spanning Rio Pastaza in town
One of the local attractions, flinging yourself off the bridge
Touring around town, it became immediately clear that we would not be leaving Baños without some waterfall rappelling. The canyoneering signs around town were baiting George and he took the bait. We choose a half day option which had us rappelling down 4 waterfalls, the biggest of which was a 40 meter drop.
The biggest drop at about 40 meters
Getting pummeled and screaming like a girl
George owning it
Rappeling like a boss
Finally enjoying it
High above the city sits La Casa Del Arbol with a view of Tungurahua Volcano. Because of cloud cover, it’s rare that you can actually see the volcano. I took a ride on the less than stable tree house swing and then G and I headed up the tree for the views. That was definitely the right order to do things. After seeing the swaying branch the swing was suspended from, there was no way I was getting back on it.
We went to collect Vida after the swinging and immediately realized there was a problem. The engine would stall when it was idling. I had a hundred questions for George, but he had his concerned about the car face on, so I decided to keep my mouth shut. He then passed on a little gem to me – apparently the breaks don’t work on the truck when the engine cuts out? We were just about to descend 845 meters into town. George made the call to go ahead without calling for help. The plan to keep the brakes working was to continually rev the engine so it didn’t stall. As I white knuckled our door handle, George finessed the the gas and brakes while rolling down the hill in neutral.
The truck has been running fine since the minor scare, but we are loading up a friend coming to visit with spare parts.
Klaus and Sonja showed us photos of this beautiful waterfall before taking off. Since it was basically on our way to San Jose, and we were having so much luck sleeping in the parking lots of national parks, we aimed to sleep there and then visit the waterfall the following day. What I had not planned for was private property and a locked gate. We arrived just after nightfall. Still hoping to sleep there, G tried to summon someone to the gate with no luck. We eventually made it to a small village and finagled our way into parking in the drive of a local eatery. This was another serendipity moment. There was a semi final Costa Rican football match happening that night. Every local restaurant and bar that lined the main (and only) street in town was open and showing the game. People were moving between the establishments; it was clear that this was a close community. The sounds that poured into the streets when a team scored were rousing. The crowd was well into the night and full of good “cheer”. A local struck up a conversation with us. He shuttled tourists around in a van and was there visiting a friend since it was off season. Our new friend soon brought us over shots of a drink that was made locally, chirrite (I think). Now, “made locally” did not immediately translate in my mind to “moonshine – can cause blindness”. It was fruity, went down well, and we can still see. All is well that ends well.
Early the next morning, we headed to the del Toro Waterfall. For all the hassle of finding a place to camp the night before, we were the only two visiting the waterfall. Del Toro is a spectacular, must-see, 120 meters tall waterfall that lands into a small volcano crater. The colors were dramatic because of the chemical soup in the water, and the spray off the falls stung your eyes a little. Adjacent to the waterfall there was a mini rain forest with a one-kilometer loop through it. There were over 50 different types of hummingbirds living in the forest. I can’t imagine how it must feel to own property with a spectacular waterfall and a rainforest on it. The owner of the property was a pretty cool Dutch guy in his mid forties. He had retired from the finance industry and after a search for “something different” had found this property. And was this something different …
We headed to San Jose after the hike for some TLC (from George: for all non-Americans out there TLC apparently means Tender Love and Care, simply put we went to the mechanic) on the truck. On the way, we stopped in a little touristy town at a Dutch church. We cooked up some lunch, enjoying the surroundings. We also applied a special touch to the truck.
It took us some time to find a suitable camping spot in San Jose that night. Our intended campground is now a giant supermarket, so that wasn’t going to work. We asked about sleeping in a huge park owned by a local church, but were quickly shot down. Something about churches and being charitable/helping people in need popped into our heads. We finally settled in right outside of the park gates beside a well-to-do international school. It wasn’t too long before a car pulled up beside us. At first we were anxious until the noises floated into our tent. Comedy, pure comedy. We were alone the rest of the night.
We planned to hook up with the Germans (Sonja, Klaus, and Mia) in Nuevo Arenal on the north west of Lake Arenal. They were still in Costa Rica for another week, and G needed to deliver some electronics acquired in the States to Klaus. The road around the lake is paved and well maintained, but still scenic. Sonja had prepared us for the authentic German bakery in Nuevo Arenal. We started seeing signs for the place 30 km out of town. Once in town, we thought the best bet to meet up with our friends was to go to the bakery. We soon found why they had been raving: delicious German bread, pastries and Costa Rican coffee. How can you go wrong? We were not wrong to stop there, because they soon rolled in. We headed to a camping spot on the lake that they had already taken advantage of. G and I were getting a little ripe, so we took advantage when the sun went down and took showers from our tank. No curtain yet – so we were counting on no surprise visitors.
The following day we headed for another lake camping spot in a little down a dirt road from the Arenal Park entrance. On the way there, Brummer (the German’s Mercedes) had some mechanical issues – they were out of diesel. We soon remedied the problems and were on are way again to the campsite. We were treated to great views of the volcano and an ample wood for a roaring fire.
We visited the Arenal Hanging Bridges in the morning. The $24 entrance fee was steep, but the park was wonderful. A short 3 km loop took you over 6 hanging bridges in the forest canopy and past jaw dropping views of the volcano.
We spent our final night with Sonja and Klaus in the parking lot of the La Fotuna Waterfall, which worked out perfectly for us, because I wanted to check it out the following day. Sonja treated the men to burritos thus satisfying G’s meat cravings for a day or so.
The next morning, after seeing our new friends from Germany off, we hiked down the stairs to the waterfall for a dip.